Angela Hartnett: ‘Gordon Ramsay shouting became like water off a duck’s back’ | Life and style

I loved food from the moment I could eat. My mum is a great cook. All my family are. Good food is always there. There are other things I’m interested in – I’d love to be a barrister, be able to argue in court. But I’m not brainy enough to do that. It was always going to be food.

My grandma taught me to cook. I’d help her, then get to try the food we made before the rest of the family. I still think about her pasta now. She came from Italy after the First World War, had nothing, didn’t even speak the language. She cooked powera, which basically means nothing is wasted. If you have stale bread, you put that in a paste.

Nobody knew cooking would become what it is. It’s so popular now. People talk about food like they talk about music. When I was starting out with Gordon [Ramsay] years ago, it was only just starting to break through.. I don’t think anyone foresaw what had happened.

Gordon is brilliant. He’s totally unique. It was hard work, working for him, and sometimes I did worry about getting a bollock. I don’t think it’s healthy, being that anxious about work. Years ago I told him that sometimes when I was cycling to work I would hope that the restaurant would have burned down. But I loved working for him. I wouldn’t be anywhere without Gordon.

There needs to be a directness in kitchens. I don’t think people understand that. When Gordon would scream and shout – and he wasn’t the only one – it sort of became like water off a duck’s back. It’s a pressured environment. There’s loads to do and if you don’t do it people don’t get their lunch. I like that we’ve moved away from what it was, but there absolutely has to be someone driving the kitchen.

I can get annoyed by cooking shows. I don’t really watch them, but if I do and I hear someone talking rubbish, I turn the TV off immediately. Can’t be doing with it. Delia [Smith] said something recently I agreed with, that lots of TV chefs make it look more complicated than it needs to be.

Food isn’t just what you put on the plate. It’s about the pleasure of eating with people, the environment you’re eating in. Some people on cooking shows make food that nobody could make at home. They’re out of touch with people.

Young chefs are treated better than they used to be. You hearhorror stories. I remember working in a kitchen once – it wasn’t Gordon’s – and this sous chef made some kid who’d just started chop flour. He thought it was a kind of rite of passage, to make him do that. I told him it was stupid. And we had too much else to do, frankly.

Sometimes only junk food works. I remember when I was head chef at the Connaught, I was really hungover. I went home to sleep, but when I woke up, I still felt like crap. So I went to KFC, got a massive bucket and was eating it in the taxi back to the restaurant, just tucking into all the fat and grease. I remember the cabby turning to me and saying, “Oh Ange, Gordon isn’t going to like that.”

The secret tocooking well is simple. Take your time, don’t rush – everyone thinks you can make bolognese sauce in 20 minutes. You can’t. Taste all the time, tweak as you go. And just do it right.

The new series of Dish, from Waitrose & Partners, hosted by Angela Hartnett and Nick Grimshaw, is available now

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