Table Talk: Ruth HansomBy Lucy Shaw
The head chef of The Princess of Shoreditch on making short crust pastry aged four, stumbling upon a sensational tapas bar on her way to Arzak, and why spring is her favourite season.
Born in Darlington, County Durham, 25-year-old Ruth Hansom was named Young Chef of the Year in 2017 and was a Great British Menu finalist in 2020 when she competed for the North East as the youngest chef in her group. She worked at The Ritz Restaurant under John Williams when it won its Michelin star and is currently the head chef at The Princess of Shoreditch in East London.
Describe your earliest food memory….
Making a quiche with my Auntie Julie when I was around four. I was helping her with the short crust pastry in her cut glass mixing bowl and managed to stab a knife right through it while mixing the butter and flour together. We only noticed after we’d already put it in the oven that there was a chip in the bottom, so we just hoped for the best! It’s safe to say I’ve learnt a lot since then. Nothing leaves the kitchen unless I’m 100% happy with it.
Did you always dream of becoming a chef or did you fall into it?
I wanted to be a doctor when I was young, but after competing in Springboards Future Chef Competition at school, I fell in love with cooking and the industry.
What is it about the catering industry that has kept you hooked?
You have to have an addictive personality, and this can sometimes be a good thing. I love what I do and it’s the buzz of service and wanting to please people that gets me up in the morning.
What is the dish that you’ve created that you’re most proud of?
Halibut, pickled grape, almond, fennel broth and chervil. This dish is quite simple but showcases good fish cookery and sauce making. It’s modern in its look but plays on classical flavours from sole Veronique.
What is your ultimate food and wine match?
I love cheese, perhaps my favourite being a beauforte or Comté, add a glass of Pinot Noir – heaven.
What is the most memorable meal you’ve ever had in your life?
While on a trip to San Sebastian travelling to Arzak, a 3 star restaurant, my partner and I made a stop in Bilbao old town and found a small tapas bar, which to this day is still one of my favourite meals. It could have been overshadowed by where we were going on to, but I think it’s that it was so unexpected and reasonably priced. We had a bottle of local Rioja and lots of tapas, my favourite being grilled red peppers, cooked with paprika until they were almost jammy, served with homemade black pudding.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten while on your travels?
Hot avocado – it was in a wonton and wasn’t nice.
Who is your culinary hero and why?
John Williams MBE, head chef at The Ritz. His palate is second to none and his passion to inspire and teach the next generation is admirable.
What’s the biggest blunder you’ve made while on the job?
When I was an apprentice I was asked to prepare sea kale. I hadn’t asked what it was that I was doing and had thrown out all the curly ends and kept the stalks. It was only when I was asked what it was that I realised my error.
What is your favourite season for food and why?
I love every season – it’s one of the main reasons I’m so passionate about British food; we have four very distinct food seasons. But I think spring has to be my favourite for the asparagus, greens and mushrooms all coming to life after months of hearty food.
What single ingredient do you rely on most in the kitchen?
Maldon salt or rapeseed oil.
What is the best bottle of wine you’ve ever drunk?
A Sassicaia from my birth year, 1995.
What is your guilty pleasure food and why?
Condiments in general. If I’m at home I use way too many flavoured mayonnaises than I would care to admit – and ketchup. Rubies from the rubble is great.
If you had to only eat one country’s cuisine for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
While I should say British because I have a passion for our cuisine and produce, I love to eat Thai food for the textures and freshness.