Ruth Hansom

Ruth Hansom

Ruth Hansom

Growing her own vegetables from the age of thirteen, Ruth Hansom has spent years developing her own ultra-seasonal style of cookery and has won numerous awards along the way.

There’s a real split between chefs who’ve grown up knowing that they wanted to cook professionally, and those who have come to the kitchen later on in life. Not only did Ruth Hansom fall in love with cooking from a young age and start entering competitions as a teenager, but it was even clear from the start what kind of chef she would ultimately become – someone who was passionate about produce-led, seasonal food.

Brought up in Darlington, it was actually the time Ruth spent in her own garden that first led to an interest in food. ‘When I was about thirteen, I started growing my own vegetables,’ she explains. ‘I got really into it and basically dug up my mum’s back yard. Then I suddenly had all these fruit and vegetables, so I thought I better learn how to cook.’ Teaching herself the basics through watching tv programmes including MasterChef and Great British Menu (which she would eventually go on to compete on herself), Ruth began to cook for herself more and more regularly throughout her teens.

Despite still being tempted to pursue a career as a doctor, aged fifteen Ruth decided to enter Future Chef – a rigorous culinary competition run by the charity Springboard for those up to the age of sixteen. Making it all the way through to the national finals out of a field of close to 12,000, she was named runner-up of the entire competition and made some useful connections on the way. ‘At the national finals people would just hand me business cards,’ says Ruth. ‘They’d say ‘if you ever come to London, give me a call and I’ll give you a job’ which was crazy at that age.’

After returning home to Darlington to sit her GCSEs, Ruth's mind was made up – she wanted to become a professional chef and applied to Westminster College. ‘I literally found a flat on Gumtree and told my mum I was leaving,’ she laughs. ‘I think she thought I was a nutter and would be back once I’d figured out I couldn’t do my own washing.’ Ruth spent a year studying at Westminster whilst also working at Shoreditch’s Boundary under head chef Frederick Forster before beginning a three-year apprenticeship at The Ritz, where she was trained by executive chef John Williams MBE. ‘As part of Future Chef, we’d been taken for dinner at The Ritz and it had been my first experience of being anywhere like that,’ explains Ruth. ‘It just really opened my eyes and from then I was like ‘I want to cook here.’’

Working alongside a chef as established as John Williams so early on in her career was invaluable for Ruth. ‘As a chef he’s really passionate about training people and keeping them on,’ she says. ‘I was thrown in the deep end and put on the sauce section, but his sauces are second to none. I’d say that sauces are now one of my biggest strengths, but he’d probably say I needed to spend another five years there to learn them properly!’ Including her time as an apprentice, Ruth spent four years at The Ritz working her way up to the position of chef de partie, and on her twenty-first birthday the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star.

Whilst at The Ritz, Ruth also managed to find the time to take part in numerous cookery competitions across the world, winning titles including Master Chef of Great Britain and Young National Chef of the Year. ‘I love competing,’ she says. ‘That’s what got me into the industry. It challenges you to do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do in your day-to-day.’ In 2017, Ruth took the decision to leave the Ritz, taking some time out to work out what to do next and furthering her knowledge of British produce, which was fast becoming a focus of her cooking (‘I wanted to go out and explore all the producers and suppliers I could, and start to build those relationships’). In the meantime, a successful appearance on BBC’s Million Pound Menu alongside former sommelier at The Ritz Emily Lambert almost led to the duo opening a restaurant concept called Epoch, backed by Atul Kochhar, before the pair decided they wanted different things.

Following a period during which she moved around from place to place, doing stages at restaurants including Core by Clare Smyth, Ruth eventually landed her first head chef position at the Luton Hoo Hotel. ‘That was the job where I first properly learned how to manage people and how important it is,’ she explains. ‘You realise that everyone needs to be treated differently, and you can’t just shout at people or they’ll leave.’ Over the course of the two years she spent there, Ruth was able to work with lots of brilliant local produce and further develop her own style, but she soon started to miss London and wanted to do something a little more relaxed in style. This led her to taking the position of head chef at Notting Hill’s Pomona’s.

Not only was Ruth able to serve a more relaxed style of food at Pomona’s, but for the year she was there, she completely changed the menu, focusing it around the provenance-driven style of food that she loves. It took her trying this slightly more relaxed style of cookery, however, to realise that she did also still really enjoy fine dining. ‘I really enjoyed my time at Pomona’s,’ she says. ‘It’s so nice doing the more relaxed style of cooking because you can use big cuts and braises and make it really hearty but a side of me still wanted to do the more refined stuff.’ She was able to test out some of her more refined dishes whilst also fulfilling a childhood dream by taking part in 2020’s Great British Menu, where her food proved a hit and took her all the way the final of the prestigious competition.

When Pomona’s closed in 2020, Ruth was given the chance to relaunch the entire food offering at East London gastropub The Princess of Shoreditch. Providing her with the opportunity to look after both the more relaxed downstairs pub menu and the tasting menu served in the upstairs dining room, she leapt at the opportunity. ‘I just jumped at the chance. It was amazing to be able to refine things upstairs and then be playful with pub classics downstairs. We also bought a lot of whole animals, so it also gave us the chance to utilise everything.’ In terms of where Ruth’s preference now lies in terms of the food she most enjoys cooking, she’s still undecided: ‘In terms of creating dishes, I definitely prefer the more refined stuff but I probably actually prefer cooking the downstairs menu.’

Ruth won numerous accolades at The Princess of Shoreditch including three AA rosettes, before leaving in 2022 to continue developing as a chef.