Clare Smyth, 34, is currently one of the top female chefs in the world. At the tender age of 29, she was appointed head chef of Gordon Ramsay’s at Royal Hospital Road in London. Scrambling to the top of a male-dominated industry filled with big egos is an astonishing feat, built upon years of single-minded dedication.
I am a seasoned viewer of television cooking shows, from the “Mrs Fang (方太)” and “Yan can cook” in the 1980s, to Delia Smith and Jamie Oliver in the 1990s, and more recently Nigella Lawson and License to Grill’s Rob Rainford. And no one is as foul-mouthed as Gordon Ramsay.
Yet when I saw his protege Ms Smyth on the recent Masterchef UK final weekend (episode 14), I was taken aback by her air of quiet assurance and calm authority. No raised voices to remind who’s in charge; no need for that (this 2007 interview with The Guardian gave further insights into her character).
All this reminded me of a book excerpt I just read from “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. The author Susan Cain discussed in an early chapter the now-familiar story of how Rosa Parks ignited the civil rights movement in America with a single act of defiance.
In a twist, Ms Cain suggested that Rosa Parks’s defining moment in history came, not in spite of, but because she was an introvert. The petite black lady with an unassuming demeanour was hailed as an example of what Ms Cain termed as “quiet strength”.
Too often, we mistake loudness for confidence, and glibness for competence. “Quiet strength” should not be an oxymoron, and Ms Smyth shows us why.