In a world full of men, Sophie Wright is making her mark as Jack Shamash discovered…
At the tender age of 23 Sophie Wright has a large number of achievements to her credit. She has won prizes for cooking, she became the youngest chef in a top London restaurant and is now putting the finishing touches to her second cookbook. Her two books: ‘Easy Peasy’ and the forthcoming ‘In at 7, Dinner at 8’, are about encouraging busy, young people to cook up something special. We met up in the trendy Eastway café, next to Liverpool Street Station.
Q: Why did you want to write cookbooks for young people?
Sophie I was at my best friend’s flat and I noticed that she never used her oven and hadn’t even taken the stickers off the inside. I felt I had to show young, professional people that cooking could be fun.
Q: You were top the highest achieving competition chef at Westminster Kingsway College, which is very well respected in the profession. Does this mean that you are ruthlessly ambitious?
Sophie When I left school [Sophie grew up and went to school in the East End of London] I didn’t have any qualifications. So I had to prove that I was capable of achieving something. That made me very focused. I was scared of what my parents would think if I didn’t do well.
Q: You work for a lot of rich families, as a personal chef. Is that fun?
Sophie I have been to places like Saint Tropez in the South of France and to the West Indies. Last week I was in Tobago and in the summer I’ll be in Cap Ferrat. I cook for the families and their guests – and I can cook for up to about 60 people at a time. It’s a great challenge – and money is no object. If they ask for lobster for 30 people I’ll just go and order it.
Q: Who are the most famous people that you cooked for?
Sophie I cooked for Leonardo de Caprio and Avril Lavigne and a lot of French politicians that you probably won’t have heard of.
Q: Have you cooked anything bizarre for the film stars.
Sophie I have had to make a lot of egg white omelettes, because actors are always conscious of their weight. But apart from that, they eat normal food – just like everybody else!
Q: What’s all this business about you and Florida Grapefruits?
Sophie I’m working with Florida Grapefruits to encourage healthy eating. We’ve got lots of workshops, schools visits and recipes. We’re really just trying to inspire young people.
Q: Why do you think there so much interest in chefs and cookery at the moment?
Sophie Cooking is a great life skill. I think every young person should be able to make a plate of pasta or cook eggs. Also celebrity chefs have made it trendy. And people are intrigued with what chefs do. Many restaurants these days have open kitchens, where you can watch the chefs at work. It’s like theatre.
Q: Is it really possible to cook fine food without making a lot of effort?
Sophie Yes. Some of the meals in my books only take ten minutes. I wanted to inspire people.
Q: But one of your recipes involves marinating a pork belly, then simmering it in olive oil and then roasting it. Is this really practical for busy people?
Sophie This technique is known as confit. I agree that this isn’t something you’d want to do every day, but you could do it regularly. My mum makes a confit at least once a week.
Q: What’s your favourite piece of kitchen equipment?
Sophie I love my microplane, which is like a very fine grater. You can get them at catering suppliers for about £15. I also have a very small non-stick frying pan, which is useful for most dishes. And I love my catering tongs – in the trade they are known as ‘clackers’.
Q: Finally – any tips for cooks at home?
Sophie Buy seasonally, use fresh herbs and get a few good basic ingredients – Maldon sea salt, extra virgin olive oil, Dijon mustard, olive oil and good runny honey. That should put you well on your way to making really good meals.