Who are the best known British chefs? And what are their signature dishes?

Clare Smyth

For a nation once considered to be a food desert – or at least and more charitably one where its more palatable dishes such as roasts and pies were almost impossible to replicate in a restaurant – Britain now has celebrity chefs by the dozen.

And behind their rise lie three factors.

Brits love food shows on television so well known chefs become even more well known.  We have polite chefs, swearing chefs, drunk chefs, and those whose TV appearances lead to runs on products – we once had a shortage of some gadgets and ingredients which TV chefs said were essential kit.

Now we have unused blowtorches and bottles of pomegranate molasses lingering at the back of kitchen cupboards.

Brits adore cookery books – whether they ever follow the recipes or whether any make sense is not the point.  This produces a spate of celebrity inspired glossy publications, especially at Christmas.

And British chefs are boosted by a financial system which encourages those who are good at running a restaurant into spreading themselves and their names across many locations.

This private equity fuelled expansion is a UK special.  It can lead to massive expansion well beyond the ability of chefs to control either the money or the food.  The demise of much of Jamie Oliver’s empire is a case in point.

The ups and downs of Gordon Ramsey are not far behind.  He might have gained several Michelin stars for his restaurants but among a wider public – those who could never afford his eateries – he is best known for a string of foul four letter words on television.  He has borrowed – fans say improved upon – from Italy, France and Britain.  Reports suggest diners at his Gordon Ramsey in Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea are happy enough – until they see the astronomic bill.  Probably, he’s best known for his Beef Wellington – a tough one to do.

Heston Blumenthal has never over-expanded – he has four restaurants with none in central London. But he has lent his name to a range of food at supermarket Waitrose and to a number of kitchen gadgets.  He is best known for a “scientific” approach to food.  Translated, that means he experiments with combinations that others would avoid.  His triple cooked (potato) chips are now everywhere but snail porridge, bacon and egg ice cream and parsnip cereal remain original works.


Fergus Henderson – yes, they are mostly male, – is another who believes in keeping control by not over-expanding.  He is still best known for St John, the Clerkenwell restaurant he set up in 1994.  His philosophy is nose to tail – he uses every bit of the food he can to come up with some great dishes – and it’s affordable.  The one constant on the menu is Marrow Bones with salt but squirrel, pigs’ trotters and various incarnations of offal also appear.

The women such as Delia Smith and Nigella Lawson are more known for books and TV. Clare Smyth is an exception.  Now in her early forties, she learnt the trade at Gordon Ramsey but reports in the latest Harden’s suggest she is now so much better than her former master (at a lower cost). Her Core by Clare Smyth (Kensington Park Road, Notting Hill) is rated as “world class”.  Lamb Carrot and Potato and Roe are among her best known dishes.  Smyth has not – or at least not yet – made the mistake of expanding from a kitchen to a business empire.


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