Amy Elles

Amy Elles

Amy Elles

Having started her career at Harrods, Amy Elles has gone on to cook around the world, including in the kitchens of The Fat Duck and Moro. She now celebrates seasonal Scottish produce through her events catering company Stocks Events and Fife restaurant The Harbour Café.

Though Amy Elles grew up in a Jewish household which had food at its heart, it took her a while to realise that she wanted to cook professionally. As a teenager, she led food demonstrations at the likes of Fortnum and Mason and Selfridges for her mum's PR firm, before working in marketing for a produce business. Her north London upbringing had been rooted in good food and drink, she says, helped in no small part by her mum's other work as a home economist and cookery teacher. ‘If you were unwell, you’d have chicken soup,' she says. 'Food would be the answer to problems, but it would also be the celebration. Everything centred around food and family. When mum used to practise her dishes at home I used to try everything – my older sister was not very adventurous with food, so I was the guinea pig.’

When she started work as a party planner with Harrods, Amy found herself drawn to the catering teams working in the building’s prep kitchens. ‘I just really got on with the chefs,’ she laughs. ‘I spent my lunch hours working in the kitchen, peeling vegetables. I really enjoyed being there.’ After a year of volunteered lunch breaks, the logical conclusion was drawn that Amy might, perhaps, be happier working in chef’s whites full-time. A move was agreed and, with one day a week studying at Westminster College, she found herself fast on the way to becoming a chef. ‘I had found something I could do that I didn’t have to talk to anyone about,’ she says. ‘The food spoke for itself. I was used to having to sell things, but this way I could make something downstairs in the basement, it would go upstairs, make someone happy, do its job and no-one had to see me. It was an amazing feeling.’

One of the upsides of cooking professionally is the potential to work in kitchens around the world, at everything from fine dining restaurants to luxurious private villas, a variety which is certainly reflected in Amy's career. After Harrods, she moved to The Grove Hotel in Hertfordshire as a pastry chef, before deciding to seek out restaurant experience. Aiming high, she phoned Heston Blumenthal's then two-star, now three-star The Fat Duck in Bray to ask for a stage: ‘I phoned the kitchen and the person I spoke to said ‘I’m very busy, phone back next week’,’ she says. ‘This went on every week for months, but I kept trying.' Her persistence paid off – after being given the green light, she finally started a week-long stage, which turned into a pastry chef job offer. Ten months of eighteen-hour days and six-day weeks followed, she says, working as part of a small team in the wooden sheds which at that time housed the restaurant’s kitchen, Amy's classical training meeting the science-driven, multi-sensory approach Heston is renowned for. 

Next, there were stints in event catering, stages at Nobu, St John and Moorish restaurant Moro (where she also worked full-time) and as a chalet chef at Switzerland’s Ski Verbier. There, she met her now-husband Jack, and the pair embarked on a culinary tour of Europe, travelling in a VW camper van and stopping to cook at the likes of Greek villas and the Michelin-starred Casa Marcelo in Spain's Santiago de Compostela. When they eventually returned home to Jack’s native Scotland, they were due to accept jobs in a hotel when Amy had a lightbulb moment. ‘I said to Jack ‘why do we want to work for anyone else? Let’s do our own thing’,’ she says. ‘'Let’s buy a van and sell food from it.' He was quiet and then finally said ‘yep let’s do it’, so that was that.’

After buying a van from a Northumbrian lay-by, The Laughing Stock was born. It was 2008, when the UK’s street food revolution was cranking up, and the business quickly became a hit, appearing at major events including the Edinburgh Festival and Glastonbury. In 2014, in response to rising costs and a growing number of requests to cook at private parties, it was joined by Stocks Events, which today caters for weddings and private and corporate events, serving menus centred around local, seasonal produce.

It was while passing a newsagent’s window near Fife that Amy spotted an advert for an empty unit – little more than a 'hole in the wall', she says – at a sailing club. She was inspired, taking it on, renovating it with her newborn daughter strapped to her chest and opening it as The Harbour Café (which she has affectionally dubbed her fourth baby). Today, it is a thriving seasonal café and restaurant which celebrates produce grown and caught within a couple of miles, prepared elegantly with flecks of Spanish flavour. ‘It’s unbelievably fresh, caught that day seafood, cooked very simply,’ she nods. ‘You are transported to your own holiday when you're there.'

In 2020, Amy first appeared on Great British Menu, dreaming up dishes around the theme of children’s literature, including a Desperate Dan comic-inspired Cow Pie dish which was called banquet-worthy by the judges (it prompted her to give the competition another go in 2021, that time with a theme of British innovation). For now, Amy is settled on Scotland's east coast, at home in an area which makes her ethos of celebrating the natural local larder a joy. But, having grabbed opportunities with both hands throughout her career, from Michelin-starred cooking to street food trucks, we're sure there are plenty of adventures ahead. ‘There are always plans and sometimes the balls that are up in the air come down and, every so often, come to fruition,' she smiles. We’re certainly looking forward to whatever comes next.