My Life in Food: Pierre Gagnaire

'Cooking is serious, but it's not war. The first principle should be kindness'

Born into a family of restaurateurs, Gagnaire has spent his 40-year career collecting Michelin stars. His first star came when he was just 26 at his family's restaurant in St Etienne, Le Clos Fleury. He now has 12 restaurants, in places from Seoul to Saint-Tropez, and holds 12 Michelin stars. His restaurant in London, Sketch, which he co-founded with Mourad Mazouz, was awarded a second star in the latest Michelin guide.

What are your most and least used pieces of kitchen kit?

It's the knife, always the knife. The one I use most is a small, very beautiful and very practical one, which I can do lots with from shallots to onions to mushrooms. Everyone in the kitchen has their own knives, especially in France. Having one's own knife is still very important in French kitchens.

My least used is the freezer. We have one, but we use it very rarely, because we try to use fresh produce every day. In Paris we have the Rungis and other an extraordinary markets, so in the morning we can just go and buy what is there.

If you only had €10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?

I would start with some cèpes mushrooms, which are in season, and which I would fry in a little bit of oil. And maybe some chestnuts and a piece of pork belly. And perhaps a single fine oyster. I would also like a small amount of my favourite cheese, stichelton, and some figs, which are fantastic at the moment, which I would cook with a dash of whisky and a tiny bit of honey.

What do you eat for comfort?

For comfort, fruit. Now we're in winter, oranges, which I adore. A square of chocolate at five o'clock, always around then. I adore pain grillé (toast), with a little bit of butter, it's super. Otherwise, my other comfort foods are oysters and jambon cru and cheese, such as an aged comté or cantal.

What is your desert island recipe?

Have I made a fire on the island? First I would try to understand the nature on the island and try cooking something as simple as that. I'd look for fish, fruits and vegetables, maybe a herb. But I'd have to have fire first.

What is your favourite restaurant?

I don't have a favourite restaurant, it's difficult, because there are so many good ones in the world. When I'm in London I love Scotts, I like Cecconis and Momo's a lot. I like Le Gavroche. It's very old-fashioned – it's superb. In Spain there are some extraordinary restaurants in the Basque region, even some of the more modest ones. I was in San Sebastien recently and I found this amazing restaurant, small, and had been in the family for five generations – the bricks and mortar are the same. It was called Zuberoa, very modest but brilliant. So it depends on the moment.

What is your favourite cookbook?

It's Escoffier. There's lots of knowledge in there, and it's generally extraordinary. It's one of the most fundamental books to French cuisine, in fact the world, because as you know – forgive me because you're English – but we taught the world a lot!

Who taught you about food?

I didn't have a master or a teacher, but I had people who inspired me. The people who inspired me have been Alain Chapel and the Swiss chef Frédy Girardet, but I didn't work with them. There was one man, not very well known, whom I did work with: Michel Lorrin. He was very modest but he cooked very well and cooked with lots of care, tenderness and love. I'd never seen anyone cook with love before. And the word "love" is my guide, because although cooking can be difficult and while it's serious – it's not war. Well sometimes, it's like war – it can be very stressful. But the first principle should be kindness.

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