Ones to watch: Sarah Hayward

by Henry Coldstream 26 May 2022

Sarah Hayward started working for Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge in 2015 and within six years had been promoted to head chef at his second Marlow pub, The Coach. Henry Coldstream caught up with Sarah to find out more about her impressive rise up the ranks.

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Henry is the features editor at Great British Chefs.

Henry is the features editor 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.

Working your way up the ladder at any restaurant is no easy task, but at one overseen by an industry giant like Tom Kerridge, it’s a completely different ball game. Every plate of food that leaves the pass not only reflects on the chef who cooked it but on Kerridge himself, meaning that only those who match up to his exacting standards and are full of ambition will make it right the way to the top at one of his restaurants. Sarah Hayward may have only started working for Kerridge in 2015 as a commis chef at The Hand and Flowers but she quickly caught his attention, and just six years later found herself leading the kitchen at his second pub The Coach – an impressive feat and one that requires a huge amount of drive.

‘I’ve always had a pretty strong work ethic,’ says Sarah, ‘you get out what you put in. That’s why my ethos is to keep my head down and always be pushing for the next thing, no matter how high up in the hierarchy I get. If someone had told me seven years ago where I’d be now, I probably would have laughed in their face, so I am really proud.’

Such ambition in the kitchen is something that develops over the course of many years and for Sarah, it was seeing her father - a professional chef himself - cooking while she grew up on the Isle of Wight, ‘my dad is still, to this day, one of the most passionate chefs I’ve ever met and I always really looked up to him,’ she explains. ‘Funnily enough he tried everything in his power to stop me from becoming a chef while I was growing up because he knew how hard it was.’ Her father may have thought that two weeks work experience at his incredibly busy pub would put Sarah off for cooking life but instead it had the opposite effect. She instantly fell in love with the kitchen and by the age of sixteen had landed a year-long apprenticeship at The Royal Hotel on the island.

Sarah first started working for Tom Kerridge at The Hand & Flowers in 2015.
Now, as head chef at The Coach, she serves an enticing menu of classic British small plates.

The Isle of Wight may not be particularly well-known for its restaurants, but it is home to a bounty of amazing produce, from incredible tomatoes to beautiful fresh seafood. This meant that Sarah learnt to appreciate the importance of great ingredients early on – something that’s still the focus of her food at The Coach: ‘I’ll always remember this one time when I was working at the hotel,’ she smiles, ‘this local fisherman brought this super fresh seabass to us that was still flapping around in the cage. The team literally prepped it, cooked it and served it that night, and I just thought that was amazing.’ As tempting as it might have been for Sarah to stay on the Isle of Wight, she knew that to truly flourish as a chef, she needed to move to the mainland, which she did in 2010. ‘It was the best decision I ever made,’ she says. ‘If I hadn’t left the island, I don’t think I ever would have fulfilled what I considered to be my potential.’

Sarah’s first few years off the Isle of Wight saw her join the Chester Grosvenor as an apprentice, working under Simon Radley, and leave just two years later as demi-chef de partie. Her first taste of a Michelin-starred kitchen came soon after at Wiltshire’s Lucknam Park, where she was able to hone her cookery abilities under the guidance of Hywel Jones. ‘That’s one of those kitchens where so many of the chefs who’ve come through his brigade have gone on to do exceptional things,’ says Sarah, ‘I’ve been super lucky to have some very strong chefs support me through my career so far and Hywel is definitely one of them.’

No chef has been a bigger inspiration to Sarah though, than Tom Kerridge, whom she first met in 2015 when she took up a position at the two-star Hand and Flowers in Marlow. Kerridge’s ingredient-led approach in the kitchen immediately appealed to the young chef and changed the way she looked at food. ‘Chef Tom has had a massive influence over my cooking style,’ Sarah explains. ‘I just love the way he lets the ingredients do the talking. There’s no fannying around; his food just does what it says on the tin. Mother nature is the true artist, we just put things on the plate and make them look good!’

The Coach's whole stuffed rotisserie quail with satay sauce
The Coach burger, featuring pulled pork, raclette and a dill pickle

The Hand and Flowers was only the beginning of Sarah's professional relationship with Tom Kerridge. After being promoted to junior sous chef at The Coach, she moved up to Manchester to join the opening team at his hotel restaurant The Bull and Bear and, within a matter of months, was made head chef. And it was in Manchester that Sarah feels she started to have more influence on the menu, ‘I learnt so much while I was in Manchester,’ she says, ‘there was this moment where I was like ‘oh god this is my menu now’. The executive chef gave me a lot of support though and made me feel confident that my food was good enough to get on the menu.’

In 2021, Sarah returned to The Coach to become head chef of the Michelin-starred pub. There, she continues to enjoy a free reign when it comes to creating dishes for the renowned small-plate menu, proving she’s a chef that Kerridge really trusts, ‘I’m really lucky at the Coach as I still have a lot of flexibility with what I put on the menu,’ Sarah explains. ‘Tom is so encouraging about us trying new dishes but equally if I ever need any advice, he picks up his phone immediately.’

If there’s one thing that her career thus far demonstrates, it’s that Sarah is always looking to further herself as a chef, and even after such an impressively quick rise up the ranks of Kerridge’s mini empire, she’s under no illusion that she’s the finished product. ‘My style is definitely still developing,’ she adds. ‘I don’t think you should ever stop learning and as soon as you feel you have, you’re probably in the wrong job.’ With an attitude as positive as that, Sarah can only be destined for even bigger things in the industry.