When Pierre Koffmann (63) moved to London in 1970, his original plan was to stay just long enough to be able to watch England play France in Twickenham. 43 years later, he is still here and has made his mark as one of the undisputed big names of the London gastronomy scene. As one of the first and very few UK-based chefs to have won three Michelin stars in 1983 at his restaurant La Tante Claire -an accolade he kept until he retired in 2003- he has trained such talents as Marco-Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay and Tom Aikens, further proof if needed of his legendary savoir-faire. He stepped out of retirement in 2009 to open a pop up restaurant at Selfridges, which proved so successful that it was extended from six days to two months. In 2010, he went back to work full time as head chef of Koffmann’s, a brasserie-style restaurant at The Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge. Here, the Gascony-born chef, who lives in Little Venice with his wife Claire, talks to Chic-Londres about food and his favourite addresses in London.
When and why did you decide to become a chef? Both my mother and grand-mother were great cooks, so I learnt from a young age to enjoy good food and to make dishes, such as crepes or cakes. I wasn’t particularly brilliant at school so when I reached the age of 15, my teachers decided that I’d be much better off learning a trade or working than pursuing academic studies for which I was clearly not suited. So I chose to study hospitality, as I wanted to remain at school rather than start working at the railways or at the dockyard- my other options at the time. And I realised I really enjoyed cooking…
How would you describe the British approach to food and the way it has evolved since you started? It has certainly evolved for the better, with many more restaurants and the rise of a new generation of great British chefs, many of which have been trained in French kitchens- which is why Modern British is so influenced by French gastronomy. There is also a much wider variety of international styles in London: when I first arrived, you basically had a choice between traditional French, Italian, Indian or Chinese- now you have cuisines from all around the world, at very high standards.
How would you describe your culinary style and do you have a signature-dish? Koffmann’s is a brasserie-style restaurant where I serve typical French food. My style is at the same time classic and modern: I offer traditional recipes such as those found in Escoffier’s book, but cooked in a lighter way so they are more suited to modern taste. My signature-dish is the same I had at La Tante Claire: pig’s trotter with sweetbreads and morels, which I also served at Selfridges: it was so popular that we then served 3,200 of them in just two months!
What defines a good chef in your opinion? The most important for me is to cook what I love- it seems obvious but many chefs don’t actually eat their own dishes. You also must be prepared to work very hard: personally, I am very hands-on and just love to be in the kitchen. That said there is no formula: someone like Gordon Ramsay prefers to be on TV rather than in his restaurants, yet he remains an excellent chef- so obviously that can work too.
What are your favourite restaurants in London? For something simple, I like to go to bistrots such as Chabrot, Bruno Loubet, Embassy and Soif. I also like to go to New Fortune Cookie, a traditional old Chinese restaurant which I find quite fun. If I want to enjoy some haute gastronomie, then I will go to Le Gavroche, Texture or The Ledbury.
Where do you buy your food in London? I get my cheese from La Fromagerie, my wine at the Caves de Pyrene, my bread at Poilâne, my fruits and vegetables at the Sunday’s farmers market in Marylebone and at Borough Market and my meat at The Ginger Pig. I don’t buy cakes in London: my wife Claire makes some delicious ones at home.
What is your favourite dish and is there one that you really dislike? There isn’t any dish that I dislike as I believe that no food is bad, only badly cooked. But I definitely have a favourite one, which is the bouillabaisse- eating a good bouillabaisse, with some rouille and plenty of garlic, would be my last wish before I die. I also have very fond memories of the pasta that my mother used to do: she cooked them not in water but in directly with the giblets, in their juice, and it was succulent.
Do you have any culinary tips? Only choose to cook dishes that you really love but don’t be afraid to try something new. Also, treat cookery books as a guide rather than as something that must be followed by the letter. A recipe should be a base that can be changed according to one’s particular taste. And obviously, always get some seasonal, fresh, quality products…
Pierre’s Address Book:
Koffmann’s: The Berkeley, Wilton Place SW1
- Chabrot bistrot d’amis: 9 Knightsbridge Green SW1
- Bistrot Bruno Loubet: St John’s Square, 86-88 Clerkenwell Road EC1
- Embassy Restaurant: 29 Old Burlington Street W1
- New Fortune Cookie: 1 Queensway W2
- Soif: 27 Battersea Rise SW11
- Le Gavroche: 43 Upper Brook Street W1
Texture: 34 Portman Street London W1
- The Ledbury: 127 Ledbury Road W11
- La Fromagerie: 2-6 Moxon Street W1
- Les Caves de Pyrene: Pew Corner, Old Portsmouth Road, Guildford, Surrey
- Poilâne: 46 Elizabeth Street SW1
- Marylebone Farmers Market: Cramer Street Car Park W1
- Borough Market: 8 Southwark Street SE1
- The Ginger Pig: 8-10 Moxon Street W1