The Leeds woman who’s cooking up a storm in a man’s world

Laura MacLeod. PIC: Simon Hulme
Laura MacLeod. PIC: Simon Hulme
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A flippant comment while watching a dish being prepared led to Laura MacLeod’s rise from being a waitress to an award-winning head chef and businesswoman.

At just 24, Laura is cutting it in what remains a very male dominated industry by running the Yorkshire Evening Post’s Best Suburban Restaurant for 2017, Dough Bistro.

From visiting the farms where produce is sourced to creating and cooking the menus to looking after front of house, she oversees everything at the bistro which has been a French fancy in West Park for the last ten years.

Laura has been there for the last six, after starting as a waitress and it was then she quipped to head chef and owner, Luke Downing, that she could also knock up the confit of rabbit with nettle nage he was about to serve.

She said: “He was plating it up and I said ‘I can do that’. He said, ‘go on then’ and I did it,”

From there she did an apprenticeship and a lot of cooking at home and got “better and better” and is still always learning she says.

Her and Luke, now a couple who live in Horsforth, are working together to build up a business empire and brand applicable to eateries from fine dining restaurants to cafes.

While Luke now concentrates on Vice and Virtue, a city centre restaurant that took ‘Best Fine Dining’ at the same awards this year after opening in 2016, Laura looks after Dough Bistro.

She said: “For the first year it was pretty tough going when he started working at the other business but once you get it, it is just natural. I have the menu in my head before I write it. The most difficult bit is probably organising front of house.”

From making cakes as a thirteen year-old in her mum’s tea-room to making her mark on the industry she has come a long way.

She said: “The way Luke teaches is so good, it’s insane. He has a masters in psychology and can see how people need to learn.

“He is laid back and passionate about talent rather than gender. It’s not a big deal.

“They say women can’t handle the pressure of the kitchen but primarily it is women at home cooking and looking after the family. I grew up in a very female dominant family, my mum is very confident and I take after that.”

“I am very hands on, more so than academically, and need to be doing something to remember how to do it and he saw that. I would cook at home every morning and night and here trying to learn everything.”

So how, does the work/home life balance work for the couple who are looking at opening a Vice and Virtue in Manchester or London and in Yorkshire, a coffee or shop or tea-room specialising in “really great lunches and supper clubs.”

Always starting the day with a good breakfast, they then go to the gym six days a week before starting work. They get two to three evenings together a week where they try to eat out at the city’s other independents but a go to favourite is Mexican restaurant Pinche Pinche near where they live.

Laura added: “We talk about business over breakfast, lunch and dinner. We have opinions on each other’s work and give each other ideas. It is working together. I knew I would be in this industry but didn’t think it would be like this, You have got to have the right head and I think I do, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”