Bruno Loubet, Bistrot Bruno Loubet and Grain Store, London

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th July 2014
Bruno Loubet is the chef-patron of Bistrot Bruno Loubet and Grain Store which recently won Catey and Restaurant Magazine awards. He grew up in Bordeaux in France before moving to the UK where he worked for Pierre Koffmann at La Tante Claire and Raymond Blanc at e Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons before moving on to head up and win a Michelin star at The Four Seasons Inn on the Park. He then opened the acclaimed Bistrot Bruno and L’Odeon before moving to Australia in 2001. In 2009 he returned to the UK opening Bistrot Bruno Loubet and most recently Grain Store where vegetables are the stars of the menu and meat takes a firm back seat.   Bruno in the Bistrot - Photo by Amy MurrellCongratulations on a couple of recent awards for Grain Store; how did that feel? Yes we won the Catey award for best Menu and the National Restaurant Award for best cocktail list and also came number 28 in the UK – for a new opening and a restaurant of this size, it’s quite an honour. For me it’s fantastic that this idea I had for many years is now being embraced by the industry as the way forward, and that they recognise the quality and the ideas and concepts; it’s impressive. Why is it important that Grain Store’s philosophy of putting vegetables at the centre of dishes is taken up by more of the industry? We need to change because it’s not sustainable to eat as much meat as we do. There are massive problems in the world and often due to the production of meat. Even global warming is closely linked to beef. When you know that you need something crazy like 10kgs of grain and 350 litres of water to produce one kilo of beef, it doesn’t make sense. So for me the message I try to put across with Grain Store is, you can eat as well without eating so much meat. I’m not saying you shouldn’t eat meat and be very drastic but that you can really enjoy eating without so much meat. A lot of people in the industry told me I was very brave to open somewhere like Grain Store because it was a risk at the end of the day. As something that hasn’t been done before, even if you believe in it, you could still fall on your face. And sometimes you think you have a great idea but it just doesn’t work out. But as you know we opened and we did extremely well and now we’re doing even better than when we opened. What’s even more fantastic for me is the fact that, a year down the line, we’re still going up. Usually new restaurants, especially ones that get a lot of attention at the start, after six months things start to slow down a bit and then a bit more after the first year and you have to do a lot of things to maintain them, but with us we’re one year down the line and we keep going up and up and up and every week we’re doing more. It’s great because you can see there’s a lot of room for what we’re doing. Of the great chefs you have worked for and alongside who would you say have been the most influential? It’s a difficult question because I’ve always felt that I’ve learned more by myself than from anybody else. But you learn something everywhere you go even if it’s just the style of food. When I was with Pierre Koffmann it was very, very hard and I only lasted three months. He was a very hard taskmaster and he wanted what he wanted and that was it. At the time I didn’t really understand and thought it was too much but a few years later when I was a head chef myself at the Four Seasons Hotel and I started to get the pressure and responsibility for other people, then I realised why he was such a hard person, because he was trying to control where he was going. Another influence for me was Raymond Blanc because there were so many amazing, beautiful, colourful products at Le Manoir, and we only used to receive the best products. It appeared to be very simple but actually it was extremely sophisticated in terms of the conception of the dishes and the way you use all the elements. Grain Store - Chocolate brownie and pear tart - photo by Jonathan LovekinThere is one other who was a huge influence for me. He’s not a chef; it’s Mr Ramón Pajares who used to be the general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel. I would say, after my parents, he was the biggest influence in my life because he was such a great man. At that time most chefs in big hotels were at least 30 years old but he took a young guy, who was just 25 years old, put him in charge of the fine dining restaurant and told him, “Cook what you want”. He trusted me and he knew that I had something inside and he let me do it. I had so much respect for him that I only wanted to do the best for him; that’s how he was with people. He used to go around the hotel on New Year’s Eve at 12 o’clock and shake hands or kiss everybody. He would stop and speak to the kitchen porters and he would ask about their children and he would know their names and he had 350 staff at the hotel; that meant a lot to me. When you opened Bistrot Bruno Loubet five years ago after nine years in Australia, how did Bistrot Bruno Loubet - photo by  Addie Chinnit compare to opening the original Bistrot Bruno? It didn’t feel easy. When I came back I didn’t know any chefs in London who could work for me, like chefs de parties and commis chefs – all the people who fill your kitchen and work around you. And you know the difficulty of finding staff in the last eight years or so – it’s getting worse every year, so it was very tough. When you do a restaurant, you always have to have three guys with you; if you have three guys who understand you, you can do a lot and build a lot and share the responsibility ; but when you’re on your own it’s very hard and that’s the position I was in when I came back. I basically had to start from scratch and prove myself again at 47 years old. There were some days when I was working 20 hours and sleeping three hours and having a shower and a coffee or two or three and that was it. Grain Store - Corn & Quinoa tamale, sticky pork bellyWhat’s next for you; will you open more Grain Stores? At the moment it’s a blank sheet. Obviously it’s been on the table and we’ve started to talk about it but we have nothing firm yet. At the moment I’m more interested in pushing the concept and the ideas forward even more, developing some more recipes and getting together an amazing network of organic and small artisanal suppliers, but these things take time and I only wish I had more time to spend on it!

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th July 2014

Bruno Loubet, Bistrot Bruno Loubet and Grain Store, London