Lady In Whites

TOAST meets Tredwell’s Chantelle Nicholson

Planning a New Year’s Eve dinner party? Preparation and seasonal fare will ensure a thoroughly festive feast, says Marcus Wareing’s right-hand woman.

Chantelle Nicholson doesn’t like a fuss – especially when it comes to food. “For me, it’s all about the produce,” says the chef patron of Tredwell’s, Marcus Wareing’s award-winning West End bistro.

“If you’ve got great ingredients, you don’t need to do much to them. Uncomplicated cooking is what I like to do at home. It’s a chance for me to relax and recharge. I’ll usually have a great steak or a piece of fish pan-fried in butter with some veg on the side.”

Eating seasonally is a given, she insists. “In Europe, they do it so well. You have ripe, delicious tomatoes in summer, but you’ll never see them in winter because they’re tasteless.”

It’s not surprising Wareing chose Nicholson to head up his first casual dining venture. Softly spoken and without a hint of ego, the New Zealand native exudes that laid-back Antipodean charm. In Tredwell’s, you’ll find none of the machismo and slamming of saucepans typically associated with professional kitchens. That’s not to say Nicholson takes a relaxed approach to her job. “We’re very well organised at Tredwell’s, which is vital in my industry. I’d say 80% of a chef’s daily work is preparation and time management.”

The diligence required to excel in the restaurant world makes women particularly suited to the profession, says Nicholson. “I think most male chefs would agree that women tend to be a bit more organised. If you’ve got similar ages in the kitchen – chefs often start out quite young – the girls are generally better able to apply themselves and their concentration levels are a bit more stable.”

Fewer than a fifth of professional chefs in the UK are female. Despite this, Nicholson, who prides herself on Tredwell’s 50:50 gender split, believes there’s been significant progress in kitchen culture in recent years. “The kitchen has evolved. It used to be very aggressive and nasty, but the environment is changing. There are more opportunities now for female chefs. One of my chefs is a mum who works 8am-6pm, five days a week. You see flexibility paying off in a lot of other roles, so it’s something we should be mindful of as chefs.”

Marcus Wareing Tredwells Dish

Marcus Wareing Tredwells

Though cooking was Nicholson’s first love, it wasn’t her original career choice. A qualified lawyer, she started working in cafes and restaurants to earn money while studying for her degree. When Gordon Ramsay extended his annual scholarship competition to New Zealand 12 years ago, Nicholson applied and subsequently landed a job at The Savoy. Was she tempted to carve out a culinary career in Christchurch or Auckland?

"New Zealand has a great restaurant scene, but it’s more cafe style than fine dining. And, though you’ll find more Vietnamese, Thai and Malaysian influences back home, London is the food capital of the world. I knew this is where I wanted to be and where I could achieve more.”

At The Savoy, Nicholson worked under Marcus Wareing, Ramsay’s protege at the time. Following the pair’s infamous split, Nicholson followed Wareing to The Berkeley and has been by the Michelin-starred chef’s side ever since. In addition to her role as operations director for Wareing’s restaurant empire, as chef patron, Nicholson oversees the kitchen and day-to-day running of Tredwell’s. It’s a demanding, yet rewarding position.

“I liken what we do to actors and performers. We have two shows a day – lunch service and a dinner service. We spend the morning getting ready for those. There’s a brief respite in the afternoon, which gives us time to take stock, but then we’re on again later that day. I always need to be thinking ahead to weekend service. We try to get things in little and often, especially when it comes to fish. The fresher it is, the better the quality. Meat and veg prep are done in morning then at 11am, everybody puts up tasting plates. The sous chefs check everything to make sure it’s how we want it to be and it gives us the opportunity to fix anything before service. At midday lunch begins and is generally finished between 2.45pm and 4pm. Then we start again at 5pm as in West End diners come in before shows, so there’s never really much of a break.”

Before she rushes back for the next performance, we ask Nicholson to share some tips with TOAST readers on entertaining this New Year’s Eve. True to form, her advice is to be organised and keep it simple. “The key to any entertaining is being well prepared, so you can enjoy your guests and not be stressed about how long something is going to be in the oven.

"There's a lot of wine and cocktails consumed over Christmas, so it’s important to have something robust to eat. A lovely braised meat served with a roast winter veg salad is wonderful. You can do it in advance then reheat it. Things like beef short rib would go well with a nice red wine. For pudding, I’d go for something chocolatey and celebratory. Canapes can be made the day before. Any kind of seafood works well – salmon mousse, smoked salmon and prawns are great with champagne. There’s some great cheese available in winter as well. The Vacherin has those big, beautiful soft cheeses that are fantastic served with crackers and chutney.”

If you’ve reached peak pudding already this Christmas, but can’t face the prospect of seeing in the new year without a little something sweet, fear not –  Nicholson provides a healthy alternative recipe on TheEdit.

Posted in Spotlight

by Alix O'Neill
on on 26 December 2016

  marcus wareing

  See All Articles

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