Pierre Gagnaire: 'For me, nothing evokes family or home like the smell of toast'

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Indy Lifestyle Online

My earliest food memory... Eating breakfast in bed at my grandmother's farm near Clermont-Ferrand [in central France]. As children, my brother and I spent all our summers there, and my grandmother's treat was to wake us up very early in the morning with a plate of crackers with chocolate on them. She was quite a serious lady, but that was one of her ways of expressing her love for us.

My store-cupboard essentials... Honey from Corsica, fruit and bread. As for the fridge, if it's just my wife and I alone, it's mostly empty. But when my mother-in-law visits from South Africa, it's suddenly bursting with food!

My favourite cookbook... La Cuisine: c'est beaucoup plus que des recettes by Alain Chapel, who was one of France's major chefs in the 1970s. Great cooking is about more than technique – you have to have an artistic instinct – and in the same way, this book is more than a recipe book. It's not very big, but it captures the love and sensitivity he put into his food, and the way his cooking perfectly balanced tradition with innovation.

The kitchen gadget I can't live without... My toaster, because I love the smell of toast: for me, nothing evokes family and home more than that.

My favourite food shop... La Grande Épicerie in Paris is exceptional and during summer, I love the markets in Provence: the Marché aux Fleurs in Nice, especially, has absolutely beautiful fruit and vegetables. Traditionally, it's been difficult to find such good produce in England, but that's been changing in London in recent years: I love Borough Market and also Neal's Yard Dairy.

My top table... In London, I love the River Café, for the honesty of its produce and the elegant unpretentiousness of its cooking. Also, Cecconi's in Mayfair: they get through so many covers but the pasta there is always excellent.

My culinary tip... You have to eat well to be able to cook well. Learning to taste is like learning a musical instrument – you need to work at it all the time. But these days if you went into a restaurant kitchen and asked the young chefs what they'd had for lunch that day, eight out of 10 would say they hadn't eaten anything, as they were too busy. That's a problem.

My comfort food... Oysters with ham and shallot-vinegar dressing as it's such a natural and simple dish and yet has such wonderful flavours. Also, if you're tired, there's nothing better than a bowl of plain rice; it gives you an instant lift.

My guilty pleasure... It is not a pleasure, but I do feel guilty about having to use farmed fish. It's organic, but ideally I would love to use wild fish in all my restaurants; sadly, it's incredibly expensive and quite scarce in the UK.

My dream dining companion... Sigmund Freud, because he was such an ambiguous, intriguing character and so clever. If he didn't change the world, he certainly opened a lot of doors of understanding to it for many people. And Churchill, too: the two of them together would make for a very interesting dinner! I would like to dine with them on the terrace of a lodge in Tanzania, with all the wild animals running around below.

The strangest thing I've eaten... Bear, which I had in Russia, when I was out in the countryside. I can't say it was very nice: I just thought what a shame it was that the bear was on my plate, and not still running around the forest.

My pet hates... It annoys me when restaurants don't say where their fresh produce, such as meat or fish, has come from on the menu. Customers cannot be fooled, but too many places are prepared to compromise on the quality of ingredients in order to try to make as much money as possible.

Pierre Gagnaire is an internationally renowned chef whose restaurants include Sketch, 9 Conduit Street, London W1 (tel: 020 7659 4500, sketch.uk.com)

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