Arnaud Bignon: 'The smell of broccoli is enough to make me want to leave a room'
My earliest food memory… Cooking with my mother and grandmother. My mother taught me how to do classic things such as make an apple tart, while my grandmother would cook a big meal every Sunday for 10 or 15 people, which I would help with. They had a lot of animals, and they would often kill a chicken or rabbit and cook that. But my favourite childhood dish was yoghurt cake. It was incredibly simple, but that's what you appreciate when you're young.
My store-cupboard essentials… I use a lot of ginger and coriander in my cooking, as well as olive oil. Although I am a French cook, I don't use a lot of butter and cream any more [as is common with the cuisine] – maybe that's the result of being in Greece for a while [Bignon was previously head chef at Spondi in Athens]. Something more offbeat in my store cupboard is Pimentó* de la Vera [a smoked chilli powder]. Because of the smoked taste, it's very interesting to mix with a simple dish such as shrimps and potatoes.
My favourite cookbook… Auguste Escoffier's Le Guide Culinaire, which I first picked up when I was 15. Even though it was written a long time ago, he was so far ahead of his time and it's a good foundation for all types of cooking, right up to molecular cuisine.
The kitchen appliance I can't live without… A Microplane grater, because something I like to do a lot is to grate some fresh citrus zest on top of a dish to finish it off, whether the dish is fish or foie gras. It adds a lot of freshness to the flavour.
My favourite food shop… I haven't been in London a long time, but I think Whole Foods is great, because you can find all the ingredients you are likely to need there, and everything is of a very good quality, from the cheese to the meat to the wine. One of my favourite markets is one I discovered when I was living in Paris, which is near the Pont d'léna in the middle of the city. You could find all kinds of unusual fruit and vegetables there, from white carrots to 20 to 40 kinds of tomato.
My top table… I like The Square in Mayfair – it is classic French cuisine and the tastes are very clear: everything is exactly as you expect it from reading the menu. The best dish I had there was pigeon with a smoked consommé – the cooking of the meat was perfect and the consommé had a very big flavour.
My desert-island dish...A rocket salad with Parmesan cheese, fresh figs and a simple dressing of balsamic vinegar. The combination of textures and flavours – with the saltiness of the Parmesan against the sweetness of the fig and the acidity of the salad – would keep me going. It is very simple, but then when I am out of the restaurant, that's how I usually eat.
The strangest thing I've eaten… Bird's nest soup. When I was a sous-chef in Paris, the head chef, Eric Frechon, was writing a book about the dishes that everyone should try to eat once in their life and for this, we made a lot of very strange things, including that. It didn't taste of very much. It amazes me that people are willing to pay so much for it; it must be because of the danger involved in collecting swallows' nests.
Pet hates...Broccoli. I remember eating it when I was younger, but it was when I started working in a restaurant where we cooked it a lot that I grew to dislike it. I hate the smell of it when it's cooked – it is enough to make me want to leave the room. I also don't like cinnamon – it has a very strong taste, and it kills all the other flavours in a dish.
Arnaud Bignon is the executive chef and partner at The Greenhouse, 27A Hay's Mews, London W1 (020 7499 3331, greenhouserestaurant.co.uk)
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