Pippa Elson - Junior Sous Chef

Posted: 08/03/2024 in Blog

International Womens Day Interview with Junior Sous Chef Pippa Elson Centurion Club

Pippa Elson is our Junior Sous Chef. Whilst there are more girls and women now working in the culinary industry, kitchen roles are still predominently filled by males. To celebrate International Women's Day 2024, we caught up with Pippa who is one of two women in the Centurion Club kitchen, to learn about her journey as a Chef...

Tell us about your career journey so far…

I completed my chef training at West Herts College and was lucky enough to gain a work experience place at The Grove hotel. I was able to gain a very rounded experience during this time as I had exposure to the numerous kitchens, each of which had a unique way of preparing and presenting dishes – including 24-hour room service and afternoon tea, to spa and restaurant. During my time there I met Head Chef Calvin Hill who offered me a full-time role, which I gladly took. I then went onto work in restaurants working my way up from Commis Chef, Demi Chef up to Chef De Partie! I then followed Calvin to Centurion Club.

Apart from cooking – what do you love about being a Chef?

I really enjoy working with suppliers; building relationships with them and working together to source seasonal produce to use on our menus. Having a detailed understanding about the provenance of the food is really important to me, so creating those close working relationships is essential. I also really love the unique and tight bond that I have with the team of chefs. It is such an intense and often stressful environment to work in, so having a strong, trusting working relationship is essential. Many of the chefs in the team here at Centurion Club have worked together previously, which I think is testament to our solid working relationships.

Are there any women that you look up to and admire?

I am a huge fan of Clare Smyth MBE as she is the first and only British female chef to be awarded three Michelin stars, which is no mean feat. Clare has catered for many high-profile and exclusive events including the private wedding reception for the Royal Wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. She has appeared on MasterChef (UK and Australia), Netflix’s The Final Table, Top Chef (USA), and The Late Show. What am inspired by is her overall vibe – she doesn’t throw her weight around, doesn’t appear to have a huge ego and is well known for her calm and composed approach, which is exactly how I like to operate. Ultimately, she lets her food do the talking, which as a chef is how it should be, I think. Outside of the Chef world, it has to be Beyonce – she’s such a strong, independent woman and this comes through in her music, which is the soundtrack in my section in the kitchen!

If you were hosting a dinner party – who would you invite?

This one is easy; it would have to be my mum and my grandma (plus Beyonce – naturally)! My grandma is a huge inspiration to me in terms of food and a large part of why I am now a Chef. My mum won’t mind me saying, but she wasn’t that great at cooking, so when we visited my grandma, her food always blew my mind. Her style of cooking wasn’t extravagant, it was just homely, simple, comfort food, which felt like a hug.
She gave me my first ever cookbook, a three set Delia Smith recipe book which I’ve treasured to this day. She also taught me how to make corned beef hash, a dish she grew up with, as well as stews, the most moreish flapjacks, and cakes too. I take so much inspiration from how my grandma cooked – it was always hearty, well sourced, high-quality and delicious.

What would you cook?

A modern twist on what Grandma cooked, but not too fancy. I would want to return those endless hugs that her food gave me whilst also making them feel proud of me and what I am now capable of. It’s important to me for my grandma to know that I have taken the baton and although she was not a professional chef, think she would like to know that I was inspired by her.

Have you ever faced any barriers in your career due to being a woman?

There have been some along the way and I learned quite early on that I needed to develop thick skin. The industry is still very male dominated – for example I am the only full-time chef in the kitchen at Centurion Club. On my chef journey, I have come across some quite old fashioned viewpoints, but that has certainly lessened over the years and the team I work with currently operate in a much more modern, respectful and forward-thinking way compared to some others I’ve encountered in the past.

What advise would you give to other young women looking to embark on a culinary career?

I would say go for it - don’t be afraid to hold your own. Take any criticism on board without taking it personally. Attention to detail is everything for a chef, but it’s not always easy, so learning to stay calm and tune out of the noise in a busy kitchen is essential. It’s also important not to dwell on mistakes, but to adapt, overcome, problem solve and learn from them. Above all though, having a strong committed work ethic is key to success.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career as a chef?

To never stop asking questions. The more questions you ask, the more you learn. Pretend your mind is like a sponge, soak up every piece of information you are given, watch how people work, how they communicate, how they operate in the kitchen and then develop your own style and way of working. The other piece of advice is to respect your ingredients – take time to understand how nature created them; where they’ve come from and use them with consideration and care - sometimes less is more. 

Within your role, what are the most satisfying elements?

As soon as service starts, I love the rush of adrenaline, the fast paced, high-energy is addictive. Importantly, I love the relationships you build with the team – the camaraderie and friendship in the kitchen is second to none. It also gives me so much pleasure making a dish look pretty with bright, fresh ingredients. And receiving good feedback is always a bonus – I always get a real buzz when people love the food I have prepared.