Ever since she swapped her job in architecture for the kitchen in 2010, Elizabeth Haigh has been really, really busy. She appeared on the 2011 series of Masterchef and worked her way up the ranks of several restaurants before becoming the founding head chef of East London’s Pidgin. Here, she developed a weekly changing modern-British-meets-Asian menu that earned the eatery a Michelin star.
She left Pidgin mere weeks after the restaurant received the accolade to open her own restaurant, Shibu.
“Pidgin was a valuable learning curve and I’m proud of what we achieved there,” she says. “A lot of hard work paid off and we didn’t expect the Michelin star. It just felt like the right time to move.”
The restaurant industry can be punishing, says Elizabeth. “Cooking is the easy bit. Understanding people and the food is the hard part. You have to know how to keep your cool and be emotionally intelligent.”
But she wouldn’t do anything else. “You get so many short-term wins, seeing the food and everyone enjoying it. What drives all chefs is passion. When you do something wrong you really feel it. With meat you think, ‘Damn, that animal died, I want to do it justice or go beyond that’.”
Elizabeth grew up in Maidenhead but was born in Singapore, where her mother is from. Her father is English. She studied architecture at Central St Martins but “it wasn’t for me”. Instead, she decided to learn cooking. She moved back to Maidenhead and found a job peeling potatoes at The Royal Oak in Bray, “strange after studying in central London but I had to learn that discipline somewhere”. After freelancing, with stints at Bubbledogs Kitchen Table and L’Enclume she went to Neil Rankin’s Smokehouse.
Talking to Neil one day she said ‘I’m fed up with being put on pastry because I’m a girl’. That’s when things changed. Neil taught her how to barbecue meat, something he is evangelical about, and the rest is, as they say, history.
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