Alumna Olivia Burt
On her return to London she joined Claridge’s Hotel in Mayfair, starting out as part of the team for Simon Rogan’s Fera, before going on to become a sous chef for the hotel. In 2019 Olivia made the finals of the prestigious Roux Scholarship, the only female chef to do so in 4 years and in the same year Olivia competed in BBC’s MasterChef: The Professionals.
Now, Olivia has taken on a new challenge in the role of Head Chef at Stanley's, a new restaurant which has recently opened in London's Chelsea. It is the first restaurant from Hugh Stanley, featuring 102-covers with a large outdoor courtyard, orangery-style dining area and private dining room.
We caught up with Chef Olivia earlier this year to chat about her extraordinary career so far.
When did you realise you wanted to be a chef?
"Cooking has been something I have loved for as long as I can remember. I think until I turned 18 I had never really seen it as a full time career though. I did a ski season when I was 18 as a private chef and that is when I decided there wasn't anything else I wanted to do. I started my first day at Le Cordon Bleu exactly a year later and haven't looked back since."
Why did you choose to come to Le Cordon Bleu London?
"Le Cordon Bleu has always had such a famous reputation, I had a look at a few schools, but Le Cordon Bleu really stood out to me and I knew as soon as I visited that it was where I wanted to go."
How did your time at Le Cordon Bleu help prepare you for your professional career in the culinary world?
"I studied the Grande Diplôme®, which had the perfect balance of cuisine and pastry. Le Cordon Bleu helped me to get all the basics - and more - that I needed to start out in the professional industry."
In your relatively short career, what has been your greatest achievement to date and why?
"Competing takes things to a whole new level; I never knew nerves like this. For me my greatest achievement would definitely be the Roux Scholarship. It was the start of a huge journey for me and it got my face out there in the press for the first time. Everything that has come after that was following from the Roux, including MasterChef. I am so very grateful for the opportunity and cannot wait to compete again."
What has been the biggest challenge for you so far?
"I would say the biggest challenge I have faced is MasterChef: The Professionals. It is a huge amount of time for all the filming and it gets harder and harder as you go through the rounds. Getting through to another round is hard in itself, as it means you have to come back next time bigger, stronger, better and create more dishes to wow the judges."
Have people treated you differently since being on television?
"I would like to say no, but I have to say I think the answer is probably yes. Not people in my professional career though. My team were extremely supportive and were told when the time was right. We work together every day so for them they already know me and my cooking. I think having people recognise you in the streets though is something very new and it will take an extremely long time to get used to."
The chef profession is often seen as male dominated; do you see yourself as a role model for aspiring female chefs?
"The industry is definitely male dominated. Honestly, I am not sure why this is and I believe it is making it harder now for women. I would love to see myself as a role model for aspiring female chefs. Women bring a whole new dimension to the kitchen and it is very important to have that balance. I hope to inspire so many more young female chefs to follow the same journey that I have."
What drives you to keep furthering your career? Is there an end goal for you?
"It is so difficult to think of an end goal. I never could have imagined some of the things that have happened in the last two years. In the industry there is always more to learn. I just want to become the best I can possibly be and support others on my journey. The end goal of course is to have my own restaurant, to have space to develop my own food."
What advice would you give someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
"I think the best advice would be to know 100 percent that cooking is what you want to do; without that dedication it is almost impossible. Practice makes perfect and just keep cooking. I still cook for myself when I get home. Finally, find someone that inspires you more than anything, you want that feeling when you can’t wait to get to the restaurant in the morning because you are so excited for a day at work."
What does Le Cordon Bleu represent for you in one sentence?
“Classic basics perfected.”
Can you sum up for us what an average day is like in the role of Soux Chef at Claridge's?
"Sous is a little bit of everything, mostly looking after my team as well as checking everything that leaves the pass. Dealing with suppliers and ingredients. Planning menus for special guests. generally looking after the daily running of the kitchen. I normally get into work at 8:00 am, we have our morning meeting with tea to talk about the events and plans for the day. From 8:30 -11:30 I work my way around the kitchen checking prep, speaking to everyone individually making sure they have everything, and we are all on track. At 12pm lunch service starts this goes until 3. Then afternoons are for checking fridges, doing the ordering of all the produce. We clean down and dinner service starts at 6pm. Claridge’s kitchen runs 24 hours a day so we never stop. Communication is key to running the kitchen.
"I would say the most challenging aspect is having such a large team. Being able to work with everyone and know what is going on all the time is difficult. Leading such a large team at a young age is never easy but it is also the most rewarding part."
What inspires you on a daily basis?
"I just want to keep learning and being better myself, I have always wanted to cook, and so to be able to be in the kitchen every day is a dream. I love developing new recipes and techniques, although a lot of this I do in my spare time and days off. At work I'm passionate about working with my team, teaching them how to be better, and hopefully inspiring them for the future."
How did you find it managing your time competing/filming and working at Claridge’s?
"The filming was extremely time consuming. I sat down with Claridge’s before it all began to discuss setting out a timescale of what I thought it would take, but as it turns out it took almost double that time. Trying to juggle my job and the preparation for TV was extremely difficult and in the end, I decided to take a full month off to focus on the competition."
Finally, what are your plans for the future?
"2019 was completely crazy, and there are so many different projects spinning at the moment, I am so lucky to have got the opportunity to do my pop-ups at the start of 2020 and cook for a lot of my MasterChef viewers. The obvious plan is to open a restaurant when I am ready and so my time at the moment is dedicated to learning as much as possible and trying to become better every day."
Inspired by Olivia's journey? Find out more about our Grande Diplôme®, or visit our programmes page to view the full list of courses available to start your culinary journey today.