My Life In Food: Richard Bertinet

'Bread feeds the soul and the body. I could be happy living on bread and water'

Originally from Brittany in France, Bertinet trained as a baker from the age of 14. After stints as a head chef at various award-winning restaurants and a period working with Jean-Christophe Novelli, he refocused on patisserie and baking. Since then, he has written four books – Dough, Crust, Cook and most recently, Pastry – and runs a cookery school, Bertinet Kitchen, and a bakery. He is currently working on a TV project with the BBC.

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

Most used is my little plastic scraper. We use them in every class we run. People say they would not recognise me without my scraper. I am naked without it. It's great in the winter, too, for getting the ice off the car. What I don't use is a bread machine – they are bloody useless. I exaggerate, but you don't actually learn so well with a machine – the machine disconnects you from the process. You need to use your hands.

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

I would go to a lady I know in Newport, Pembrokeshire, who sells live crabs. Every time I go there I visit her and she is always amazed that I want live rather than dressed crab, but I'm not interested in that. You get five or six for a tenner – it is the bargain of the year.

What do you eat for comfort?

A big slice of my sourdough with salted butter or some good British cheese, maybe Caerphilly or some cheddar. But I do also like frangipane; in fact, I'm addicted to the stuff, especially when I can serve it with some seasonal fruit.

If you could only eat bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

Bread. How I could say anything else? Why? Because bread is such fundamental part of our lives, it is something that goes so far back into time. It has a symbolic meaning – to share your bread is to share something that is life-giving. It feeds the soul and the body. I could be happy with bread and water.

What's your desert island recipe?

If I am on a desert island it will have to be seafood – you don't need much more than that to have pleasure. I would want a crab, maybe, or some mussels to make moules marinières. Oh, and some bread, as well.

What's your favourite restaurant?

I have so many good memories of so many good restaurants on so many different occasions, that it seems unfair to choose. There are so many places I like. But you know what my favourite is? I like to eat at home, with my children and my friends – my own restaurant.

What's your favourite cookbook?

There is one that never leaves my bedside: it is called Guide de l'Amateur De Pain by Lionel Poilâne, the famed Parisian baker. It is the story of his life working in the bakery – the way he felt, the way he experienced that life. He has always been an inspiration to me. His daughter, Apollonia, who took over the business when he died in a helicopter crash, is a legend now, too; I respect her greatly.

Who taught you to cook?

The classic is to say my mother, but really, Jean-Christophe Novelli. When I first arrived in England I spent a lot of time with him in the kitchen, and he inspired me greatly. If you were to ask me where I got the bug for baking, though, I would have to say that was in France.

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