10 Minutes with: Eric Guignard, chef proprietor at The French Table

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th July 2017

Eric Guignard and his wife, Sarah, opened The French Table over 16 years ago in Surbiton, Surrey. Since then, the restaurant and its attached patisserie, The French Tarte, have thrived as a result of their popularity with the local neighbourhood.

As Eric’s business flourishes and The French Table releases its summer seasonal menu, The Staff Canteen caught up with him and talked French culture, Bastille Day, and the importance of community at this suburban culinary hub.

Eric spent the majority of his childhood in Provence, and discovered cooking by himself whilst his parents worked: “I must

Coconut and lime delice

Coconut and lime delice

have been around 10-12 years old, home alone while my parents were working. I would rifle through the cupboards and mix up concoctions of ingredients, feeling like I was the greatest chef in the world! I like fresh, simple, well-cooked food – I think Provence influenced me in that way.” 

By the age of 17, Eric had landed an apprenticeship in France: “I worked very hard – peeling, chopping and cleaning. I remember my first dish was plating a salad niçoise…” Before travelling to the UK and opening his own restaurant, he had gathered valuable experience at double Michelin starred restaurant, Jacques Cagna, and the prestigious Le Jules Verne, located at the centre of Paris and its haute cuisine, the Eiffel Tower. 

What's the key to his success?

He said: “To make things properly, do not cut corners. By that, I mean to always sear your meat properly, to respect your ingredients. And with your vegetables, take care to cut them beautifully.  Respect and do things properly – good lessons in life too!”

Now, Eric is chef and proprietor at his Surbiton restaurant, The French Table. It has rapidly accumulated a variety of notable accolades, including Chef and Restaurant of the Year in the Surrey Life Food & Drink Awards, and places in the AA Notable Wine List, Squaremeal Best Restaurants, Open Table Top 10 Best Restaurants in the UK and, in 2017, Harden’s Guide. 

Eric, however, remains humble: “They don’t really affect me; I don’t mean that in an arrogant way.  I really do like to receive them but they don’t change me in any way. I think it’s always nice to be recognised when you put your heart in everything at work.” He maintains that his biggest achievement is the restaurant itself. 

Having come to England, Eric met his wife, Sarah, in Islington in 1997. At The French Table, she is in charge at the front of house and is head sommelier: “It’s all about good food and good wine at the restaurant. Sarah can work her magic pairing wine with food, bringing out the flavours of my dishes and adding an extra dimension.” 

What dishes are on the menu at The French Table?

The French Table
The French Table

The pair have recently released their summer seasonal menu, ensuring a continued vibrancy and innovation to their food. Eric said: “I think it is very important to try to keep in line with the seasons. In fact, I consider it a sign of a well-run restaurant. It shows that a chef truly cares to follow the seasons. It’s also the sign of a good business model; seasonal produce tends to be cheaper and it’s always good to support local farmers if you can.” 

Even so, local customers come back again and again for Eric’s signature dish, his trilogy of pork belly: “Three lovely things on the plate that I can garnish as I want. I think that’s why I love it. The pork belly is a delicious piece of meat and I can add all the complementary flavours I want. It’s a very popular dish at The French Table. A few times I have wondered if I have had it on the menu for too long and will take it off for a while – but our regular guests always ask to have it back on.” 

>>> Which ingredients work well with pork belly?

What is Bastille Day?

French culture enjoys its celebratory climax with Bastille Day. This year, Eric will be cooking moules-frites at The French Tarte, the patisserie next door, at their Bastille Day Supper Club. He reminisces: “I remember Bastille Day back home being more about drink than food in France. I would certainly go out and celebrate with a good dance and a drink. This year it’s business as usual, and I’ll be cooking from 6:30pm… 

The French Tarte hosts its Friday Supper Club weekly, and is extremely popular with the locals: “I love feeding them!  It’s good food at a good price – cheap and cheerful – it’s food I love cooking and it’s for our local community. The purpose is to come straight from work and we are ready to greet and serve them. It can be a last minute decision on their part. I never order more than 40 portions worth of whatever I’m cooking – once it’s gone, it’s gone.  And it is always gone. I love it.” 

Eric and Sarah, wife and head sommelier
Eric and wife, Sarah

Indeed, community is everything to Eric and his business. He said: “It is very important. I think that being family owned and run extends to our guests. My wife Sarah at front of house gets to know them really well. Funnily enough, some of our friends started out as guests at the restaurant. Our team are like my extended family, I try to take care of them and look out for them like I would my own family. I hope that in turn that family exudes a familiar and friendly ambience at the restaurant, because they want to take care of my guests in a similar way.”

He added: “I’ve achieved everything I’ve ever wanted, my beautiful wife, two handsome sons, my dog and a lovely restaurant. There’s only one thing I want to do now – to be on a boat travelling across the world, eating good food.” After such an interesting and successful career, Eric seems happy and content. 

By Oliver Williams

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th July 2017

10 Minutes with: Eric Guignard, chef proprietor at The French Table