Ones to watch: Ruth Hansom

Ones to watch: Ruth Hansom

by Pete Dreyer 29 January 2018

With five years at The Ritz and a trophy cabinet that’s packed to the gunnels, twenty-one-year-old Ruth Hansom is out to take the UK food scene by storm.

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Pete worked as a food writer at Great British Chefs.

Pete worked as a food writer at Great British Chefs and trained at Leiths School of Food and Wine in London. Although there’s very little he won’t eat, his real passion is health and nutrition, and showing people that healthy food can be delicious too. When he’s not writing or cooking, you’ll probably find him engrossed in a bowl of pho.

Chefs discover a passion for food in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways, but Ruth’s story is one of prodigious talent. She was growing her own produce and cooking dinner for her family at an age when most of us could barely be trusted to feed ourselves. ‘For my thirteenth birthday I asked for a polytunnel, so I could grow more vegetables in the garden,’ she says. Her mum confronted her with a choice – an enormous one for a thirteen-year-old – she had to choose between the polytunnel or the trampoline sitting in the back garden. Needless to say, the trampoline didn’t make the cut. ‘I was a strange child,’ she laughs wryly.

Despite her natural enthusiasm, Ruth admits that she never really thought about food as a career when she was younger. ‘I actually wanted to be a doctor,’ she says, but with GCSEs looming large and the prospect of A Levels then university further on the horizon, a cooking competition changed everything.

Future Chef is a national cooking competition for under-sixteens, run every year by Springboard – a UK charity that helps young and underprivileged people. It’s a fierce contest, with four rounds – each more competitive than the last – to navigate. Ruth made it to the national final in London and finished as runner-up, with her food judged by a host of celebrity chefs. ‘There were lots of really high profile people there, and they give you their business cards and stuff – as a fifteen-year-old that was a pretty amazing experience.’ When Ruth returned home to Darlington to finish her GCSEs, she was left with a choice – commit to the best part of a decade of further education to become a doctor, or head to London and become a chef there and then. Sure enough, her budding medical career went the same way as her trampoline. ‘I applied for Westminster College, found a flat on Gumtree and packed my bags,’ she says. ‘I was in London about a month later.’

Ruth has won a multitude of awards, including Young National Chef of the Year in 2017
Scallops with fennel, cucumber and sea vegetables – just one of Ruth's many acclaimed dishes

Ruth spent a year studying at Westminster, simultaneously working with Frederick Forster at Boundary in Shoreditch and staging all over London, before going onto a three-year Royal Academy of Culinary Arts apprenticeship at The Ritz with John Williams – another north-east chef turned Londoner. ‘Fred gave me his business card at the Future Chef finals,’ says Ruth. ‘I just rang him up one day, and he came and saw me and gave me a job on the spot. To believe in me just from that is something I’ll always be grateful for.

‘Working with John has been amazing,’ she continues. ‘He’s a tough one, but he’s always fair in everything he says and he’ll always give you guidance or help you find the right path. And his palate is unbelievable!’

The Ritz has a reputation as a tough kitchen that forges superb chefs. Ruth is the latest in a long line of chefs who have graduated from its hallowed stoves, one that includes Adam Smith at Coworth Park - another serial competition-winner. ‘It’s a twenty-four seven, every day of the year operation’ says Ruth. ‘From the bakery in the morning, all through service in the day, then room service, bar service and functions, the kitchen never sleeps. It’s an amazing place to work.’

Despite the hectic schedule, Ruth still managed to find time to compete all over the world, and she boasts a trophy haul that is almost unmatched amongst young chefs. She has won Master Chefs of Great Britain Young Master Chef of the Year, Craft Guild of Chefs Apprentice of the Year and Craft Guild of Chefs Rising Star awards, as well as gold at the World Skills UK final, just to name a few. ‘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.’ Amid her bevy of awards, the proudest is her Young National Chef of the Year title last year, when she became the first ever female winner of the competition. ‘It was my third time in the final, so it was a massive achievement to finally win it. It was proof that I had been improving over the years.’

Having left The Ritz in October last year, Ruth’s boundless talent is about to be unleashed on the food world. She and erstwhile colleague Emily Lambert (formerly a sommelier at The Ritz) have teamed up and struck out on their own with Hansom & Lambert – a catering company with a concept of total Britishness. ‘All the wine and the food is British – even the tableware comes from small British suppliers,’ she explains. That sounds straightforward, but it means finding replacements for literally anything that cannot be produced in Britain. ‘We won’t use any pepper in our meals,’ she continues, ‘so I’m dehydrating a load of horseradish to use instead.’

The pair have recently been battling it out with eleven other hopefuls on BBC Two’s Million Pound Menu, a sort of Dragon’s Den-meets-Masterchef hybrid, where the successful food business wins a life-changing start-up investment. ‘We ran a pop-up for three days where investors could come and see our concept. The first thing we want to do is open a restaurant, but we want to be able to branch out afterwards too.’ Taping has finished already, but with the show not airing until March, Ruth is keeping the results under wraps. ‘You can tune in and watch it on BBC Two!’ she laughs. If I was an investor, I know who I’d put my money on.