Abe’s story is not the traditional chef story. Rather than being born into food or growing up around it, her passion only began to tinder when at the age of 18 she began to seriously consider entering the culinary world. Working at a mundane office job, Abe craved something more fulfilling and work that she would find rewarding. This relatable motivation led her to enrolling at Sheffield Hallam University, where she studied hospitality business management and culinary arts.
During her time at university, Abe attained a placement at The Savoy in London which confirmed her passion for the culinary craft, stating that “as soon as I got into the kitchen, I knew it was where I wanted to be”. Abe then continued on her gourmet career, working at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s which acted as her crash course through the kitchen, with Claridge’s operating with a large customer base. Abe notes how there was an “army-style brigade” in the kitchen that helped teach and enforce the ropes of the trade to her.
Abe then would go on to cooking at The Ledbury with Brett Graham, which proved to be vital in her career, learning under Graham not just cooking skills but those of management, often taking part in “more than just food” but rather “all aspects of running a restaurant”.
Abe would stop her career following a five year stint at The Ledbury, and would take up a role as editor for Great British Chefs before eventually returning to the scene a few years later.
The news of an opening at The Harwood Arms, co-owned by Brett Graham and other leading chefs of The Ledbury, was tempting. With Abe understanding the expectations by the owners, she was awarded the position of head chef. Here, Abe began to successfully curate her own menu, despite the learning curve of moving from simply making food to designing an entire menu of dishes for customers to enjoy.
Having gained a Michelin Star for The Harwood Arms, Abe was able to continue to grow the restaurant throughout her tenure as head chef until 2020. She then left her post to take up a position as consultant chef for the Conrad London St James, operating four F&B outlets at the hotel. Abe’s flagship site there is The Pem, which is named after leading suffragette Emily Wilding Davidson and boasts a largely female kitchen team. Abe, with her vast wealth of experience and knowledge, is determined to bring about a diverse change in the culinary world.
Sally Abe has had a minor TV appearance as a judge on The Great British Menu.
SquareMeal has had the great pleasure of interviewing Sally Abe for our Ayala SquareMeal Best Female Chefs Series where she discusses her role as a woman in the cooking industry.