Kate Anderson was on her way back from cheffing at Michelin starred restaurant The Nut Tree in Murcott when her car hit black ice and she crashed over a wall.
Her resulting injuries meant she had to give up her beloved job, which she had cherished and loved, working beside Mike North and his famous kitchen team, producing the kind of food she’d always dreamt of.
Lying in bed recuperating at her flat in Bicester she thought the dream was over and instead applied to do a course in sports physio and sports science.
“I’m happiest in the kitchen. It’s easier than the outside world”
But luckily, on this occasion the God’s were smiling. The Bell at Hampton Poyle had seen her CV, knew her potential and were desperate for some fresh talent in their kitchen, alongside head chef Nick Anderson.
“I went in to do a trial shift, met Nick and that was that,” she says smiling.
The pair have been married now for four years and were then head hunted to go into business with Antony Griffith Harris and partner Stacey C Elder, who had recently taken over The Masons Arms in Swerford, and renamed it The Boxing Hare.
They wanted them to head up the kitchen and transform the pub into a destination eatery, take over the kitchens, and make the pub great again.
“We jumped at the chance because they let us cook our food, and write our own menus, and that kind of freedom is very rare,” she says
“I went for a birthday dinner at the nut tree and by the end of the meal I had asked for a job. The food there was on a whole different level. It was amazing. I wanted to be part of that”
And so it is that the enormously successful Boxing Hare came into being, and how Kate Anderson got her career and her spark back, paving the way for other female chefs wanting to go into the male-dominated catering industry.
And yet, Kate is still surprised that she ended up as a chef, let alone a brilliant one. She learnt to cook late in life, her best friend teaching her how to cook a bacon sandwich.
“My mother could burn salad,” Kate laughed, “although my dad could cook. At that time I was into was football. All I wanted was to be was a professional football player.”
A Tom-boy through and through, she took up a pot-washing job in the Kings Arms in Woodstock aged 14, watching the chefs at work and beginning to consider cooking as a career option.
When she left school at 16 she took on part-time cheffing jobs in chain restaurants. “it was good training even if it wasn’t actual cooking. But I liked it because it was fast and disciplined and there was always good banter,” she smiles. “I knew I could never sit at a desk.
“Maybe that helped me cope in the kitchens. I could hold my own there. I enjoyed the fun and the lifestyle, the late nights and the buzz. It never felt like a proper job.”
And then, almost by surprise, Kate developed a real love of food. “I think you need an inbuilt ability to be a good chef, and having a good palate is so important. In fact it’s vital.”
“But what you need in this line of work is consistency and a team who can really help you keep it there. Nick did that. We did that. We got married in 2015”
Landing a job at The Old Parsonage aged 18, was a revelation. “I wanted to see if I could cook from scratch. It was scary to start with because I was young and female, but I loved it from day one.
“I started at The Old Parsonage as a commis knowing nothing at all, and by the time I left I was a sous chef. I just went up through the ranks and worked with some really great chefs. I guess I got lucky.”
Four years later, and with some serious credentials under her belt, Kate then went for a job at The Nut Tree: “I went for a birthday dinner there and by the end of the meal I had asked for a job. I just realised I wanted to take food up a notch like they did. The food there was on a whole different level. It was amazing. I wanted to be part of that. And I got the job,” she beams.
But eight months in and Kate was in that awful car crash. “It is 10 years ago now. I was only 22/23 years old. No, it wasn’t a great time,” she says sighing. “Eventually I gave up my flat and moved home with my parents because I just wasn’t coping.”
She decided instead to do a BTEC in sports massage, and work in a kitchen part-time to earn some money.
David Beckham, one of Kate’s childhood heroes, came into the kitchens to say hello
“I needed to have a rethink and evaluate my choices. I was still in a lot of pain.
“So I took on a part-time job at The Bell in Hampton Poyle. I didn’t know if I’d be able to do it. I thought it would be really difficult to get back in the kitchen.
“People were saying: “Are you insane?” but I thought I could go in there and just do the job, not have any responsibility, not care so much. That it could be just a part-time job.
“Nick interviewed me for an hour. Little did I know that by the end of my time there I’d be married to him,” she smiles.
So what was it like being back? “One session in the kitchen and it all came back. I was just so happy, having not known if I would ever get better or work in catering again.
“But what you need in this line of work is consistency and a team who can really help you keep it there. Nick did that. We did that. We got married in 2015.”
The pair then met Antony at a party, who was looking for partners and head chefs in his new business venture, and after that things happened very quickly.
The Boxing Hare has been open for two years now and has done notoriously well, as endorsed by its extensive celebrity clientele, such as David Beckham, one of Kate’s childhood heroes, who came into the kitchens to say hello.
“I am such a massive fan I couldn’t even talk when he came in,” she laughs.
Prue Leith has also been in, and Antony Worrall Thompson, John Torode, numerous England footballers….
“I’m always in the kitchen though so I usually hear about it afterwards,” she says.
“But then that’s where I’m happiest. It’s easier than the outside world.”
And having eaten lunch there after the interview I can highly recommend the soufflé’, the fish soup, the smoked haddock, the cherry and almond tart….. need I go on?
“For us, it’s about being able to cook our food, what we like to cook, what you know people enjoy. It’s very much up to us. It’s our menu. It’s our food,” Kate says.
“And we encourage new talent, that’s really important. We know it can be quite a tough environment. So my advice to those looking to work in a kitchen is to give it a try and then make your decision.”
And girls? “If they have broad shoulders they will cope fine. And then you will be respected. But you have to earn that. And yes the hours can be hard but you stick firm. I like to be busy.”
And with that Kate’s off, back to her comfort zone, her domain, ready to do what she does best – to cook.
The Boxing Hare, Banbury Rd, Swerford, Chipping Norton OX7 4AP