Dublin chef takes on male-dominated London food scene with new restaurant
Anna Haugh recently opened Myrtle in London’s Chelsea borough.
A chef from Tallaght is breaking barriers in London’s food scene with an Irish-inspired menu and a female-dominated kitchen.
Anna Haugh, 38, recently opened Myrtle in London’s Chelsea borough, her first restaurant as an owner, and said training in Irish kitchens prepped her for the tough, male-dominated culinary scene in the English capital, including working as a head chef for Gordon Ramsay, and as a judge on Hell’s Kitchen.
“I do feel that people are more open to female chefs than they used to be in London, but Dublin has always been far better in terms of welcoming female chefs,” she said.
When I got to London I was almost always the only girl in the kitchen - in kitchens with around 15 chefs Anna Haugh
“I still do have moments when I go to an event and people assume I’m the PR girl or with somebody, or ask for my husband.
“When I was in Dublin, I was working in (Michelin-starred) L’Ecrivain, that was almost 50/50 gender split, with lots of women in senior positions.
“When I got to London I was almost always the only girl in the kitchen – in kitchens with around 15 chefs.
“They used to say, ‘Women can’t cook like men’, there was a huge cultural difference with Dublin and London in that sense.
“London might be forward-thinking with certain aspects of the industry, but they’re a patriarchal society, Dublin is more matriarchal, it’s just different.
“Before I worked in L’Ecrivain, I interviewed for a job and didn’t get it, when I met the head chef a few months later and asked for feedback, he said, ‘Listen, I had a kitchen full of lads and we didn’t need a pretty little girl running round disrupting it’, I remember feeling so irrelevant.
“I’m sure that still happens, you don’t get rid of that mindset easily.
“We’re miles away from any type of equality of hiring, opportunities or wages.
“I don’t remember anyone ever asking me when I was going to be head chef, or when I was going to open my own restaurant, they just weren’t questions women were being asked.
“At the minute in Myrtle, we outnumber the men, three women and one man, which was accidental but it works.
“I was interviewing the second hire via email and didn’t recognise her name, and was shocked when she arrived and she was a girl, so I didn’t do it intentionally, but it works for us, and the guy loves being the only man now.”
Irish produce is a key component to Myrtle, as well as the Irish-inspired menu, which was 10 years in the making, and Ms Haugh’s passion for Irish fare is evident throughout.
“Seventy per cent of my meat comes from Ireland, all my smoked fish, all the cheese, although I still use some produce from Britain as well, I try my best to use Irish as much as I can,” she said.
“There’s a lot of produce that chefs in London buy that comes from France, but I was seeing in Ireland that we had ingredients that could compete with the French, but people don’t automatically think of it, they don’t know about it.
“I’d rather be buying Irish than French if the standard is good, why not?”
Returning to her native Dublin this weekend for Meatopia, at Guinness’s Open Gate Brewery, Ms Haugh said the draw of cooking for Irish people with the best of Irish produce is an offer she could not resist.
The third annual Guinness X Meatopia food festival, held this weekend until late on Sunday night, is dedicated to beer, food, fire and experimentation, where selected chefs and brewers challenge each other to create unique brews and dishes to pair using the best ingredients Ireland has to offer.
“When I come home to Dublin, it’s just magical, there’s not another city I want to be in,” she said.
“I’ve heard so much about Meatopia here in London too and never been able to go, I’m beside myself with delight to be doing it now.
“I have to bring my A-game, it’s hundreds of people every day, it’s like no other food festival, it’s so varied.
“I’m prepped to work from 9am till 10 at night, I’m so excited.”
Tickets for Meatopia are available at: https://www.guinnessopengate.com/events