Michelin chef Clare Smyth left family farm in Antrim aged 16 to follow dreams
The world's top female chef has revealed how she became a Michelin-starred kitchen sensation by running away from her Co Antrim home when she was just 16 years old.
Clare Smyth, described by Gordon Ramsay as "the Margaret Thatcher of cooking", told her parents she was going on a holiday to England, but she was in fact signing up to a culinary apprenticeship in Surrey.
Despite her mum's desperate attempts to persuade her to return to the family dairy farm, the chef du jour remained committed to her calling
"Mum came over to try and take me home but I refused," recalled Clare, who is also the first and only woman to run the kitchen of a three-Michelin-star British establishment, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.
"I was so headstrong and, coming from a country background, ignorant of the dangers of the world."
It has already been quite a year for Clare, who catered for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's evening wedding reception, and was named the number one female chef by the World's 50 Best Restaurants.
Furthermore, just last week, the 40-year-old's first solo restaurant, Core, in west London's lavish Notting Hill, was awarded two prestigious Michelin stars at the first attempt, only 14 months after it opened.
Following Ramsay's assessment of her, the racehorse trainer's daughter admitted that she's a "big fan" of the Iron Lady.
Ms Smyth, who admits she gets up at 7.30am and goes to bed at 1.30am, told the Sunday Times News Review: "To do what I do for 18 hours every day you've got to be single-minded, very focused. It takes a lot of grit." During a career peppered with stints under Heston Blumenthal, the Roux brothers and Michael Caines, Clare was working at Ramsay's flagship restaurant in Chelsea by the time she was 24.
After a spell at Alain Ducasse's Le Louis XV restaurant in Monaco, she was lured back by Ramsay to be his head chef in London, where she became the first female British chef to hold and retain three Michelin stars.
Referring to Ramsay - who once said "women can't cook to save their lives" - in glowing terms, she added: "Gordon is definitely not sexist; he has one of the toughest kitchens in the world, and there are so many girls in there."
A self-confessed perfectionist, Clare acknowledges that she used to be notoriously "harsh" on her staff - and she once admitted that she sacked "one person a week".
In 2013 she was awarded an MBE and then two years later she tied the knot with financier Grant Heath. The couple live in Wandsworth, south-west London, and would like children, although she added: "I'm not sure I'm ready to stop just yet."
Addressing her eatery's high prices - £65, £95 and £115 a head, excluding service and drinks - Clare is defiant: "If I was a lawyer with my reputation, can you imagine what I'd be charging per hour?"