Arnaud Bignon, The Greenhouse, Mayfair

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th January 2014
Arnaud Bignon is executive chef at The Greenhouse, a London restaurant that, under Arnaud’s guidance, recently won its second Michelin star and four AA rosettes. After working for several great chefs including three-star French chef Eric Frechon, Arnaud moved to Greece in 2005 where he headed up Michelin-starred Athens restaurant, Spondi, soon earning it a second star and a place in the World’s 100 Best Restaurants list. In 2012 Arnaud moved to London where he soon worked his Michelin magic on The Greenhouse. The Staff Canteen caught up with him to find out what his secret is… You received your second star at The Greenhouse in September; do you remember where you were and how it felt? I was in my bed; I’d just woken up; my mobile was ringing a lot; everyone was sending me messages telling me I had two Michelin stars but I went on Twitter just to make sure and I found the Michelin press release. It was very strange because I’d just woken up but a great pleasure; when you work so hard every day and you wake up like this, it’s like a dream. Is what you’re cooking at The Greenhouse very different from what you were doing at Spondi or more of a continuation? At the beginning I was doing some dishes from Spondi but after a while you find new suppliers and you get new products. In Greece it wasn’t always easy to find high quality fish because the sea around it is very warm, so the meat is not so firm and hard. Now in England I have the chance to find some amazing products and also it’s much easier to find good, reliable suppliers. So now I have the chance to put a lot more seafood on the menu. How difficult was it starting again in a new country? When you start again at a new restaurant – even if the chef before had very good suppliers, they might have had a different style – so you need to start again finding new suppliers and the quality of products you want; also you need to teach your staff and build up a strong team, so it’s a lot of work at the beginning; the first three months it was very, very hard and it took a lot of energy. Were you happy about how quickly you got a good team together? Yes because at the beginning it wasn’t so easy to find staff; after three or four months we stabilised the team and afterwards we could really start to work in the way we wanted. We also have a very good front of house team led by our general manager, Arnaud Demas; we have Agnieszka who’s in charge of the restaurant; she’s very good with the guests; we have Marc Piquet, the sommelier, who’s very good; the wine list at The Greenhouse is more than 3,000 bottles; it’s one of the best cellars in Europe. When you have such a knowledgeable team in front of the guests it makes it much easier; you only have to focus on the cooking. Before Spondi you worked for seven years at Hotel Le Bristol in Paris under three-Michelin star chef, Eric Frechon; how was your time there and how did it influence your career? It was great because there was a team of six sous chefs and there was a very good relationship between all of us. When you work in this kind of atmosphere you can work as many hours in the day as you want and you don’t feel it. Every day was a new day because when you work in this kind of hotel there are always a lot of events and it never feels like a routine. The seven years I spent at Le Bristol to me feel like two years. Monsieur Frechon is one of the best professionals I’ve ever met in my life. He was in the kitchen at eight o’clock in the morning and left at eleven o’clock or midnight. I’d never seen anyone before so intense in their work. From there you moved to Greece to head up Spondi; how did that come about and was it a difficult decision to leave somewhere you loved so much? It wasn’t difficult because there comes a time when you want to be your own chef. I met the owner of Spondi [Apostolos Trastelis]because monsieur Frechon was a consultant chef for the restaurant; at the same time the owner of Spondi was looking for a new head chef. I met him at Le Bristol and then I went to Athens to see the restaurant and I fell in love with it. You took Spondi from a one-star restaurant to Greece’s only two-star restaurant; was that something you were working consciously towards? I was working for the happiness of the guests, to try and continually be better for them; I believe that when you work in this way good things happen like the second Michelin star. Actually it was the owner’s dream to get three Michelin stars but that dream was killed by the economic crisis in Greece. It was really sad because the owner spent a lot of money on the restaurant over five or six years but when the crisis hit, the number of guests started to go down and this had an impact on the quality of product that we had to work with. Was this when you decided to move on and found your current position at The Greenhouse? For one year I was wondering whether I should stay or go. It was quite a difficult decision to take because starting at a new place is very difficult when you are already working somewhere with two stars because you have to work very hard to build it up from the start again; but after making the decision I started to look for a new place. I met Marlon Abela, the owner of the MARC [Marlon Abela Restaurant Corporation, which The Greenhouse is part of]when I came to London to visit the restaurant and it was a very good opportunity to have a new challenge. What’s the next goal for you and The Greenhouse? A third star? Yes, because I believe that when you start something like this and you get one Michelin star and then two, you have to keep going for the top and try to get three; this will push us to be better every day and continue to deliver excellence, and it’s a great opportunity to bring something extra to the guests. I don’t have the recipe for a third Michelin star but it just helps to push you forward to always try to be better for the guests. Would you like to have your own restaurant one day with your own name above the door? No, I prefer to work for someone else and do what I want to do, to be my own chef. It’s not so easy to be a chef and owner – you have so many more problems to deal with; so no, it’s not a dream for me. I like to focus on cooking and leave business problems to the owner. View Arnaud's recipe for Pan fried Foie gras,Fennel Pollen, Prune,Cocoa nibs View Arnaud's recipe for Venison, Chestnut, Quince, Hispi Cabbage, Cranberry

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th January 2014

Arnaud Bignon, The Greenhouse, Mayfair