Coffee-time with… World’s best Chef Pierre Gagnaire

Named “Best Chef in the World” multiple times, Pierre Gagnaire continues to make his mark with both his cuisine and personality to match. With 3 Michelin stars and over 12 restaurants from Paris to Shanghai, his passion and originality show no signs of diminishing.

Mr. Gagnaire invites us into his London restaurant, Sketch, to talk about what inspires him, his perspective on France and the UK, and his recipe for staying so down-to-earth.

The Sketch restaurant, celebrating 17 years in business, treats you to a kaleidoscope of atmospheres, from loungy Boudoir to urban jungle, all in contrast with its surrounding streets of Mayfair. It’s without a doubt a destination and not a detour – a place where diners will be whisked away by the good food, art of living and best of all, the art of sharing.

Tea or Coffee ?

Coffee, definitely coffee. I drink a lot of coffee.

Slightly less now that my standards are so high having recently discovered the ultimate coffee roaster (Gianni Frasi, located in Verona) and roasting machine in Italy. I’ve just had them installed in my two Parisian restaurants.

How does one become Pierre Gagnaire?

It’s a combination of opportunity, talent and luck. I think you have to keep it real and know how to challenge yourself in what you’re doing and making. When I say “make”, I don’t necessarily mean just food, but the relationships we build with others. Human labor is key in my profession and also how we differentiate ourselves from restaurant chains. Sketch restaurant has been open for 17 years now and it’s in large part thanks to the people holding it up.

How would you define your cooking? Is it influenced by a certain country?

My cooking takes on the flavors of its locale. We make dishes in London that we would not make in Shanghai. My cooking is almost always in sync with how I’m feeling – a mix of how I feel, my personality, where I am and those around me.

Where do find inspiration?

There’s no sudden revelation as such, it comes progressively. Other creative people often say the same. It’s hard to explain how creativity works. It’s a specific state of mind that needs to be continually revived through a bit of solitude and desire. It’s good to seek moments of silence.
There’s this inner pull that helps us to refocus on our strengths and story. Just be aware though that sometimes other things get sacrificed during this process.

How does the creative process work? What’s the best way to tackle it- bit by bit?

We jot down notes and write down a story. With actual words. These are the words that will later tell our story in a diner’s plate. We then test it out, but this process usually works 90% of the time. My pencil is truly my best friend. You have to let yourself dream. And then, all of a sudden an idea will emerge in an inexplicable way and which is often the right one.

New trends you’ve picked up on?

The current trend seems to be the locavore movement. By that I mean buying local products and nourishing oneself from nearby sources.

It makes sense. Why buy bread at the opposite end of the city when you have a great bakery right next to you. People want friendliness and human connections. Traditional conventions are changing. People have had enough of hearing fibs. The relationship between men and women is changing. Family rapports too. Food isn’t far behind.

How do you stay grounded?

I still sometimes have a hard time believing the story of my own life. But if I had to stop working tomorrow, that would be the end of me. I’m like an engine conducting several people at a time. It’s a vicious cycle but I can’t stop.

Any comments on Brexit?

It’s a mistake. Those who voted in its favor were duped by a bunch of smooth-talkers. We live in a world of sensationalism, of turning things upside down. But what’s happening is not unexpected because the middle class does struggle to live. Maybe something can be done about this.

It’s a bit cliché but just by being less greedy and sharing more. We hire consultants to teach us how to breathe and sleep properly, it makes no sense.  It’s the law of Ripolin – everything gets white-washed. Brexit exposed the despair of a group of people who let themselves be duped by dishonest people.

What’s the London spirit like?

I find it very British to be able to dress and behave as one pleases. But at the same time, there are codes of respect to follow. Then there’s the sense of humor with a tinge of hypocrisy. It’s a city that showcases the best and the worst, like many big cities. This contrast can be a valuable one. My wife lived in London for 15 years, it’s where we met. The English often start off by sweet-talking but a different story could be hiding between the lines.

There’s no formula. Some will thrive in London while others will struggle to find their place.
The British seem to have a more professional mindset at times.
If there’s a problem, it gets resolved. This isn’t always the case in France where latin culture is involved.

A place that inspires you most in London?

I like the parks and museums. I also really enjoy the wooden Crystal Palace stadium.
I’m not familiar with the restaurants. There’s this small matter…of time. Though it certainly wouldn’t hurt to get out and explore more!

Where do you go to recharge?

Everywhere and nowhere – it happens during little stolen moments. We all have a mystical side. Listen to your own body, take the time to think. Keep a strict routine.

My work revitalises me. I now approach things in a less showy way, being much more humble. We still run business though and as such, must be on top of new trends. Which we can of course also start ourselves.

It would be a shame to bypass Veganism, religious influences (Jewish, Muslim)  in cooking etc..
If someone orders a sandwich, I’ll serve a sandwich. We shouldn’t impose limits on people.


Interviewed in April 2018 by Hélène Bouche, with Olivier Van-Den-Abeele . Translated from French to English by Elisa Olenik.
To read it in French, click here.
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