Kim Woodward, Head Chef of Camden’s York & Albany, is hot property right now. She explains why she’s always keen on a challenge, what her approach to cooking is and what life really is like working for Gordon Ramsay
You now work in North London Kim, but you grew up in the North of England – how important was your Cheshire upbringing to your love of food?
Growing up in Cheshire is certainly important to my love of food, so much influenced me when I was younger. However something that’s stayed with me is the cheese, so delicious!
When did you decide cooking may be the career for you?
I was 16-years-old and was at that point where I was wondering what to do with myself. I’m someone who’s always full of life and energy, and I wanted a career which reflected that. I decided to go to college to study GNVQ hospitality and catering management, whilst simultaneously working in kitchens and waitressing. That’s when I really knew the kitchen was for me – the energy filled services, the thrill of fulfilling orders on time and the demand for my food was enough to get me hooked.
Why did you take up the opportunity to go to America?
Any opportunity at that age, 18, can’t be a bad one. This one came up through my college, it was nearing the end of term and it could have been anywhere, but sometimes you realize opportunities like that one only come around once in a blue moon. So I took it.
How does the American approach to dining differ to London?
I think that London is at the top of its restaurant game at the moment. Attention to finer details is more recognized and appreciated here. In America there is more of a casual dining vibe, but there’s nothing bad about that – it wins over most chefs and foodies out there.
How did it feel, upon your return to England, to join the Gordon Ramsay family?
It has always been a dream of mine to join a big successful company. Gordon Ramsay Group has been the right move for me. Gordon is very refreshing to work for – he is a very focused, driven and passionate chef.
How has being a part of the group helped you develop?
The Gordon Ramsay Group is all about development. I have worked in many of the restaurants within the group, and the experiences I have gained have allowed me to grow into the Head Chef that I am today.
Was it your idea to take part in MasterChef in 2011 – if so, why did you want to do it?
I think one of the burning questions on any chef’s mind is how would you hold up against other talented chefs. The opportunity presented itself and I like a challenge, so I applied. I want people to recognize the talent and hard work involved in this industry, and I wanted to be a part of inspiring people to follow their dreams. You have to start somewhere.
How would you describe the experience?
When you only have one hour to cook a meal that can make or break you, it’s all just a huge rush of adrenaline. It was that feeling that I and my fellow contestants all loved. Cooking for the critics was incredible and they all had great feedback. Michel Roux Jr said one of my desserts was faultless – it’s not everyday you get the chance to hear that!
Could you see yourself presenting on TV in the years ahead?
Well like I said I love a challenge so I would never say no! I think a book would be a good place to start though.
You are now the Head Chef at the York & Albany – is it the perfect place for you at this stage of your career?
I’ve been here for two and a half years now and I still love it. The York & Albany allows me to really venture out of my comfort zone and get more experimental with my food.
What’s the ethos behind the menus there?
The most important thing for me is the quality of the ingredients and how they are handled, so I guess my aim is to always make and serve dishes on my menus made with the right ingredients. Food sometimes just needs to be left alone, cooked and served simply to bring out its best qualities. Other times, there are brilliant opportunities to play with the ingredients, ensuring the optimum marriage of flavours – but it’s about understanding that so you don’t over complicate things. I’m also very passionate about British produce and where in Britain that produce comes from. It is important to find out the history behind where and what time of year ingredients are at their best so you can fully understand when to use them. I like to have a selection of fish, meat and vegetarian dishes on my menu, hopefully appealing to all.
What can we expect in 2015 – and do you have a favourite dish?
In 2015 I want to keep creating new food combinations that I haven’t had a chance to put on the menu yet. I work closely with my team to bring out the best ideas for the York & Albany menu. I’m a big lover of game – right now I have roasted red leg partridge and braised endive with smoked chestnut puree and pomegranate sauce on the menu, so perhaps something continuing along those lines. I also love the idea of comfort foods, such as braised ox cheeks with cauliflower cheese.
Is North London a food & drink hotspot at the moment?
I live in Camden and am a firm believer that North London should be more of a focus for great food. If you look hard enough you’ll find some hidden gems, it’s really an undiscovered hotspot, but there’s not enough people talking about it right now. I want that to change.
Finally Kim, do you have burning ambitions you want to fulfill in the future?
I would love to have my own seafood/fish restaurant one day. As you’ve probably gathered I’m a huge fan of making all food, but seafood has a special place in my heart.
Interview by Mark Kebble
York & Albany, 127-129 Parkway NW1 7PS; 020 7592 1227; gordonramsaygroup.com