‘I just knew as soon as I went into a professional kitchen, I was born to cook,’ says Irish-born Anna Haugh-Kelly with evident feeling. ‘My commitment is 100% and I always push myself hard and expect the same from others. What she might not have expected was that arguably the fiercest critic in the restaurant industry – and long-time SW resident – Gordon Ramsay would be so positive about the dishes she’s creating for the launch of London House, Ramsay’s 26th restaurant worldwide, which opened in Battersea Square at the beginning of February 2014. Though, it’s hugely apparent to me why Anna, Gordon’s newest protégé stands out. She simply radiates positivity and creativity: her curiosity and love of food is endearingly evident, she’s clearly a strong personality and has a firm, Irish sense of humour and, grinning, asserts: ‘no challenge is too tough for me!’
Prior to taking the role at Gordon Ramsay Holdings, Anna was already working in Battersea for Rocket Food Events. Before that she’d worked in two of London’s most thrilling two Michelin-star restaurants: Pied à Terre with Shane Osborn and at Fulham resident Philipp Howard’s exceptional The Square.
Earlier in her apprenticeship, whilst working in Dublin at Michelin-starred Derry Clarke’s L’Ecrivain, Anna did a series of stagiere at some of Europe’s top ranking kitchens, including Restaurant Arzak in gastronomic hotspot San Sebastian. Anna still vividly recalls the kindness and civilised atmosphere of the Arzak’s legendary kitchen. ‘The brigade would have a leisurely espresso in the morning to discuss the day as lunch service didn’t start until 2pm and we were always given a delicious staff meal. That’s something I am following at London House, all my kitchen team will eat properly, not just on the scraps and leftovers some restaurants shockingly palm staff off with. I firmly believe that the more respect I show my team, the more they’ll respect me too and really give 100%.’
Anna is adamant that she doesn’t receive any special treatment as a female chef nor would she seek it. ‘I work as hard and determindedly as anyone else. It is essential and the only way to shine and get to the top is with the support and respect of the whole kitchen’. She does, however, like to work with a fairly balanced mix of the sexes in her team as she’s sure it makes for a better atmosphere. She laughs off any comparisons with Claire Smyth, chef-proprietor of Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road. ‘Yes, we’re both Irish, but there, so far, the comparison ends. Claire is an awesome three-star chef and an awesome inspiration to me.
‘Travelling with Gordon in the US was magical,’ recalls Anna who went on tour with him to LA and Las Vagas last year prior to London House opening. ‘He is so huge in the States, and I learnt so much from all the time we spent talking food. His knowledge is limitless. It was bliss for me and has taken my culinary insight to another level.’
At tastings of her proposed dishes for the London House menu, Anna reveals that Gordon samples with sheer concentration and scribbles notes furiously. ‘Gordon will always suggest tweaks and has the ultimate say on how a dish should be, he’s remarkably hands-on and I’m happy with that.’ Launch dishes include tortellini filled with scallop and crab with black radish and a crab broth, roast haunch of venison with cauliflower puree and lentil ragout and frozen nougatine with poached rhubarb.
Visible to diners will be a ‘larder’ behind part of the restored copper bar, where Anna will keep jars of luscious and colourful preserved fruit. ‘It’s something we always did at home,’ she explains. ‘I come from a working class yet totally foodie background. I’m obsessive about using seasonal produce. When rhubarb was in season, my mum would cook up loads, it’s so good to have that sharp, tangy flavour in a sauce later in the year when it is not expected – and that’s the sort of surprise I want to serve up to diners at London House.’
London House, Battersea Square, Battersea SW11 3RA; gordonramsay.com/londonhouse