Ones to watch: Lucy Timm

by Henry Coldstream 15 September 2021

Having tried her hand at a variety of different creative professions, it wasn’t until she was in her mid-twenties that Lucy Timm decided to try working in a professional kitchen. Finding her feet at trendy spots including Michelin-starred Leroy, she now heads up the kitchen at Royale in east London.

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Henry is a food writer at Great British Chefs.

Henry is a food writer at Great British Chefs. Having previously written pieces for a variety of online food publications, he joined the team in 2021 and helps with all editorial aspects of the site. When not writing, Henry can usually be found eating and drinking his way through London's many restaurants and bars, or cooking in his kitchen at home.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to becoming a chef. Some set their sights on working in a top kitchen from an early age; others fall into it almost by accident.. Lucy Timm is certainly part of the latter camp, having little idea that she was on the path to becoming a professional chef until 2017. Just four years later, however, she is the head chef of Royale, a Provençal-rooted restaurant from the team behind Leroy.

It makes sense that anyone who goes on to cook professionally will have at least some kind of positive relationship with food, but that wasn’t the case for Lucy (at least not at first). ‘I was actually a really picky eater as a child,’ she laughs. ‘I remember my mum saying that I used to pick the mushrooms out of a spag bol because I didn’t like them. It never crossed my mind to be honest, the idea of being a chef; the most experience I had when I was younger was doing some catering work and that was mostly just peeling quails’ eggs.’

Lucy had plenty of other creative outlets as she was growing up, even if cooking wasn’t one of them. She was a part-time DJ at university, studied illustration and embarked on an early career in documentary filmmaking, working on productions in both the UK and America before getting restless. ‘I’ve always been really creative but I just didn’t know what to channel that into,’ explains Lucy. ‘Like a lot of chefs, I’ve got ADHD so I used to hate working behind a screen – I’d just wander off! That’s why I ended up cheffing; it’s just such a good outburst of creativity and you’re always functioning.’

After initially applying for a kitchen porter role at Sager + Wild in Bethnal Green, the head chef quickly noticed that Lucy was more capable than a dish washer and gradually started to offer her shifts as a chef. Over the next seven months she began learning on the job, having had no formal training whatsoever and gradually honed her craft. Within just a couple of years of first setting foot in a professional kitchen, Lucy’s head chef put her in touch with Leroy’s head chef Sam Kamienko and, after a trial shift, all of a sudden she found herself working in a Michelin-starred kitchen.

While learning on the job in any profession may sound daunting, it was never something that phased Lucy. ‘It’s one of those things where you’ve just got to get on with it,’ she says. ‘There are obviously times where you make a mistake but I’ve been lucky to work in kitchens where people don’t shout or anything like that and I feel like that’s the environment where you learn the most. If someone screams at you, you’re not going to want to do what they’re asking. That was definitely the attitude at Leroy in particular; it was such a nice kitchen to work in and Sam taught us so much.’

Stepping up to a head chef position can take decades but for Lucy it came after just three years, when she was offered the chance to lead the kitchen at Royale – a new Provençal-style concept from the Leroy team based at The East London Liquor Company, which started its life as a rotisserie chicken takeaway service during the lockdown. While the offer to be at the helm of a kitchen took her by surprise, as she was only a chef de partie at that point, the fact that the team had put their trust in her after such a short time gave Lucy real confidence (‘to have the freedom to do what I wanted felt amazing’).

Inspired by legendary French cook and winemaker Lulu Peyraud, who died in 2020, the food Lucy cooks at Royale is all about simplicity done well rather than ultra-modern fine dining. ‘Lulu was such a prestigious chef but first and foremost she was just a great cook,’ explains Lucy. ‘That’s what I wanted to bring to Royale; it’s not really about how a chef would make something but rather how your mum would and I think that’s what people really love about it. I’d almost describe it as how a French grandma would do Leroy – it’s just good honest food.’

While she’s certainly busy running the restaurant, Lucy’s other strands of creativity from before she entered the kitchen still come into play. Having got back into DJing during the COVID lockdowns, Lucy designed all the playlists for Royale. What’s more, her time spent studying illustration at university has come in handy too. ‘I always think of cooking as being like a mad scientist putting all these formulas together’, says Lucy. ‘I did that a lot at uni with things like printmaking where you also get your hands dirty. For me, food is just like a level up from illustration as it’s not just about the presentation, it’s all about the flavours too.’

At Royale, Lucy serves plates of food that she enjoys cooking and the customers love eating. While she aspires to ultimately have her own little place one day, she’ll never stray too far from the style she’s now developed. ‘I watch Chef’s Table sometimes and see these restaurants with chemicals and stuff, and that’s just not me,’ she says. At the age of just twenty-eight, this is a chef still very much in the early days of her career, and going off the amount she has achieved after just four years behind the professional stove, there are bigger things to come for Lucy Timm.

To try Lucy's cooking for yourself, book a table at Royale here.