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Skye Gyngell

Within a few months of opening, Skye had received rave reviews and awards for her seasonal, simple plates of food. ‘Back then, people didn’t talk about cooking seasonally. If you looked at a Gordon Ramsay menu it would have things like pineapples, strawberries and asparagus on during December, and supermarkets and globalisation meant people just didn’t know when an ingredient was in season. We just worked with what we could get from the vegetable garden, and people were wowed by it. I was thirty-nine years old when I started at Petersham, which was my first restaurant, and it was only then that I really got into my stride.’

Skye continued to cook at Petersham for just under ten years, eventually winning a Michelin star – something which she famously branded a ‘curse’ as it made the restaurant far too busy for the small team to cope with and altered diners’ expectations. She left Petersham Nurseries to seek investment for a new restaurant, which came in the form of the Chan family. After two years of searching for a space and months of planning permission requests and refurbishment, the old inland tax revenue offices at Somerset House were transformed into Spring – a stunning restaurant where Skye is finally able to cook the food she loves in surroundings that match the beautiful dishes.

While Petersham Nurseries was all rickety tables and glassware from IKEA, Spring is quite the opposite – a grandiose dining room where every detail has been carefully designed and thought out. What hasn’t changed, however, is Skye’s approach to cooking. ‘On a personal level, Spring is a natural progression from Petersham,’ she explains. ‘The biggest change was the amount of freedom and space Spring offered. We have twenty-six chefs compared to just six at Petersham, we open in the evenings, we make absolutely everything ourselves – even the tonic for the gin and tonics. But the same things are important to me now as they were fifteen years ago: to cook beautiful food and create a really lovely experience for people who come to eat here. With a larger team under me my desire to be a good boss has grown; I want to teach and train staff and for them to think of Spring as a happy place to work. Environmental issues are really important too – we managed to eliminate all single-use plastics from the kitchen at the start of 2019. My idea of success has definitely changed from being concerned about what people think of me as a cook to how we work as a business overall.’

While the incredible team Skye has put together (including her very talented head chef Rose Ashby) and the beautiful interiors have helped Spring become one of London’s top restaurants, the ingredients she sources play an incredibly important role, too. Without the luxury of a vegetable garden next to the kitchen she began collaborating with Fern Verrow, a sixteen-acre biodynamic farm in Herefordshire which now supplies the vast majority of her fruits, vegetables and flowers. ‘I’d known about Jane Scotter and Fern Verrow for years – she used to sell produce at Borough Market and Maltby Street,’ says Skye. ‘I wrote to her and asked if she’d be interested in working together, not expecting much of a reply, but she wanted to give it a go. It took us about a year to work everything out, but it’s turned into the most amazing relationship – she’s a real friend and I have immense respect for her.’

Good chefs, good surroundings and good ingredients – it’s the perfect formula for a restaurant people want to go back to again and again. And while dozens of other places are focusing on seasonal, simple cookery, few know how to do it as well (or have access to the same quality of ingredients) as Skye.

Three things you should know

Skye is also the culinary director at Heckfield Place, an ambitious country house hotel and restaurant in Hampshire with 460 acres of space for growing crops and rearing animals for the menu.

Skye is the author of four cookbooks called How I Cook, Spring, A Year In My Kitchen and My Favourite Ingredients.

Skye credits her time in Paris and chefs Margot Henderson and Peter Gordon as her greatest influences.