Skip to content Skip to footer navigation

Meet The Chef: Kate Austen of The Great British Menu

Hand-crafted, luxury experiences curated by our team—speak to our concierge to learn more

By Ina Yulo Stuve on 8th July 2024

When she found out that most of the other chefs she’d be competing against on The Great British Menu had restaurants of their own, private chef Kate Austen initially felt intimated, but tried to focus on the end goal.

Despite ending the first challenge—a vegan starter—with the lowest score amongst the chef challengers, Austen came back with a vengeance to become the first female chef in the show’s 19-year history to win the main course with her stuffed quail, truffle French toast, and scotch egg dish.

Though Austen is not currently working in a restaurant, she has quite the Michelin-starred line-up under her belt: Morston Hall, Marcus Wareing, AOC, and Frantzen to name a few. “Cooking in Scandinavia was awesome,” she says. “In Denmark, my eyes were opened to a new style of cooking which is always exciting and challenging. I was immersed in the whole side of pickling and preserving, something that was relatively new to me, but the Nordics are known for. The kitchen was so calm and controlled, a different service to the many covers I had done in the UK. And I loved it.” Austen explains that cooking in the Nordics taught her about having focus, attention to detail, and precision, and she soon realized that she had found her style. She soon moved on to a tougher challenge, joining a three-Michelin star restaurant in Sweden as a sous chef. “That carries with it a lot of proving of oneself. At times I found the attitude intimidating and tiring but I worked diligently and earnt my stripes. I think if you are moving in the top circle of any industry, then your role will be challenging and tricky at times – arguably that’s why you are there, because you can handle it,” she says.

It’s that determination, coupled with her unparalleled technique, that truly helped Austen stand out on The Great British Menu. With a new notch under her belt, I ask her if she’s ready to leave the private chef world behind and make the leap into becoming a restaurateur. “I think there is a part of me that will always want and crave a restaurant. I love the buzz of it, I live for creating dishes that evoke emotions and leave memories, and it’s an area that I believe I understand well,” she shares. “However, London intimidates me from a business point of view. I feel like it used to be a place you came to with nothing and left with something, but we all know the issues that surround restaurants: Rising rent, rising wages, rising food costs. I don’t know how to manage this side of the business, and with such a hugely saturated market already, I would be nervous. Never say never though… “

 Securing your first job at a Michelin-starred restaurant without any training is quite the feat. What do you think it was that convinced them to take a flyer on you?

Thank you, that is very kind to say. I think some people are willing to give others a chance and see how they take on the challenge, and my first head chef was no exception to this. Whilst there is always natural skill and flare in anything, I believe cooking is something that can be taught to a determined mind. I hope that they thought there was some grit and focus from my side, and if I could juggle all the other factors, then the cooking would come. I do believe you are a product of your experiences, and ever since I would always, always give someone a chance to work in my kitchen, whatever background, whatever experience. 

What are some of the things you love most about being a private chef?

I like the homework that comes with being a private chef. You have to always be coming up with new ideas, new dishes, different ways of plating things and recipes. I love reading cookbooks, I could flick through them all day. I enjoy all the research and the inspiration I get from chefs all over the world. I have access to a lot of incredible produce and ingredients and that is a real privilege. It is a bit of a broken record, but the better the produce you start with, the better the product will be. 

How would you describe your cooking in three words?

Passionate, emotive, delicious…

What’s one thing about your experience on The Great British Menu that viewers would be surprised to find out about?

Hmmm…that it’s all filmed in a carpark in a warehouse in Stratford-upon-Avon? And if I pushed a wall the whole thing would fall down? 

Is there a particular cuisine you’re interested in learning more about?

Yes! Many! I’ve just spent the week in Italy improving my Italian cooking and recipe repertoire. I’ve never worked in an Italian kitchen so it’s been a joy cooking alongside some amazing chefs. I’d also love to travel to Japan and immerse myself in their culture and cooking. I think what I know is only scratching the surface.

You’re having guests over for dinner. What’s on the menu?

Depends on who the guests are! It sounds like a crazy thing for me to say considering my profession, but I want to be involved in the dinner party and not glued to the kitchen. So, I will always try and be clever about what I can prepare in advance and make things that cater to this. I had some friends over for dinner during the thick of Great British Menu practicing and they got red Thai curry with quail and egg noodles. That was a bit unusual though. I think people like to eat healthier these days so I would try and do something that isn’t totally gut-busting—and then ruin it with a banging pudding because hopefully by that point no one cares about the diet! 

Many people find cooking at home intimidating. Do you have a fail-proof dish/recipe that even the most amateur of home cooks would feel confident making?

Well, I’d first say that I understand those intimidations, but you’ve got to try and fail to work out what to do. There is not a single job in a kitchen that I haven’t gotten wrong, and that’s how I got good! I had to learn how to get out of every disaster. I think one-pan oven dishes are a good place to start, and a recipe with chicken thighs. They always take around 25 minutes, they’re on the bone so retain the moisture and have a higher fat content, making them harder to go wrong with.

What are your favourite places for: 1/ Buying produce 2/ Having a celebratory meal 3/ Catching up with friends

  1. We’ve all heard a million times that the better the produce, the better the outcome. And that’s not wrong. But, we do not always have that luxury, and I understand that. I go to the veg man on Newington Green for herbs and tomatoes, mainly. They are two ingredients I eat a lot and I think really make a difference on spending a little more money than your supermarket jobbies. Plus, with those big bunches of herbs, if you keep them in water and in the fridge, they’ll last for a week or more. Fish from Oeno Maris—bang next to the veg—their  stuff is so fresh and delicious. Meat, I would try and always do a butcher, but if I’m honest I don’t eat too much meat at home.  

  2. Celebratory meal, ooohh if I was going fancy, I really like Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social, which is sadly closing! I find the food delicious and so perfectly balanced, the staff refreshingly human and charming, and the setting just right for feeling indulgent but not stuffy. I’m desperate to try Orasay in Notting Hill, so the next occasion I get I’m going to try and head there. 

  3. If I was catching up with friends I would head to the Plimsoll pub in Finsbury Park and drink lots of wine and order multiple burgers. Then I would zigzag my way home, delighted. 

Which city or country has given you the best food memories?

It’s got to be Copenhagen because I spent such a transitional and influential time in my career there, and it is where I started to carve out my own identity of cooking. Chefs are notoriously not paid well but the Danes are slightly further along with that, and it was probably the first time when I could regularly eat out when I wasn’t at work. I got to try some of the world’s best restaurants, Noma being among them, but also eat at delicious Danish bistros, try hot dogs from street vendors, try herring every possible way, breakfast on Danish pastries that were truly like no other. It was amazing. 

Kate Austen


Share this Article

You Might Also Like