Claude Bosi, Hibiscus, London

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st July 2010

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

This month's Featured Chef ...

Claude Bosi

Revered French chef Claude Bosi, who has worked in a multitude of different Michelin star-winning restaurants, has made Hibiscus the restaurant to eat at since it first opened in 2000. Having won his own Michelin star within a year and a second in 2004, Claude faced a big challenge when he made the decision to move the Ludlow restaurant to London’s Mayfair in 2007. While he briefly lost his second Michelin star owing to the demands of the move, Claude soon had it returned to him and the new Hisbiscus at the Mayfair hotel. In 2009, Claude’s Mayfair restaurant was listed as only second to The Fat Duck in the UK National Restaurant of the Year awards, showing the impressive quality that Claude and his staff are able to provide there. Using expert techniques and the finest ingredients (sourced predominantly in the British Isles), Claude has won over customers and critics alike. For Claude, a wealth of classical training and modern influences has proved a winning formula. 

 

Claude, thank you very much for inviting us here today. A huge privilege to come and see you.

You are welcome. Thank you, to you, for coming to do us.

Claude, let me start by talking a little bit about your early career. When did you decide you wanted to become a chef?

I was 13, I started working in a little Brasserie in Lyon and I worked there for a year.

You're from Lyon?

Yes.

A huge culinary culture there.

Yes, it is very good. We are very lucky. A lot of fantastic produce. A lot of very good restaurants. After a year at the Brasserie, the chef there sent me to Leon de Lyon, where I started my apprenticeship for two years. Then after my apprenticeship I went to Paris, where I went to a restaurant called Monsieur Michel Rostang where I did a year.

As a Frenchman, Claude, is Paris like London in as much as when I was at college if you wanted to get anywhere; be anyone you had to go to London. Is it the same in France you HAVE to go to Paris?

Umm, I would say that, in this country, you have to go to London because there are not that many big cities. To work in London you learn the pace of a busy city; you do big numbers and sometimes in the countryside "¦ I mean Ludlow was 35 covers "¦ you can't just learn in the country you need to come to the city. I love the city that is where I come from. In France, you can go to Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux "¦ all quite big cities and they all have good restaurants, that's why it is not as important to go to Paris as it is to come to London.

How long did you stay in Paris?

Nearly seven years.

Wow, seven years?

Yes, I loved it.

And, of course, you worked for Alain Ducasse in Paris?

Yes.

How bigger influence was that on you career?

Ducasse, as an influence was the quality of the produce, the structure of the kitchen "¦ very important. All of that was a big part of where I started here. And I think Alain Passard at L'Arpège was a big influence on my cooking, where I did 2 ½ years and that was a revelation for me - how to cook it at its best; how to respect your produce.

What made you decide to come to England?

I finished at Ducasse, and I had had enough of Paris and I wanted to go travelling for a bit - I just wanted to travel, maybe to the States; maybe England"¦and I decided to come to England for six months. I said to the Recruitment Agency that I didn't want to go to London; I wanted to come to England to learn as fast as possible the language and from that go travelling; they said "I have the perfect place for you "¦ Ludlow" I asked "Where was it?" And was told it was between England and Wales; not far from Birmingham, and so I went to Overton Grange in 1997. I started in the November and a couple of months later the owner said "My Head Chef is leaving; I want to offer you the job." So I did a menu, cooked some dishes and said we will see if we can work together and he said "I want three Rosettes, if you can do that great if you can't don't bother." I said "OK, you'll need to show me what is three Rosettes." So from there he took me to the Merchant House (Shaun Hill) and I had a fantastic dinner and when I left there I said "OK, if that is three Rosettes I can try." Shaun (Hill) was a perfect example for me of threeRosettes, where he was using great produce; simple food "¦ I said "I can do that."

But that has always been Shaun - it's great produce; he's not interested in pictures on plates.

That's right - always great produce. So I took over the kitchen in February and by April we had three Rosettes"¦ and my job was safe! (Laughter) And the following January we got a Star.

Fantastic.Hib 2

Yes, eight months later we got our first Michelin Star.

Were you pushing for that?

No, no, no. There was three of us in the kitchen and one of them was a kitchen porter; we used to Weddings on a weekend - finger buffet "¦ I was in Miami when I found out about the Michelin Star; I went to see my best friend and I got a call from my boss and he said your food has got a Michelin Star! As a young Chef, I was only 24/25, you never think that you could get one, so I was really shocked. Anyway, the hotel was really busy; we kept going and after a while Michael decided he wanted to sell the hotel. And I didn't know whether I wanted to be here when they sold the business, so I said "Maybe it is time for me to do my own business." I gave them a years notice; it took me a while to find Oaks Restaurant in Ludlow. Claire and I opened that business with no money in May 2000.

Looking back, do you think that was risky? Or you were young and naive and thought "What the hell"?

It was risky. I said at the time "I have nothing to lose; if it all goes pear shaped I have nothing they can take." I didn't have any family; no kids; nothing. It is a bit like when we came to London - my daughter was young, it was the right time to try. We opened in 2000; in January we got the Star back and two months later we got the second Star.

Fantastic.

I wanted to come to London in 2003, at that time, Claire said to me "We are not ready yet, we should wait a bit."

Why do you think you weren't ready?

Claire thought we were not on the market for long enough; we were not pushing our name enough. So in the meantime we got the second Star - the business was getting really good and we wanted to stay in Ludlow a bit longer. I needed to come to London once a month because I love that buzz; I love the traffic jams! One summer I had come to see a friend at Arbutus; working in his restaurant; the buzz of the street - I said to Claire "I think it is time for us to do it!"

Hib 3 Again, it was a huge risk. You had a successful business. Hibiscus had a fantastic reputation in Ludlow; two Michelin Stars and to up-sticks and move into London, where, as you have already identified a very, very saturated market of very good restaurants is a high risk.

Yes, it is but it is like profession. I am sure one day in your life you decide to change what you are doing because you were not happy. I don't think it was just the business, or the money, you have to be happy if you want to be good in your job. And I was going there just to be a day to day job. Ludlow was half the staff - one day you can move forward; the next day you can not. I didn't want to be stuck there. I wanted to be able to appoint a Head Chef, like I have now, I have Marcus (McGuinness) so if my daughter is sick (or whatever) here so I don't always need to be here and can be with her. To give you an example at Ludlow, when Claire was giving birth to Paige - I dropped Claire at the hospital; went and did the service and met her after service. I didn't want to do that again.

It's crazy.

You can't run a business like that, it's very hard on those that do!

Yes, it ends up as your life.

That's right. And I love it"¦ it is my life, but you can't have a business where you think I have been here 30 years and I have never left my kitchen"¦ that is not really a business.

Yes.

It's not fair; it's not normal. And then you get so focused on it that you are not moving forward. You find yourself stuck in a routine; it's not healthy. It's not healthy for business; not healthy for a job that I love doing.

So, you have been in London 2 years?

2 ½ years.

You must have opened just before the recession, then?

We opened in October 2007.

And we entered what has been described as the worst economic climate in 60 years.

Yes, and touch wood we are still open (Laughter).

So was it about surviving during that difficult period?

I think what saved us was that we were a new thing. And by being a new thing people were coming to see what we were doing. The first year was not too bad. We got a Rising Two Star after we opened in January.

What did the critics say when you first came to London?

The journalists, they had heard about Ludlow; they had heard about Hibiscus; the expectations were massive but they never came to us because it was too far away. I think the only ones that came to see us was Jan Moir and Matthew Fort, they took the time to come and see what we were doing but all the others never had a clue what we were about. So they came here and they said "What is that; what's this all about" And I had never changed my style"¦ I said "I am sorry, but I do what I do" If you couldn't be bothered to go to the countryside to see what people like me are doing then, I am sorry, that is not my problem.Hib 6

But it is dangerous. A lot of people will read the Times and the Independent and it is dangerous, to a degree, what they can write.

Yes, it is very dangerous. And I can always remember after an article in the Evening Standard.

What was that by Faye Maschler?

Yes. It was a night when all the critics were at the table. Guy Simmons, I think he was from Time Out, he gave us 6 out of 6 - we were the first restaurant in London ever to get it; Terry Durack gave us a fantastic review; Faye Maschler destroyed us.

She is renowned for being tough?

Yes, she's tough. She knows what she likes. She is a really good journalist but my big problem with journalists is that you open the door - my first service, when we opened the door; the first person sitting at a table was a journalist - how can you judge a restaurant on the first day!! Or even the first week! I couldn't afford to open for the first two weeks and fill it with friends and family - you can't do it! That is my problem with journalists - they don't give you a chance.

But the main thing is to have confidence in what you are doing?

Yes, and that is why one day I went to see Heston (Blumenthal) at The Fat Duck - I love the guy. We chatted together and he said to me "You know what, you could have a hard time now but, trust me, don't change anything. Stick to what you do." He said "Trust me, I have been though so much s**t - don't change, stick to what you believe in." And I will always remember that.

That must be quite re-assuring, when you get someone like Heston saying that to you.

Yes, it is fantastic. I have a lot of admiration for that guy, he has never changed what he is doing - and he has had a lot of s**t along the way. He believes in what he is doing; He took so much risk to do it. And he has done it - he has respect from me forever.

So, Claude, 2 ½ years down the line - Two Stars. What does the future hold for Claude Bosi and Hibiscus?

Try to improve the reputation as best we can. Keep busy. And after - who knows!

Hib 1Other ventures? Other restaurants?

I would like to open a pub with my brother. That would be fantastic. I like working with him. That will be the next step, maybe opening a pure English pub.

OK.

Yes, not French - English. Good Fish Pie; Good Steak and Kidney Pudding; Steak; Prawn Cocktail - all these things.

Lovely.

All what people want to eat - just doing it properly. And I have one of my Sous Chefs who would do that.

Fantastic. Claude, last question, tell us what dish you are going to cook for us today?

Today we are going to do a Grilled Veal Sweetbreads studded with Black Garlic, Italian leaf Salad, Garlic & Lemon Purée, Gremolata Dressing.

That sounds fantastic. Is that a dish that is currently on your menu?

Yes and is selling very, very well.

Claude, thank you vey much for your time.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st July 2010

Claude Bosi, Hibiscus, London

IN ASSOCIATION WITH