Henrietta Graham is a Cornwall-based artist who has dedicated a considerable portion of her career to recreating every Great British Chef in an oil-painting. What started as a love affair with good food has culminated in the desire to (eventually) document her work in book form, of which she’s already settled on a preliminary title – 'A Portrait of the Great Chefs of Britain’. So far she’s painted 46 Great British Chefs, including John Williams and Daniel Clifford, and the number keeps growing.
FOUR magazine couldn’t wait to catch up with this Michelin-star-chef painting maverick to hear the ins-and-outs of her rather whacky project, so far…
Describe your education as an artist?
I lasted 2 months at art school in Paris before being expelled. It wasn't that I was massively insubordinate but I am of the generation where the more esoteric approach was encouraged. Life drawing was discontinued and I distinctly remember one class when the professor declared we were not to use our hands. So I became waitress and spent the rest of my time in the Louvre and all the wonderful galleries and museums of Paris teaching myself.
What inspired you to take up painting Great British chefs on oil canvas?
When I was twelve my Grandmother took me to The Waterside in Bray, after lunch she asked to see the Kitchens. The imagery stayed with me, the most visually inspiring site of all the commotion of chefs with pans, chefs whites, action and vitality. Then years later my studio was next to Aubergine where Gordon Ramsay was head chef and he commissioned six paintings. I believe one is still used on the men at Royal Hospital Road.
Do you paint in a studio, from a photo, or do you paint the chefs in their surroundings?
I spend as much time in the kitchens as I can- taking notes, sketches and photographs and then take all my reference back to my studio and put the painting together. I could never actually paint in a kitchen, for a start my paintings are often very large and secondly it is the moment I love to catch.
How long does it take to complete a painting?
Some have taken over 2 years! I have about 10 on the go. However when I am commissioned I quote 3 months.
Who was the first Great British Chef you painted?
And the most recent?
Ashley Palmer Watts is on the easel at the moment
Tell us about your book 'A Portrait of the Great Chefs of Britain’...
It is a collection of paintings and studies of 46 (The number keeps changing!) of the top chefs in Britain with some text about them and my experience of working with them.
Who are a few of the chefs set to feature?
Albert Roux; Brett Graham; Michel Roux Jr; Jason Atherton; Michael Caines; Daniel Clifford; David Everitt Matthias; John Williams; Gary Rhodes; Nigel Haworth.
Describe the most exciting experience in your career so far...
When all the chefs agreed to let me loose in their kitchens!!!
And your most challenging moment...?
after they agreed...
What does Great British cuisine meant to you?
I started this series with a love of the theatre of the kitchen and an interest in food. However the latter really became a fascination and the more I studied and worked alongside chefs I learned that the food revolution in Britain during the last twenty years is phenomenal. It is this in particular that has been a key aspect of the text in my book. I look forward to the next twenty.
Where do you go when you dine out?
As many places as I can. I am not a Michelin snob, eating out is actually a great deal more than the food, the atmosphere, front of house, the decor- it all plays a part. I love Pizza Pilgrims in Dean Street, Grain Store, Arbutus, The Wolseley (I used to get a thrill to see Lucien Freud there) - these are affordable and therefore the more regular. The Ledbury and Koffmanns are excellent for more of an occasion. I hate to choose because I would happily turn into a glutton and work my way across the country from Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles all the way down to Michael Caines at Gidleigh Park.
Do you have any plans in the pipeline?
Maybe to paint all the great chefs in the world, I have stepped out of Britain already to paint Rene Redzepi as well as Daniel Boulud!
Understandably (as art is not something you can rush, especially when there’s the added pressure of painting some of the greatest chefs ever to have walked the planet, or at least the British Isles…) Henrietta is unsure when her project will be complete. But she urges those who are interested her upcoming book 'A Portrait of the Great Chefs of Britain' to keep a look-out on her website for further and very imminent details www.henriettagraham.co.uk