Origins of Sally Abé

Having worked with some of the country’s best, the Nottinghamshire-born chef names British food as her raison d’être. Inspiration along the way? South Yorkshire, vintage cookbooks and Gordon Ramsay’s pork belly glaze

Origins of Sally Abé Photo


Growing up, my mum was a headteacher – and very busy – but she would make time to prepare good food for us. After finishing school and moving up to Sheffield, I essentially had to look after my health for the first time. So I got a Delia Smith cookbook and started learning from scratch – I’d make wholesome stuff like casseroles and stews and mashed potatoes, and it made me really happy. I discovered my love for food and enrolled to study hospitality business management and culinary arts at Sheffield Hallam. It was a stepping stone to where I am today.

The Savoy

When it came to my placement year, I went on to work with Gordon Ramsay at The Savoy, down in London. My mum bought me his autobiography, Humble Pie, and I was very motivated by it. There were some useful tips in there – “In my kitchens we don’t like clock-watchers,” I remember reading, and for the first few months that stuck with me.

Pork belly

Starting out at The Savoy, I was tasked with the mundane jobs – chopping the herbs, preparing the crostini, making the glaze for the pork dish... That glaze I remember being so difficult. You’d have to slice the pork belly really thin on the slicer (which would then take twice as long to clean) and bake it, and half the time it would burn – but for me, it was about getting a little bit better each day. I’d time myself and try to take a minute off the next day, and another the next, and it would make me feel proud.

Brett Graham

I worked with Brett at The Ledbury for a long time – almost ten years all in all. He is not only an amazing chef, but an amazing mentor – it’s really important for him to teach how to run a business as well as how to cook, so when he gave me the opportunity to take over at The Harwood Arms that’s exactly what I was able to do. He was always there to offer advice.

English herbs

I have quite the collection of old English cookbooks at home – books by the likes of Florence White, Margaret Costa and Jane Grigson. Their take on British food is so interesting to me. I like to create my own recipes based on the ingredients they would have utilised in their cooking, incorporating often forgotten herbs like lovage or sweet cicely into modern British dishes.

Phil Howard

I took a break from the kitchen for 18 months to edit for Great British Chefs, and it was great to see the alternative paths available in the food industry. But when I saw that Phil Howard was opening a new restaurant, I got the itch. I’d always admired Phil, and working with him at Elystan Street in Chelsea [which he runs with Rebecca Mascarenhas] was so inspiring because of his unique outlook on food. It was a nice segue back into restaurant life, and his laid-back dishes would become what I love to cook.


An ingredient I couldn’t live without? Potatoes. There’s so much you can do with them – everybody loves chips and dauphinoise, and mashed potatoes would be my death-row meal. At The Pem, we are super driven by the seasons, and I really look forward to new ingredients coming into season, thinking about how I’ll incorporate them onto the menu, and potatoes are just so versatile.

Emily Wilding Davison

Opening The Pem, we wanted to dedicate it to strong women. The restaurant’s namesake is the prominent suffragette Emily Wilding Davison – known as ‘Pem’ to friends and family. Empowering and encouraging women in hospitality is so, so important to me – only 17 per cent of chefs are women, even though, historically, it’s been predominantly women cooking at home. I’ve made it my mission to show women that there is space in this industry for them, too.

Origins of Sally Abé Photo

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