It’s almost semi-finals week on BBC TV’s MasterChef: The Professionals. Mallorca-based Claire Hutchings will know how the contestants are feeling: she was the youngest of the three finalists (and the only female chef) in the 2011 competition. I remember being impressed by her creativity but never imagined that I would ever get to taste her food here in Mallorca.
“She serves unique, inventive, creative food with a style of her own. She is destined for greatness.” Gregg Wallace
A few weeks before the end of this summer, Claire told me she was leaving the 2-Michelin-star Zaranda restaurant (within the 5-star hotel Castell Son Claret) at the end of the season. I caught up with her recently to find out about her plans.
Claire with her mentor Fernando outside the gates of Castell Son Claret – home of 2-Michelin-starred Zaranda. Photo provided by Claire Hutchings
Why did you decide to leave Zaranda?
I have spent five years in Zaranda from the first opening of Castell Son Claret. It has been an amazing experience to be part of a new opening and help shape the culture of the hotel. I’ve decided it’s time to move on as I have grown so much – not only as a chef but also as a person – and feel I am ready for a new adventure. In saying that, I always feel there is the possibility in the future to work alongside Fernando again.
What will you remember about your time there?
I have been lucky to have so many experiences working alongside Fernando, and have travelled around the world cooking with him at various events. To me, he is my mentor and has helped sculpt me as a chef.
Fernando has always looked after me and we have developed dishes together that I am sure will stay on the menu as classics. These include the famous burrata: I spent many months making mozzarella trying different fresh milks from all over Mallorca and finally we mastered the art and made a delicious fresh burrata.
What have you learnt at Zaranda?
I learnt that with will and ambition the world is your oyster. I moved here, not speaking a word of Spanish, to a Michelin-star kitchen where nobody spoke English. It was very tough at first to prove I was a worthy chef as, without the language, it’s hard to communicate the skills you have. With passion and persistence, I succeeded and, after two years, was appointed sous chef. I have also learnt Spanish in my time in the kitchen.
Zaranda also gained two Michelin stars, which is an amazing achievement and I feel special to have been a part of it.
How have you changed as a chef? As a person?
I have become a lot more confident of my capabilities as a chef. As a person, I have grown up. I moved here at the age of 24 and have created a life here in Mallorca that I am very attached to.
What would be your dream role?
I would love to open something in the future very much based on what I do in my pop-up events: giving diners a show-cooking experience and interacting with them. This way they not only get something more personal, they also get to see and learn the complexity of everything we do in the kitchen – which I feel can be hidden in a normal restaurant.
Zaranda is seasonal. How useful has it been having time off in the winter?
It is great to have 2-3 months off every winter. The season is very intense and I think a break is essential; it gives me time to relax and recap on what I have learnt throughout the year. I also feel this is the time when I am most inspired, thinking about new ideas and plates.
Also it gives me a chance to continue my own personal UK business – my pop-up events, which I have now been doing for six years. I love the pop-ups because they are my chance to be free and creative with my ideas and allow me to interact with the diners.
I do a stint of several nights in a beautiful rural location in Derbyshire, show-cooking and offering a 5-course tasting menu for 25 people each evening. These events are very popular and sell out almost immediately – and most of this is repeat custom.
What’s next for Claire Hutchings?
So my next step is in Mallorca. I am going to be the private chef of Señor Kühne on his private yacht. I had thought about working on boats before but an opportunity like this never arose. I am very much looking forward to this as it will be a totally different experience.
I will be in charge of cooking for the crew and the guests. I will get to do all my own shopping, which excites me a lot: walking around the markets myself and picking my own ingredients. I will also have the freedom to create my own dishes. This is a new path where I am confident I can grow more as a chef. Also it gives me the opportunity to step away for a while from the restaurant business and think about what I want for my future.
We wish Claire every success in her new role and hope we’ll one day have the opportunity to eat her food again. Perhaps at a pop-up event somewhere in Mallorca?
©Jan Edwards 2017