When Ellie Galloway collected Young Chef of the Year in the Weetabix Food and Drink Awards it would be an understatement to say she was surprised.
It was the first year she had entered the awards (this year’s competition launches today at The Falcon Inn in Castle Ashby) and she knew how rare a straight win is for anyone’s first try.
However her chicken and smoked ham pies in gravy, including Jeyes Northamptonshire Sauce, were judged the best and she won not only the award but perhaps more importantly a boost in confidence that has pushed her towards new challenges.
Ellie, who was chef at The Church in Northampton when she won back in October, is now working at the Michelin starred House of Tides restaurant in Newcastle which is owned by Great British Menu veteran Kenny Atkinson.
“The Food Awards has massively influenced where I am. I always had it in the back of my mind I would like to try Michelin Star but I have never had the guts to do it.
“I thought okay I’ll go for the Weetabix Food and Drink Awards. I had been wanting to do it but it had never really been the right time so I went for it and I won it which was completely unexpected. I really didn’t think I was going to especially on first year. I am so grateful for it. So I thought if I can do this what else can I do? I have won it I ought to use it. I don’t think I would have done this if I hadn’t gone for the award,” said Ellie.
Taking a leap of faith she left her job at The Church and began looking for a new challenge.
“I left the end of November, start of December. I didn’t take a job right away, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I have had an inkling to try the fine dining for a while but never had the guts to try it. I kept December free because when as a chef do you get December off? So I selfishly took that but then I got in touch with a Michelin starred restaurant to see if I could do a stage [work experience] with them for a month. It’s classic British produce done really well. It has been incredible. They have offered me a job as a Commis so I am going to be taking that. I am going to be starting in May and hopefully working my way up!”
Ellie, who comes from Wellingborough, went to school in Kettering and then Northampton College, has family in Newcastle who were able to provide somewhere to stay while she was getting her experience in the House of Tides kitchen. The restaurant which also boasts four AA rosettes alongside its Michelin Star, is unlike anywhere Ellie has worked so far.
“It is a really nice kitchen to be in, so if I don’t know and I do get something wrong I don’t get battered. I get told how to do it so the next time it’s right. I wasn’t really expecting that. I was expecting to be bottom of the pile but it is a kitchen that is known for bringing people into the industry. The four weeks has just flown by.
“It’s very intricate and things have to be exact. A lot of things I am not noticing yet because I haven’t got the eye for it. I will take it to the sous chef or the head chef and they will tell me the difference.
“Everything is so beyond prepped, so service is just like a flow. I don’t think I have ever worked somewhere that is so prepped because obviously they have got so much on the line, every dish that goes out has to be same. It is quite incredible to be fair.”
Ellie’s journey into catering is the classic story of the child who loved to cook never giving up on it.
“I have grown up with everyone in my family being able to cook. As soon as they let me do a roast dinner I did it. I used to go round to my grandmas and cook with her. I grew up always wanting to be a chef and they thought I’d grow out of it but I didn’t. They told me the hours were long and the pay is not great and a couple of months before the awards I was feeling that way a bit, but when I won I thought: ‘I might be ok at this, I better stick with it’.”
Thank goodness she did because that determination has now carried her into a world of fine dining and working with celebrity chefs.
“I wasn’t expecting to see much of Kenny Atkinson but he has come over and said hello to me. Whenever he is in the building he makes the effort to come and see everyone which I think is quite incredible,” said Ellie.
“I don’t know whether I’d want my own restaurant. It’s very difficult. I might prefer to work as a head chef under someone else.
“I really like British classic dishes. I’ve worked a lot in pubs where we do fresh food. It’s basically like getting really nice produce that is local, which means a lot to me, that we’re not just shipping it in from somewhere else because we have such a lot of good produce in this country. I always go for belly pork myself. I love it. It’s classic. Always a winner.”