Pierre Koffmann: 'My grandparents used to catch or grow most of what we ate'

Interview,Hugh Montgomery@montyhugh
Sunday 23 October 2011 01:58

My earliest food memory... Seeing my grandfather catch an ortolan. It's a little bird we used to eat in France: he would put them in a cage then force-feed them until they were like little balls of fat. My grandparents, who were both farmers, used to catch or grow most of what we ate, including a lot of game and freshwater fish.

My top cookbook... I've got hundreds, but it would have to be Auguste Escoffier's Le Guide Culinaire. All the basics are in there, and you can always use your imagination by taking an Escoffier recipe and adding something and it will work beautifully. In fact, a lot of cookbooks I've read seem to take recipes from him and then adapt them a little bit and change the name.

The kitchen gadget I can't live without... A Robot Coupe mixer; it's made for restaurant use and is a stronger, faster machine than other mixers. When I was starting out, it didn't exist, and if you were doing a chicken mousseline, say, you would have to mince the meat and pass it through a sieve which would take you half an hour, whereas now you just put it in the Robot Coupe and three minutes later, bam, it's done.

My culinary tip... Taste your food at a number of different stages during cooking. Seasoning is the most important thing in cooking, and the difference between good and bad food is a pinch of salt. I think people taste less and less these days: I'm not sure why: maybe they are more interested in the look of the food.

My favourite food shop... La Fromagerie [in Moxon Street, London]. I want to lose a bit of weight, but every time you go there you forget about your diet: I'll go there to buy one cheese, and come back with six or seven. Also I go to Barcelona once a year, and the market there, La Boqueria, is a dream place. They've got 40 types of fish and a similar variety of fruit and vegetables: there are beautiful markets in France, but they're still not as good as the Spanish ones.

My top table... New Fortune Cookie in Bayswater, west London. It's a small, very traditional Chinese restaurant that I've been going to for 15 years or so. It doesn't look like anything special but the food is very good and the service is friendly. In terms of fine dining, it's not easy to choose – if you name one, you can lose friends! – but I love La Petite Maison, Brasserie Joël and Bistrot Bruno Loubet. For a special occasion every year, I go to Le Gavroche during grouse season: they do it traditionally with breadcrumbs and Brussels sprouts, which is the best way.

My dream dining companion... I have to say my partner Claire, because I will be in trouble otherwise, but other than that, Che Guevara. I grew up at the time he was fighting for revolution, and being young and rebellious, he was an inspiring figure.

My guilty pleasure... I've got quite a few, as can be seen by the fact that I'm quite a large person, but, to pick one, cherries: I will buy a large box and eat them in a day. I will only eat them at this time of year though, when they're in season in Europe.

My pet hates... I don't like it when an English chef will pretend to do the best Italian food, for example. I would never do Italian food: I'd rather leave it to the Italians. People are usually better chefs when they stick to their [native] cuisine.

My tipple of choice... I don't drink a lot, only with food, but if I had a lot of money, I'd buy Château Palmer 1979, which is a Bordeaux red. I'll sometimes have a limoncello with an ice cube – I like the mixture of sweet and sour – and for, non-alcoholic drinks, I love mint syrup with a bit of sparkling water. You can only buy it in Arabic shops over here.

Pierre Koffmann will serve a scallops and squid ink dish as part of The Menu by Taste of London in the exclusive Secret Garden area at the Taste of London Festival at London's Regent's Park from 16 to 19 June (tastefestivals.com/london)

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