Development & Alumni Relations Office 

CLARE SMYTH CELEBRATES THREE MICHELIN STARS  Michelin starred chef, Clare Smyth, in colourful academic robes for honorary degree

09 February 2020

In the latest of our series of Honoris Causa features, meet the Northern Ireland chef and Queen’s Honorary Graduate, Clare Smyth MBE (DUni 2019), the only British woman to win three Michelin stars for her own restaurant – Core by Clare Smyth – which opened just three years ago.

The announcement was made at the online launch of the Michelin Guide for Great Britain and Ireland 2021 on Monday 25th January, after what has been a hugely challenging year for the hospitality sector.

Alongside Hélène Darroze, who was awarded a prestigious third star for her eponymous restaurant at The Connaught in central London, Ms Smyth, who cooked for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s evening wedding party at Frogmore House in May 2018, saw her chic, fine dining Notting Hill restaurant, going from two to the maximum three stars.

Michelin described this year’s presentation as a ‘celebration of the huge talent we have in the UK and Ireland, as well as of the inspiring way in which restaurants have been rising to face the challenges of the last year.

The official news release continued: ‘In these uncertain and highly testing times, we are particularly delighted to be able to announce the promotion of not just one but two restaurants from Two to Three Michelin Stars – our highest accolade, awarded to those at the very peak of their profession. This brings the total number of Three Starred restaurants in the Great Britain & Ireland 2021 selection to seven.’

The Antrim-born chef who attended Dunluce High School in the village of Bushmills received a Doctor of the University (DUni) from Queen’s in July 2019 ‘for Services to the hospitality industry’. Ms Smyth was the first and only female chef to maintain a restaurant with three Michelin stars in the UK, when she was Chef Patron at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (2012-16), during which time she also won the Chef of the Year Award in 2013.

The same year, she received an MBE for services to the hospitality industry. Her debut eatery, Core by Clare Smyth, opened in 2017 and within 12 months was named GQ Magazine’s restaurant of the year. Numerous awards followed including an unheard of two stars as a new entry in the 2019 Michelin Guide, skipping the one star category altogether. Ms Smyth also received the World’s Best Female Chef Award from the World’s Best 50 Restaurants, earned a perfect 10/10 in the The Good Food Guide and was awarded five AA rosettes.

Delivering the honorary degree citation, Helen Surgenor, Assistant Director (Fundraising) in the University’s Development and Alumni Relations Office, said:

“From the age of 14, Clare Smyth from County Antrim knew she wanted to be a chef. Not just a good chef but a great chef. Two years later, she was on the journey towards that ambition.

“Clare (the youngest of three children) grew up on the family farm near Bushmills. At weekends she worked part-time at a local restaurant but at the age of 16 she left home and went to England to enrol in a catering course at Highbury College in Portsmouth.

“Her first full-time job was at Terence Conran’s Michelin House restaurant in London.  Quite a start.”  

Ms Smyth then spent six months in Australia with a catering company before returning to the UK where she worked at several top restaurants, including the St Enodoc Hotel in Cornwall, where she won her first award – Young Cornish Fish Chef of the Year.

In 2002 came another big career moment. Gordon Ramsay offered her a job, though she didn’t take him up on the offer right away, deciding instead to spend two years working in restaurants in New York and California. After a year with Ramsay she had a spell with the legendary chef Alain Ducasse – who boasts 17 Michelin stars across his global empire of 36 restaurants – in his three-Michelin-star Le Louis XV in Monaco. She was subsequently lured back to London to become the head chef at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in 2007, making her the first female chef in the UK to run a restaurant with three Michelin stars.

Then in 2016, Ms Smyth took a brave step in her life’s journey, leaving the Ramsay business to open her own restaurant in Notting Hill.

With an international profile, she has appeared regularly on television shows such as MasterChef Australia, on Netflix's The Final Table and BBC One’s Saturday Kitchen.

Speaking at the time about the DUniv from Queen’s, Ms Smyth said:

“It is an honour to be recognised for service to the hospitality industry as I have worked very hard throughout my career to elevate my craft, to inspire and support the next generation, to shine the spotlight on British gastronomy and continue to push the boundaries which help our industry evolve.”

Back to 2021, the online audience was kept in suspense throughout the evening, with the announcement of Ms Smyth’s latest honour remaining under wraps until the very last minute.  

Revealing the second three star winner, Gwendal Poullennec, International Director, Michelin Guides, said:

“This chef is the epitome of professionalism, presentation, work ethic and talent. The skills that this chef represents and adds to the three star group of chefs worldwide is outstanding. This chef is also a fine ambassador of the profession and the ultimate level of perfection by which her whole team is driven. Her cuisine is dynamic and transports the diner to another level.”

Outlining why it was awarding her restaurant a prestigious third star, the Michelin citation continued: ‘It’s not just the food that makes a restaurant and, at Core, Clare Smyth really focuses on the whole experience. It’s a wonderfully discreet, elegant space, which fits its Notting Hill location perfectly. The room has a cool, serene feel; flowers and accessories on the wooden tables echo the seasons; and even the crockery is specially commissioned to match the mood.

‘From the moment you arrive, Clare’s superb service team put you at ease with their warm welcome and natural pride – and they work seamlessly together to provide some of the smoothest, most attentive service around.’

Speaking immediately after the announcement, Ms Smyth said:

“We work hard every day to be the best that we can and we try to be better every day than the last and that’s the most important thing. Obviously it was my dream to achieve this level but you could never imagine that it could happen. It’s incredible!”

She added: “There’s nothing that is unachievable now. Core opened just over three years ago; it was my passion since I was 16 years old. It’s a restaurant that I own and I just want for the future that young chefs – male and female – have the opportunity to own their restaurant and achieve success.”   

Congratulating Ms Smyth on her achievement, Nathalie Trott, Queen’s Director of Development and Alumni Relations Office said:

“To attain one or even two Michelin stars is a huge achievement, to defend three is a major accomplishment but to actually win a third star for her own restaurant inside just three years is, quite honestly, amazing.

“Three Michelin stars is the ultimate accolade – something only the world’s greatest dining establishments can ever hope to achieve – and is afforded only to those restaurants which, in the Michelin’s Guide own words, offer ‘exceptional cuisine’ that is ‘worth a special journey.’

“Queen’s is enormously proud of Clare’s latest accolade; not only is she one of the UK’s most gifted chefs, she now ranks among the very best in the world.”

Watch the 'live reveal' of the recently awarded restaurants for the Michelin Guide selection 2021 for Great Britain and Ireland on YouTube.

Queen's awards honorary degrees to individuals who have achieved high distinction or given significant service in one or more fields of public or professional life, and who serve as ambassadors for the University and Northern Ireland around the world.

For general enquiries about this story, or to submit graduate news items, please contact Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office, Queen's University Belfast.

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