INTERVIEW: VICKY WAINWRIGHT
A Sheffielder born and bred, Vicky Wainwright’s culinary journey has seen her rise from school cook to being named Marco Pierre White’s Chef of the Year. Now working as chef de partie at Marco’s New York Italian Sheffield, we caught up with Vicky to hear her story and find out what she’ll be serving up at the Sheffield Food Festival this month.
Tell us a bit about how your career started?
Well, I started out at All Saints School and worked as a cook there for 13 years. Once my kids had grown up I decided I wanted to go full time, just to try something new for myself. I saw the advert for an opening at Marco’s in one of the papers and went for it. I originally applied for the breakfast chef position, but I was eventually invited to work as the commis chef. When I entered the Chef of the Year competition, I was against 42 other chefs who work across the country in Marco’s restaurants. When it was down to the last five, we were invited to Birmingham to cook for the man himself.
Your oxtail lasagne dish saw Marco name you his Chef of the Year. What was the inspiration behind that?
I wanted to keep the idea quite local-based. Of course, Marco’s restaurant is New York Italian and oxtail didn’t really fit the ethos of the restaurant, but I wanted to appeal to his old-school style of cooking with strong, deep flavours. Thankfully, he really liked what I came up with and it was an incredible feeling to win the competition.
Has he given you any advice on the occasions you’ve worked with him?
The last time I saw Marco is when he visited the restaurant in October for a book signing, and he was great. But when I won the competition, he saw the tattoo I have on my arm of his signature; he just grabbed hold of it, looked me in the eye and said: ‘You’re doing really well. Just keep going.’
For those heading to the 7th annual Sheffield Food Festival this month, where can they find you and what will you be doing?
I’ll be in the demo tent showing people how to make my oxtail lasagne. But after that I’ll be out and about at the rest of the tents, anyone’s welcome to come and say hello, and if they have any questions I’ll happily answer them.
Are there any stalls you’re particularly looking forward to visiting?
Hopefully all of them! A friend owns Forge Bakehouse so I’ll definitely be going there. Last year I went and spent an absolute fortune – but all on great stuff!
What was the tastiest thing you bought last year?
I bought some Jack Daniels smoky BBQ wild boar sausages. I forget which stall they were from, but I’ve never tasted sausages like them!
The chef industry is seen largely as a male-dominated environment. How does that shape with your experience in the job?
I’ve never come across any prejudice. I think, maybe more in your own mind, you consciously step it up being surrounded by all these men. You do occasionally get the vibe that some think ‘don’t let her do that because she’s a woman’ – but you just have to hold your own in the kitchen. You have to be thick-skinned to work in a busy kitchen; I’m not afraid to shove a grown man if he’s in my way.
Any advice for any chefs with high hopes out there?
I do have some days, usually after a 12-hour shift where I think to myself, ‘Oh my God, what am I even doing?!’ But you just have to believe in yourself; believe in what you’re doing. Like Marco said to me ‘just keep going’ – and if you have passion for it, it’ll work out for you.
Between 11-11.30am on Monday 29th May, Vicky Wainwright of Marco’s New York Italian will be giving a demo at the Theatre Kitchen Marquee at the Peace Gardens during Sheffield Food Festival.