“There are always ideas - some happen, some don’t. There are constant opportunities and it's about picking and choosing the ones that align,” Chantelle Nicholson says. The Kiwi restaurant owner and Michelin-starred chef, who recently appeared on the BBC’s Celebrity Masterchef, is seasoned in pushing her ideas forward to fruition. Chantelle, 42, has been developing a trailblazing career in high-end cuisine with her own personal flavour since she first arrived in London 18 years ago.
A New Zealand-trained lawyer, Chantelle began her transformation into a star chef at the iconic Savoy Grill, working all hours. “One of the things I’m grateful for is that I was actually quite naive about what I was getting into, and I didn’t really have an opportunity to overthink it,” she says. Her early mentors included restaurateurs Gordon Ramsay, Josh Emett and Marcus Wareing, the latter of whom elevated her to become the driving force at acclaimed Covent Garden eatery Tredwells in 2016. As owner-operator, Chantelle became recognised for her seasonal approach to menus and empathic attention to the sustainable use of human, environmental and food resources. For this, Tredwells received in 2021 a Green Michelin Star, the renowned Guide’s new recognition of ethical and environmental sustainability.
In an “incredibly natural, organic development”, the Covid hiatus allowed Chantelle to follow her instincts into a new solo business venture, closing the doors of Tredwells and launching Apricity, on Mayfair’s Duke Street, in March 2022. In her new restaurant, Chantelle showcases a seasonal, vegetable-centric menu, which reduces food waste through circular processes (for example, repurposing vegetable skins and offcuts creatively). Chantelle’s vision for Apricity also incorporates upcycled and recyclable interior design, renewable and thrifty energy use, and support for small, regenerative producers, including urban farms.
Originally from Hamilton, Chantelle draws inspiration from her Kiwi roots and particularly her memories of her aunt’s orchard in Alexandra. “I feel really privileged now that that was my childhood, I feel very connected with where food comes from and how it got on my plate,” she says. Upon her arrival in London, Chantelle recalls being shocked by the availability of produce and the wasteful pace in the food industry, but over the pandemic has been pleased to see a growing interest in domestic self-sufficiency and preserving food.
Even after the Covid upheavals, Chantelle remains calm about weathering the unexpected as well as seasonal fluctuations. “I’ve seen a lot in my years of running restaurants,'” she laughs. Her business agility allows Apricity to respond quickly to London’s shifting daily patterns. Friday and Saturday nights have become less central, with many workers only coming into the city mid-week, while the recent transport strikes have also affected business. The summer’s heatwaves have impacted her team, turnover and her energy costs - even affecting vine growth and raising wine prices.
Chantelle’s guiding principle at Apricity is to put people first. "The most important part of the business is the people who are in it,” she says. She has rethought some traditional practices in hospitality, such as removing the service-charge scheme (so that staff have less monthly-pay variance and higher pension contributions regardless of business level), personalising working hours flexibly, and scheduling the restaurant’s opening on only five days so that everyone gets two days off together. Chantelle’s care for the people in her business extends to her suppliers. Amid recent hype about disrupted supply chains and the lack of product availability, Apricity fared well, because of its direct links to local producers. “If you focus your energy onto the important things, which are the people, your stakeholders, the guests, the customers, the landlords and the suppliers, I think that actually it’s just a better way of doing business. And it’s working!” she says.
Viewing the chain of people involved in food production as a community is not the way Chantelle was taught and has required her to to take a mindful approach to business. She offers mentoring and support to others in the industry on the practicalities of doing business sustainably and connects with Kiwis in London through professional networks like KEA and the NZBWN. The Groundswell agricultural festival in Hertfordshire she attended this summer attracted a lot of New Zealanders, and Chantelle enjoyed exploring with like-minded people “that whole notion of respect for the land and what it can provide.” With the London charity “School Food Matters”, she also educates kids about seasonality. These interactions are welcome reminders that people are curious about regenerative food production methods, Chantelle says. Even in the bustling heart of London, Apricity is showing there is a healthy appetite for older food traditions, local connection and fresh ways of doing business.
You can connect with Chantelle on LinkedIn.