Sophie Wright – the commuter’s cook


London Evening Standard

Written by Victoria Stewart
“I haven’t worked for anyone mega-famous,” Sophie Wright tells me in her South Woodford home. Then she pauses, remembering the private catering jobs she did for Leonardo DiCaprio, Avril Lavigne and multi-billionaire Roman Abramovich, and grins.

“OK, well I did them, yeah, and it was really cool but, you know, you are still the staff.”

Sure, I think, as if cooking for the guy every 15-year-old girl had on a poster in her bedroom is totally routine. But then, with a peal of laughter, she ‘fesses up: “Leonardo’s still very yummy actually. And I made sure his beef was cooked perfectly, of course!”

Wright is still only 24, yet unlike others her age who are struggling for graduate jobs, she has been working on her enviable CV since finishing her GCSEs. Born in Hackney with two working parents, Wright admits she was not at all academic at school.

“I was dyslexic and used to cause havoc because I was so bored. I’d come home and create havoc in the kitchen too. There was always food in every bit of my life.”

Instead of continuing her academic studies Wright completed a three-year chef’s diploma at Westminster Kings-way College, where Jamie Oliver, Ainsley Harriott and Antony Worrall Thompson once trained.

She then got talent-spotted, having aced most of her mainly male contemporaries in catering competitions and was taken on as London’s youngest head chef aged 20 at Notting Hill hangout Beach Blanket Babylon before bringing out her first cookbook that same year.

Four years later she has given up res taurant work – “although if the right opportunity to work with a chef came up, I’d definitely take it – there are so many opportunities for young entrepreneurial people in London”. She now runs her own catering company in Leadenhall Market and has a new easy-to-follow recipe book out called Home at 7, Dinner at 8.

While Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals shot up the book charts, it had cooks nationwide complaining about its unrealistic time limits. Wright’s, however, is full of short, straightforward recipes – such as Easy Tart or a quick apricot brioche pudding – that you can imagine trying out, even after a nine-to-five slog. And she of all people knows how that feels: “I know what it’s like to work really long hours and come home absolutely starving. You want to order a takeaway or eat immediately but don’t have a clue where to start, especially in a small kitchen like mine. As I say in the book, it’s OK to take shortcuts.

Why not buy shop-bought pastry or use a bit of tomato ketchup?”

But Wright insists she isn’t on a mission to change our lives, she just wants to make cooking quick and stress-free: “I can’t get people who don’t like cooking to cook. My book is basically aimed at busy people who are a bit bored with those five same recipes: the roast chicken, the spag bol, the stir fry, the lasagne and the shepherd’s pie. I’ve taken the ingredients from those dishes and just tried to jazz them up a bit.”

Certainly the salmon, pancetta and asparagus dish she whips up in front of me looks suitably jazzy.

Yet Wright remains unfazed by her success. “I love what I’m doing now but I do miss the buzz of working in a restaurant – the camaraderie, having the boys around. And I love the fact that I’m a woman and people remember me because I could just be another boy fading into the background in what is a really, really tough industry.”

Tough it may be but Sophie Wright isn’t ready to give up the fight just yet.

Home at 7, Dinner at 8 is published by Kyle Cathie, price £14.99.

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