Dining in Vancouver With England’s Star Female Chef

The tiny open kitchen at Burdock & Co is humming. A small space for any service, tonight it appears perilously close to breaking point. At the same time, out front, seats are filling up all at once, eager diners craning their necks to get a glimpse of the action. Those lucky enough to be sitting ringside at the bar gaze expectantly at the organized chaos unfolding inches away. Servers flit from table to door to coat hooks to the pass, filling glasses from bottles of natural, biodynamic 1701 Franciacorta Sullerba pét-nat.

In the midst of the hubbub, Angela Hartnett, tucked in a corner, calmly garnishes trays of canapés. She appears unaware of the vortex of activity spiralling around her and oblivious to the keen interest in her every move. When she does step forward into the melee, it is with purpose and a smile. “Hello. All right?” she says to anyone whose eye catches hers, the familiar East London twang carrying far across the room.

If she is completely unflustered, it’s hardly a surprise: Hartnett is arguably not just the U.K.’s top female chef, she can hold her own against the best of the rest. She has worked hard for that spot, standing her ground as a young chef in one of the most unforgiving, uncompromising environs, becoming Gordon Ramsay’s protege at Aubergine, moving on and up through his ever-expanding restaurant empire as second to the exacting Marcus Wareing at Pétrus (eventually taking over as head chef), before opening Verre in Dubai (Ramsay’s first international foray) and returning home to lead the brigade as head chef at Mayfair’s exclusive Connaught hotel. When the lease was up at The Connaught, she went out on her own. Murano, her Michelin-starred Italian-inspired restaurant, is, at 15 years old, now an established favourite on the London dining scene.

At this point, Hartnett is culinary royalty, a queen of the kitchen awarded an MBE in 2007 for services to the hospitality industry, upgraded in 2022 to an OBE for her indefatigable efforts supporting NHS workers during the pandemic. On top of that, the actual queen, Camilla, picked Hartnett’s risotto when asked to name her chosen last meal on Earth.

Chefs Angela Hartnett and Andrea Carlson prep at Burdock & Co.

“I’m not hungry,” Hartnett says as we meet for breakfast at her hotel. It’s Friday morning, and she flew in to Vancouver the night before. She went straight out to eat—taking the concierge’s recommendation of Miku: “I was completely blown away,” she reports. London has a lot of incredible food, she says, but the sushi is not at the same level. She wants to eat more great things while she is in town, grilling me for recommendations, making notes on her phone. For now, though, coffee is enough, she says, still ordering a selection of pastries when the drinks arrive in the corner of the lobby where we’ve settled. Temporarily, it turns out.

After chatting for a few minutes about her judging duties on a variety of television shows and the merits of good home cooking, she breaks off from what she was saying. “You’ve got me hungry now,” she interjects. “I quite fancy a bit of egg and bacon.” We move into the restaurant forthwith.

It is apparent that Hartnett is a woman at ease with herself. At once all business and naturally warm, full of questions about Vancouver, happy to field mine of her. She is in the city to cook at Burdock & Co with Andrea Carlson, part of Destination Vancouver’s chef exchange program that saw Carlson—the first woman chef in Canada to lead a Michelin-starred kitchen—cook at Murano in the spring of 2023.

Hartnett says she was happy to visit Vancouver and work with Carlson again. “She was great, and her team was lovely, so when they emailed I said, ‘Yeah, of course.’”

In the days before we meet, I read a headline in the U.K. press quoting Hartnett declaring Michelin irrelevant. She raises her eyebrows and lets out a gently scoffing harrumph that softens into a sigh when I note I had dug out the original article, and yes, she was quoted out of context.

“My point is not the fact that it’s irrelevant,” she proffers. “Obviously we’ve got a star, and we love it, never want to lose it. It’s amazing for the team, and I would be gutted more for them than for me if we were to lose it. But I think there’s a certain misconception between what the public thinks is Michelin and what is actually Michelin,” she continues. “I look at some of the busiest, most popular restaurants in London that don’t have a star. So is it relevant?

“Michelin is about consistency,” she insists, not the trappings of fine dining—white linen, sommeliers, et cetera—yet the public will go to a Michelin restaurant expecting all the bells and whistles and complain if they are not present.

“I remember talking to the inspectors, and this is what they told me, and to this day I genuinely believe it,” she adds. “The first star is about the food and the consistency of food. It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting on a brick wall, it really is about the food. Second star is about seeing the restaurant and the chef come into their own, and third star—look at Ferran, Heston, Gordon—three different chefs, you can identify them through their food.”

At Burdock & Co two days later, a small plate is set down: on one half, a profiterole filled with goat camembert, apple, and radicchio; on the other, a small dish holds scallop crudo with bergamot dashi. Even if I hadn’t been told, I would have known these were Carlson’s dishes. Not simply because the profiterole has been offered on her tasting menus since gaining a star, but because the scallop hits my palate screaming Burdock—fresh, simple, and perfumed with the most exquisite burst of citrus.

Then come Hartnett’s bites. A bison tartare atop a chickpea cracker is fiercely seasoned (in the best way), bright and meaty and assertive. A golf-ball-sized truffle and porcini arancini is a total conversation stopper—soft, warm, pungent with truffle—as Carlson later tells me, “The best I’ve ever had, honestly.”

Carlson admits she was apprehensive when paired with Hartnett last year. “Frankly, I was scared—she’s such a legend. I just felt way out of her league.”

The two chefs come from distinctly different but equally focused culinary points of view.

But the British chef’s ease and warmth dissipated the fear, if not the stress, of presenting Burdock & Co’s food at Murano. “She is fun to be around,” Carlson tells me. “Very supportive, incredibly generous with everybody she comes in contact with. She is just lovely. To be all business in the kitchen getting the job done and executing at a really high level and still being the sweetest person.”

As dinner progresses, I request a spoon to scoop up every last splash of the outrageously moreish walnut pesto coddling Hartnett’s agnolotti and use the milk bun to do the same for Carlson’s tuna and pork hock. The two chefs come from distinctly different but equally focused culinary points of view, and it’s a pleasure to dance across the different tempos, appreciating the harmony of the whole.

Main course (her final) out of the way, Hartnett steps out of the kitchen. She moves from table to table with her customary directness, asking people if they are enjoying themselves, taking pictures with anyone who asks. It’s a masterclass in professional hospitality, putting people at ease, making them feel special.

“All right?” she asks when she sees me. “What did you think?”

Hair and makeup by Melanie Neufeld for Lizbell Agency. Photographer’s Assistant: Gaelan Glenn. Read more from our Spring 2024 issue.

Post Date:

March 25, 2024