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Published: 25 September 2008
Angela Hartnett -  they reckoned she'd only last two weeks
Angela Hartnett – they reckoned she’d only last two weeks
Gordon, me and the heat in the kitchen

As she opens a restaurant in the historic York and Albany, Angela Hartnett tells Simon Wroe all about her boss

PICTURE the situation.
Gordon Ramsay, the famously bellicose chef with a strong line in expletive-laden rants and exacting standards, is your boss. The York and Albany building at the top of Parkway, until recently filled with thousands of dead pigeons and in danger of collapse, is your prospective restaurant. The words “rock” and “hard place” barely cover it.
This was what greeted Angela Hartnett when she took over the development of the historic John Nash pub in February this year; six months on, the York and Albany will reopen this week as a boutique hotel, top-flight restaurant, bar and luxury delicatessen.
It’s a lightning turn-around but Hartnett, 39, is used to the speed and the pressure: she has been one of Ramsay’s right-hand chefs in his restaurant empire, Ramsay Holdings, for the past decade.
The Ramsay management style has spawned its detractors. Marcus Wareing, head chef at Petrus (previously owned by Ramsay), publicly stated that he “wouldn’t lose any sleep” if he never saw his former employer again.
Critics have accused the volatile Scotsman of spending too much time on television.
Angela, however, defends her boss to the hilt.
“Look, I wouldn’t work for a guy if he was an arsehole,” she tells me emphatically. “Gordon will shout at you during service, but he’ll always take you aside at the end of the night and explain what you did wrong. People don’t see that on TV, they just see him shouting and cursing. He’s a gentleman, he’s generous.”
She adds: “Gordon does a lot of TV but that’s fine as long as the quality is there in the food. I think you’re as good as your last meal. A lot of the time it’s in diners’ minds anyway. Some evenings I’ve been at the restaurant but nowhere near the kitchen and people will come up to me afterwards and say: ‘The food was so good tonight, I can always tell when you’re in the kitchen’.”
She rarely sees Ramsay, she says, but they talk often on the phone. Ramsay’s role in the Y&A – as in Hartnett’s other restaurant, Murano, which opened two weeks ago in Mayfair – is purely executive; Hartnett is the chef patron, responsible for everything from sourcing the ingredients, picking the staff, and writing the menu.
The food will be modern European, complete with a wood-fired pizza oven. It’s a reflection of Hartnett’s Italian roots: as a child, living above a fish’n’chip shop in Essex, she would make pasta and bread with her nonna (Italian for grandmother) every day after school.
“It is my restaurant,” she says. “I have to fill in everything that needs to be done. It can be daunting.”
Hartnett is more than capable – she was one of the first female chefs awarded a prestigious Michelin star for her previous restaurant, Angela Harnett at the Connaught, and is hotly tipped for another star at the Murano – but her climb to the top has not been easy.
When she began at Ramsay’s Aubergine in 1994, known to neighbouring restaurants as “Vietnam”, chefs took bets on how long she would last. Wareing gave her two weeks. Fourteen years later Hartnett is still grafting, though she describes those early days as “psychological warfare”. “You have to be able to stand your ground,” she says. “There are some men who don’t like taking orders from women and that makes it tough.
“But get over it – it’s going to be a male-dominated world.”
As a woman in a man’s world Hartnett has her hard edges. She is curt with frequently asked questions, or the suggestion that the York and Albany is a gastro-pub, and admits she does lose her temper with chefs. But she is also warm, attentive and keen to shun the scary chef tag.
She promises the York and Albany will be “less pricey, more youthful and a lot of fun” compared to other restaurants in the Ramsay empire.
“Don’t get me wrong,” she adds, still sounding a little formidable, “I can be relaxed.”

• York & Albany opened on Monday
127-129 Parkway, NW1.
020 7388 3344.

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