Chantelle Nicholson


Chantelle Nicholson

From New Zealand law student to the opening of her first solo sustainable restaurant Apricity (which won a Michelin green star in 2023), Chantelle Nicholson’s hard work and determination – especially in evolving free-from and plant-based cooking at the highest level – has cemented her reputation as one of the UK's most forward-thinking chefs.

Born in New Zealand, Chantelle Nicholson was introduced to good food from a very young age. With a garden full of herbs, fruit and vegetables, two aunties who were both incredible cooks in their own right and an obsession with tackling the more advanced recipes found in Women’s Weekly cookbooks (‘I remember making crème fraîche when I was about nine’), it seemed a career in food was set in stone.

However, it just wasn’t seen as an option for Chantelle when she was younger – she was expected to follow an academic route, which she did. But while she was studying law at university, she asked for a job at her favourite local café and soon enough was waking up at 6am on Saturday mornings to bake muffins for the day ahead.

Towards the end of her studies, Chantelle spent the summer holidays working as a kitchen hand in the restaurant of a boutique hotel – her first real experience of professional cooking. ‘There were busy services but it wasn’t set up like a commercial kitchen,’ she explains. ‘The great thing about it was the garden out back – we’d go and picks herbs and vegetables in the morning for service later that day.’

After completing her law degree, Chantelle’s mother convinced her to get a job in the financial sector just to see what it was like. A year passed, and even after passing the bar in her law exams, Chantelle still wanted to cook for a living. It was at that point an amateur cooking competition called Chef Search run by Gordon Ramsay came along in 2004. Chantelle made it to the final six, and was offered a job in London at The Savoy by the head chef at the time Josh Emmet. She accepted right away, and made the move to London.

‘I was so nervous the day before my first service,’ says Chantelle. ‘I’d never been in a kitchen like The Savoy’s, and everything was so foreign to me because New Zealand is much more relaxed. It was a complete shock to the system, to go from working an office job to eighteen-hour days rushing around. I remember how my feet were absolutely killing me, but I loved it and soaked up everything I could.

‘There were so many ingredients and products, like cartons of egg yolks or fruit purées, that I just couldn’t get back home,’ continues Chantelle. ‘I also moved into a friend’s flat that was just five minutes from Borough Market, so my creativity went through the roof.’

Chantelle spent the next twenty months at The Savoy, before Marcus Wareing asked if she’d join Pétrus, his two-starred restaurant, as a junior sous chef in 2006. ‘It was a tough kitchen, and not a very enjoyable place to work,’ she explains. ‘I think the people there were a hangover from the old days when all kitchens were run in this very male-orientated, fearful way. But because I hadn’t experienced it before I could see it with fresh eyes and knew it wasn’t for me. I talked to Marcus and he asked if I could use a computer. I explained that I’d trained as a lawyer, not a chef, and that’s when I started to help out with his cookbooks and the operational side of his restaurants.’

While Chantelle continued to help out in the kitchen, this was a pivotal moment in her career. ‘Things started to change,’ she says. ‘There was progress in the kitchen and I started to get involved in the finance and HR aspects of running the restaurant business.’ In 2010, Chantelle took her chef whites off to help run Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, before moving on to help open The Gilbert Scott in 2011. ‘I’d worked on the rebranding of Marcus’ other restaurants, but The Gilbert Scott gave me the opportunity to create something completely from scratch,’ she says. ‘There was a massive learning curve, but I was involved in every single aspect of opening the restaurant, which I loved. By the end of it, I could work in the kitchen, front of house, in the IT department or as an HR manager.’

At this point, Chantelle was general manager, but by 2013 the company was thinking about what to do next. After spotting a free site, Chantelle floated the idea of a new venue, which took all the techniques and skills of Marcus’ more intimate restaurants but would cater for a larger audience, with more choice and versatility on the menu. Tredwells opened in 2014 and Chantelle's clean, unfussy food was an instant hit – particularly for vegetarians, vegans and those with food intolerances, which has always been a focus for the chef. ‘People shouldn’t feel like they need to make a fuss – we should do the hard work. There are things that are luxurious and rich on the menu, but also healthier options – it should be the diner’s choice on what to have.’ By 2018, Chantelle became the sole owner of Trewells, and in January 2021 the restaurant was awarded a Michelin Green star. Tredwells completed its final service in September later that year.

During the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, Chantelle – like many chefs and restaurant owners – had to think on her feet. Tredwells offered a 'Tredwells To Go' delivery and takeaway service, and All's Well (a 'pandemic pop-up') was opened by the chef in Hackney to preserve jobs. All's Well may have closed now, but the food on offer – sustainable, seasonal bites and small plates – was a precursor to Chantelle's next restaurant Apricity, which opened in spring 2022 in Mayfair. The zero-waste, hyper-seasonal, sustainable and inclusive restaurant is a culmination of everything Chantelle has become known for, an ethos which was rewarded by Michelin inspectors in 2023 with a green star.