My life in food: Pierre Koffmann
'Grilling sardines on hot coals reminds me of all the holidays throughout my life'
Friday 21 September 2012
Born in France, Koffmann left school at 14. After working in kitchens in France, he crossed the channel on a whim to watch France play England at rugby and ended up staying for six months to work at the Roux brothers' La Gavroche. After a spell at the Waterside Inn, he opened La Tante Claire in 1977. Six years later it gained three Michelin stars. He now cooks at Koffmann's at London's Berkeley Hotel. His cookbook Memories of Gascony (Mitchell Beazley) has just been revamped and relaunched.
What are your most and least used pieces of kitchen kit?
For chefs, it is always a knife. I'm 64 but I still use the knife I had when I was 16. It is nothing fancy, it is a butcher's knife – but I love it. You get attached to this type of thing, and you take care of them. It is not a special brand, or shiny, or even stainless steel, but I use it every day. My least used thing is a tin opener. That is not to say I don't like things that come out of cans. I love tins of sardines, for instance, but you don't need an opener for those these days.
If you had only £10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?
I would buy cheese. I love it. If I could, I would eat it from morning to night. So I would go to La Fromagerie near my restaurant and pick up as much as I could carry. My favourite is a ripe Munster; it must be ripe though, or it is no good.
What do you eat for comfort?
I eat saucisson. I always have one on the go at home. One, two or three slices of it, and I am a happy man. I have eaten it since I was a child. I think most of our comfort foods come from childhood. If not that, then I like to go to a Chinese restaurant when I am down. I order a vegetable broth soup – it makes me happy. It is funny because it is not very French.
If you could eat only bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, which would you choose?
I would choose bread. I am French, after all. A baker is like an artist. I can make a dough myself, cut it in 10 pieces and 10 bakers would come back with 10 different breads. The craft of bread-making is fantastic. You have to learn by touch and intuition. We have a guy in the kitchen who makes all ours.
What's your desert island recipe?
If I am on a desert island I would have grilled sardines. So I would light my fire, catch them and then cook them over hot coals. It is a summer dish and it reminds me of the holidays throughout my life. You just put a bit oil on them and season – it is very simple and very pleasant.
What is your favourite restaurant?
There are so many I love, my choice is dependent on my mood. The one that springs to mind at the moment is Bacon in Cap d'Antibes. The guy does a bouillabaisse there, and, you know, it is the best I can remember.
What's your favourite cookbook?
Escoffier is the best. You could use it every day and for everything. There is so much in Escoffier's books. You can take a classic recipe and adapt it as you want for the modern day.
Who taught you to cook?
I didn't work in any Michelin-starred kitchens at the start of my career, because I didn't really like to take orders, so I never had the chance to work with Bocuse or anyone like that. I had a mother and grandmother who were very good cooks. I suppose they gave me the inspiration and desire to become a cook.
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