Food and Drink in Liverpool

In Conversation – Claire Lara

In the culinary world few names shine as brightly as Claire Lara’s. From winning MasterChef: The Professionals to crafting a menu and cooking for the Queen, her journey has been incredible. We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Claire about her remarkable career, gaining insights into her experiences, challenges, and the delicious moments that have defined her path. Head of Development (and Pastry) for the LEAF Group, the award-winning independent family-run group of venues, we also find out more about LEAF’s phenomenal pudding clubs.

Liverpool Noise: Claire, your journey from winning MasterChef: The Professionals to cooking for the Queen is truly remarkable. Can you share some insights into the challenges you faced and lessons you learned during this transformative period in your career?

Claire Lara: Yes indeed it was a challenging time, I had a newborn baby boy and the show had aired around the same time so it was a lot of juggling. After winning Masterchef it felt very surreal people would stop me in the street to congratulate me or ask for a photo – still very surreal to think about that, even now! I found that strange initially, but I’ve only ever had nice people and lovely comments so I can’t complain and it really helped my career. I’ve always worked hard and wanted to push myself and that’s what I’ve kept doing.

LN: Moving to Paris at the age of 18 and working with Albert Roux must have been a pivotal experience. How did that classical training influence your culinary style, and what aspects of French cuisine do you incorporate into your dishes today?

CL: Working in France massively influences my style of food still to this day. I can still remember been totally blown away by the produce and so many variations of ingredients I’d never seen and the wonderful bread – oh the bread! People queuing up twice a day to pick up their bread was inspiring to see and be immersed in that culture. I lived opposite a bakery and still remember the mouth-watering scent of freshly baked bread. Not only did I learn all about French techniques and food I also learnt the language and now speak fluent French. I try to infuse my experiences from France into the monthly Pudding Clubs I run at LEAF across Liverpool and my wider work there and my private guest-cheffing around the UK.

Claire Lara and Dame Mary Berry
Claire Lara and Dame Mary Berry

LN: You have two sons. How do you manage to strike that balance of being a mum and having a successful career? 

CL: This is something I’ve always struggled with because myself and my husband are both chefs so it’s always been hard. However finally now, at the age of 43, I have a work life balance due to specialising in pastry, so I can work pretty much school hours which is a delight for us as a family and how it should be. But it’s taken many years to work it out and fine tune that balance.

LN: Cooking for the Queen and Prince Philip is undoubtedly a standout career highlight. Can you take us behind the scenes of that prestigious occasion? What was the menu design process like, and how did you assemble and lead your team for such a significant event?

CL: This is one of my proudest moments. I carefully designed 3 menus and sent them in to the palace and they choose from all the menus, and from this we came up with a 4-course lunch. I was able to ask some trusted life-long chef friends to help me and they came from far and wide – my dream team! It was a truly wonderful experience and also terrifying from snipers on the roof to sniffer dogs in the kitchen – it’s something I’ll never forget. The lesson on how to address the Queen ma’am like jam is something I’ll never forget too. Also, I was one of 5 finalists in the UK’s Coronation Dish in 2023 when we had to create a dish for The One Show, with Mary Berry judging – that was something I’ll never forget either and a privilege and honour to be part of, with my King oyster mushroom filo tart one of the final dishes.

LN: You’re now the Head of Development (and Pastry) for the LEAF Group. How do you approach innovation and development in your role?

CL: I’ve been in the chef business now for almost 27 years and 15 years with LEAF. It’s a long time so I have many ideas from this time that I try to improve and perfect. I also eat out a lot and read and try to keep up to date with current trends. I’m quite creative and I also get a lot of inspiration from our fabulous tea selection at LEAF – we have close to 100 varieties – and for me, the great thing about being a chef is that you never really stop learning. We keep busy at LEAF and at the end of last year celebrated the 15th anniversary which was fantastic fun for everyone. I started Pudding Club back then too and have worked for LEAF full time for three years. I still create each new menu now for the different LEAF locations and we’ve had packed out evenings for years now at Pudding Club.

LEAF Pudding Club
LEAF Pudding Club

LN: You have been actively involved in engaging and developing young chefs. What qualities do you look for in aspiring chefs, and how do you nurture their talent within your kitchens?

CL: This is another passion of mine. I love helping and motivating young chefs. This wasn’t natural when I started out and it was really tough, but I think the importance of having someone believe in you can make all the difference and it certainly did for me. I always look for a good attitude as that’s the one thing you can’t really teach. The skills and knowledge can all be taught, but I find having a good attitude is something you have or you don’t and it’s an essential attribute working in kitchens and hospitality. 

LN: Looking back at your journey, what are the key values or principles that have guided you through the highs and lows of your career, and what advice would you offer to chefs aspiring to reach similar heights in the culinary world?

CL: Cheffing is a tough profession – it’s often long hours and you miss out on the social side of life. I’ve given up a lot but I’ve also gained a lot; your colleagues soon become your family as you see them more than your real family! The atmosphere these days is nicer but when I started out it was quite intense, gruelling hours and very hot! I’ve had amazing times and awful periods with many challenges but overall I wouldn’t change it. I’ve been lucky to meet some incredible people and feel content with all I’ve achieved so far. To anyone starting out it’s simple – keep going don’t give up all your mistakes will soon be seen as experience. Hard work does pay off and if you are able to enjoy it too that’s even better, and now with LEAF and all locations – OH ME OH MY and ONE FINE DAY, there’s lots of exciting projects and events coming up for me and the team.

Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day Pudding Clubs

No month at LEAF is complete without Pudding Club and there’s two Valentine’s Day specials coming up.

All Pudding Clubs feature lashings of sweet-toothed rapture with five delicious courses carefully paired with LEAF teas. Valentine’s Day Pudding Clubs will have a romance-inspired theme for everyone wanting to celebrate their love with tantalising treats back at West Kirby and also Smithdown Road both on Weds 14 Feb. Then there’s a Mother’s Day special at LEAF Bold Street on Sunday 10 March.

All Pudding Clubs are homemade by Claire Lara, the founding chef of Pudding Club and a Masterchef The Professionals winner. And don’t forget LEAF have almost 100 varieties of tea. For more info and to book: 


Founder and Editor, Clare Deane, shares her passion for all the amazing things happening in Liverpool. With a love of the local Liverpool music scene, dining out a couple of times a week and immersing herself in to all things arts and culture she's in a pretty good place to create some Liverpool Noise.

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