The man, the chef, the legend: Pierre Koffmann

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th March 2015
Our featured chef, Pierre Koffmann, arrived in the UK in 1970 at the age of 22. Seven years later, he opened the world renowned La Tante Claire with his first wife, Annie, in Chelsea. It was there he became a teacher to many, passing on his talents and skills to those who worked hard enough. His pupils include an extensive list of celebrated chefs who run some of the world’s best restaurants today. Tom Kitchin, Tom Aikens and William Curley to name a few, have all cited Pierre as one of the most influential teachers in the field after each starting out in his La Tante Claire kitchen. We spoke with all three chefs about their time and experiences with our featured chef. Tom Kitchin credit to Tim FieldsTom Kitchin Tom started working at La Tante Claire with Pierre at the age of 18. Now, he owns and runs his own michelin-starred and multi-award winning restaurant, The Kitchin, on Edinburgh’s Leith waterfront. He has worked in a number of prestigious venues around the world. Tom’s time at La Tante Claire was rewarding, yet extremely tough. He said: “I was completely out of my depth when I arrived. Every day I was fighting for survival. It was extremely gruelling and you were very aware that you were working in the presence of a master.” His experience with Pierre helped him grow professionally to become the successful chef that he is today. He said: “Little by little, over the years, you got stronger. Without a shadow of a doubt he made me the chef that I am.” Throughout his time at La Tante Claire, Tom was in pursuit of learning Pierre’s kitchen secrets, but the only way to do so was with solid graft. He said: “The big thing was how did he extract that flavour from the food? That’s what I wanted to know. To get that you’ve got to serve your time and you have to get the techniques and recipes. He doesn’t give it away for free, I tell you that!” For Tom, one of the most helpful things he had learned from Pierre was how to adapt his cooking to different ingredients and the changing seasons. New ingredients arriving in Pierre’s kitchen daily was a test for the chef. He said: “You didn’t know what was coming, one day you would have a sheep, you’d have a deer, or you’d have to use pig’s trotters and he wouldn’t tell you, the bugger!” Pierre Koffmann’s dishes have been talk of the town for generations, from the pistachio soufflé to his famous pig’s trotters. What is it that makes this chef so influential? Tom said: “He’s someone that has never been swayed by fads or fashions and he’s always cooked exactly what he wants to cook and if you don’t like it then fine. Don’t eat it.” To this day, the relationship between Tom and Pierre is still strong. He said: “We’re like father and son, you know, we speak all the time. He’s there whenever I need him. He knows I would do absolutely anything for him and he’s proud of me.” Tom AikensTom Aikens credit Miyagawa Since working at La Tante Claire at the age of 19, chef Tom Aikens has had a glittering career working in a number of Michelin-starred restaurants and opening his own Tom Aikens restaurant in Chelsea in 2003, earning him two Michelin-stars. He has since opened a number of Tom’s Kitchen restaurants around London and has one in Istanbul. The rivalry of two nations in one kitchen was testing for the young chef at La Tante Claire, with frictions between French and British chefs, however Pierre knew how to diffuse the situation. Tom said: “The guy on then larder who I was working with was called Lauren and he did not speak a single word to me for the first two months. Pierre loved to see the friction between the English and French and he played on that and in a way that made us the favourites." So what was Pierre like to work with for? Tom said: “Pierre was a great teacher although very impatient of course. His meaner mood and temperament was classic, one minute he would be laughing and joking then the next giving you a huge amount of grief.” Tom remains fond of the memories he has of Pierre and his time working with the chef. Giving him a chance when no one else would, Tom holds the chef in superior esteem. He said: “After I left Pied a Terre in a cloud of controversy, he was the only one that would employ me. I was with him again for a year and I ran that kitchen for him and it was again another great time.” Tom believes that there will never be a chef quite like Pierre Koffmann. Pierre’s living legacy boils down to respect. Tom said: “At the end of the day he had the respect of everyone and he was a proper working chef, not one that sat in an office, he was at the coal face.” double spread tools 013William Curley World class patissiere and chocolatier, William Curley, has since seen renowned success after working in the La Tante Claire kitchen. He has worked in some of the best Pâtissieries and kitchens in the world and won the title of ‘Best British Chocolatier’ four times. He now owns a number of patisserie and chocolate shops with his wife, Suzue. William still sees Pierre as one of his biggest inspirations. He said: “I always look back on my career and kind of look at Pierre Koffmann as the person that kind of opened the door for me. I’ve not met a chef like him – I still haven’t.” As a young patissiere, William felt that Pierre’s encouragement pushed him to be the best. He said: “He’s a hard taskmaster! But then that’s a good thing, when you’re 20 years old you don’t want to go to a chef that’s chilling out and not pushing you, you want someone to encourage you.” William admits that the style and flair of Pierre’s cooking influences his work today and that no other chef could quite match up to the influential Frenchman. He said: “There are a lot of chefs that leave their mark as well, but not all can continue that legacy, very few.” By Ashley Chalmers Pierre Koffmann is currently our featured chef, watch his video here
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th March 2015

The man, the chef, the legend: Pierre Koffmann