Flash-grilled: Anthea Stephenson

By Georgia Bronte

- Last updated on GMT

Flash-grilled: Anthea Stephenson

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This month, chef Anthea Stephenson took over as head chef at Venetian restaurant Polpetto, bringing a new menu inspired by time spent working at the likes of the River Cafe, The Jugged Hare, and Sketch.

What was your first job?
My first job was actually two: when I was 16 I worked at WHSmith’s where all I really remember was my shock at the enormous amounts of Christmas postage stamps people would buy, and simultaneously I worked at MFI selling kitchens to bemused couples. I’d been desperate to earn my own money since I was about 11, so one job just wasn’t enough!

What is your guiltiest food pleasure?  
Very rarely, I’ll cook a pack of Supernoodles... and I’ll love it.

What’s the best restaurant meal you’ve ever had?
New Year’s Day with one of my best friends when we’d spontaneously spent the weekend in a tiny village in the Chiltern Hills. It was raining outside, the place had a fireplace, we were looking forward to the year ahead, and the sticky toffee pudding was divine.

What industry figure do you most admire, and why?
Ruth Rogers, for being unwavering in her progressive attitudes and never giving up, and for projecting genuine compassion and warmth onto everyone she meets, whatever the weather.

If you weren’t in kitchens, what would you do?
Become a farmer.

What is your biggest regret?
It’s simply too early for regrets.

Pet hate in the kitchen?
People who say ‘backs’ so you watch behind you, when they’re at your knees trying to get into something in front of you.

What’s the oddest thing a customer has said to you?
Not being able to convince someone I wasn’t Australian was probably my oddest moment.

What’s the dish you wish you’d thought of?
Spaghetti bottarga

Describe your cooking style in three words.
Clean. Simple. Considered.

Most overrated food?
Oysters. Controversial…

Restaurant dictator for a day – what would you ban?
In the kitchen: Garlic crushers and thermometers
On the floor: food served on things other than plates and sommeliers who don’t also love food.

What’s the worst review you’ve ever had?
When I was singing in the back of the car when I was younger, my seldom complaining brother winced and asked that I stop, on account of my alleged lack of tonality...

If you could cook for anyone in the world who would you pick, and why?
Michelle Obama. I love her story, and she is a true inspiration. As the first black First Lady in history, she was a breakthrough. She showed, with demonstrable humility and poise, that a woman can have it all. She reminded everyone what loyalty, passion and true character looks like. Michelle Obama has given women and young girls everywhere gentle encouragement in a time when women are still struggling to be seen and heard beyond gender stereotypes. The least I could do is cook her dinner!

What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
Don’t let any chef or kitchen kill your passion and desire to learn. There are plenty of kitchens, find the right one for you.

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
A cast iron pan. Or 12.

What do you cook at home on your days off?
Something which is tasty right now, seasonally. Today it might have been a chicken and mushroom pie, or perhaps a spiced pumpkin soup with farro...

What’s your earliest food memory?
Eating chips on the beach in Brighton.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
This wasn’t given to me, but I always remember this from the Baz Luhrmann Sunscreen track of the 90’s: Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind - the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.

What’s the closest you’ve ever come to death?
After an over enthusiastic bout of mushroom foraging, I was at home in full risotto mode and only after my second mouthful I suddenly wondered if I’d correctly identified a single mushroom.

Where do you go when you want to let your hair down?
Throw a party, put on some Soweto, and dance.

Tipple of choice?
Low-intervention red wine

What would you choose to eat for your last meal?
My Mother’s rice and peas, ackee and saltfish, BBQ chicken (her marinade is off the scale), dumplings and Jamaican yellow yam.

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