Claude Bosi, Chef Patron, Hibiscus

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th May 2016

 

Claude Bosi has been a chef for 30 years, working in a multitude of different Michelin star-winning restaurants, he opened Hibiscus 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. For Claude, a wealth of classical training and modern influences has proved a winning formula and one he has no intention of changing.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Claude about how Hibiscus has evolved, why his head chefs will never have a dish on his menu and his latest venture The Swan Inn.

Claude Bosi
Claude Bosi

How do you keep the passion going after being in the industry for so long?

I just love the atmosphere of a kitchen and service. And I love the atmosphere of a full restaurant, I think it’s a fantastic feeling. I was born in it, my parents always had restaurants and I used to live in this environment. I need people around me and that’s why I love it, every day.

It’s been three years since we last featured you, how has Hibiscus changed in that time?

In terms of the operation side of it, it’s one team now instead of having staff who have to cover days off, now we are all here at the same time. This definitely makes our lives easier and we try to make ourselves more focused and consistent in the kitchen. But we still want to give a bit of choice to the customer – that’s very important.

Offering customers ‘a bit of choice’, has that changed your style at all?

No, we still focus on the season and the simplicity. I’ve not changed the style, far from it, it’s made us more precise. Having 24 dishes on a menu and then going down to 15 it gives you more focus on those 15 dishes.

Are the dishes on the menu a team effort?

The way I work, if I have an idea, I’ll speak to my head chef and say I want to work with whatever produce and ask him to get me some samples. From that I will make him try different things and from this we will build on the dish. It is teamwork but I come with the foundation recipe and we build up towards it. It’s hard because you feel like you are working on your own but I never wanted Hibiscus to be….one day it’s one style because you have one head chef, then two or three years’ time you get a another style because you have another head chef.

Hibiscus is me and every head chef I’ve had knows that they will never have a dish on the menu. It’s not what I want and they know this from day one. If they want to put their own dishes on the menu they need to open their own restaurant.

I made the mistake of letting my head chef put dishes on the lunch menu and people were saying to me ‘it’s not really you, it’s not your style’. It’s hard for the head chef and that’s probably why I’m losing them every four or five years because they feel it’s time to do their own thing.

You’ve been in central London for eight years after moving Hibiscus from Ludlow, have you seen a difference in the culinary scene and how restaurants operate in that time?

There’s definitely a more relaxed atmosphere, and there is a lot happening in Shoreditch and Brixton for example – the cost of running a restaurant in the west end is so expensive so going to those areas, the rent is lower. You get some great food there, the places are fantastic.

I wouldn’t say the London food scene was the best in the world but when it comes to the diversity of it, it’s one of the best. You can eat any style of food you want to in this city.

Is it as good as French cuisine?

I don’t eat a lot of French food – I eat enough of that when I go home. If I fancy it I’ll go for a good casserole and I’ll find a French Bistro or French restaurant. But most of the time I go for a different style of food because you learn at the same time. You learn different types of flavours, taste, and technique.

Do you go back to France regularly? And where do you like to eat when you do?

About three or four times a year. I stay at home and my mum cooks for me! It’s quite nice actually.

We spoke to you a few months ago about your decision to cut working hours at Hibiscus, do you think your peers are starting to realise this is the future of the industry?

I think they realised that before I did, I’m not the first to do it I think I just listened to what was going on and I thought now was the right time for us to do it as well. You can be quite stubborn, and think ‘my way is the best way’ but when you see everyone else taking another direction and the staff at the end of the week are exhausted – you have to move forward and look after your guys.

Sweetbreads

Lamb sweetbread, buttermilk, monk's

beard, seaweed butter

Since you made the change has it made a difference? Is it working?

It’s definitely working, the guys feel a bit less exhausted and they feel more stable. They go home on a weekend and they know they have an extra day off after that – it’s fantastic.

You said Hibiscus hasn’t changed too much over the years but have you changed as a boss?

When I started I was with partners, you find yourself under a lot of pressure – I came here just as a chef. When you start taking over everything, you realise you don’t have to make that much money. It’s only been two and a half years since I bought my partner out, the first year you make sure you pay your debts, then you look at the business and think about what you can afford. I may make a bit less money at the end of the year but it’s a better environment.

Now you are your own boss, has that changed the atmosphere in the kitchen?

I have more pressure now than before but I’d say its relaxed most of the time. From 12 – 3 and 6 – 10.30 it’s a different ball game. People come and give you a lot of money to be able to eat with you and you can’t really take that for granted, you’ve got a job to do every day. I feel so humble to have people, who earn their own money, come here and give it to me, and to be able to do a job I love doing – you can’t take that for granted. So, you have to make sure what you deliver is perfect.

What are you most proud of in your career so far?

Having a restaurant, in the middle of London as a solo owner – I’m quite happy with that! I’m trying to keep on top of the game after 16 years now, it’s great to still have regulars after all that time coming back every day or every month – I think that is one of the main things I’m proud of.

Do you think it’s difficult to compete as a restaurant in London now?

I think what is hard in London is you can find yourself following a trend. It took me a while, a good two or three years after we opened, to understand what was my style and what I wanted to do. You have to realise that what you do is your thing and people come for what you do so stick to it. It’s easy to find yourself in a trend, look at other chefs and think he’s number one in the world so let’s try to do what he’s doing, but you lose a bit of your personality.

I think it’s harder to have a business like this in the countryside than it is in London, because you need to bring the people to you. Here, they will see the light and they come in. I’d say Ludlow was harder than London. What is hard in London is the cost of running it not the competition.

And the cost inevitably goes up every year?

Up and up and up. You feel like a cow and the landlord is always trying to take milk from you!

Do you have future plans for Hibiscus? Will you always stay in London?

I will stay in London for a bit, I’m happy here and I love London. I’m not sure if I would go back to the countryside.

What about France, would you have a restaurant there?

No. What for? I mean you never say never but at the moment I’m not planning on it!

Do you have a favourite dish at Hibiscus? One that you maybe reinvent over the years?

It’s quite interesting because sometimes you’ll get customers who talk to you about dishes and they are dishes I’ve completely forgotten about! I’ve got a bad habit, I don’t write down dishes or recipes, I don’t have any recipes – that’s why I employ head chefs who are organised. I’m the most disorganised person in the world that’s why it’s hard for them to work with me.

I don’t have any fixed dishes, it’s more about my mood and what I want to eat.

Being in London, are there any chefs or restaurants which really excite you at the minute?

There’s a small place called Antidote in Carnaby, the chef is Michael Hazelwood, he’s a really good cook and the food was very good and I was not expecting it. Another chef I like is Lee Westcott, he’s a young chef who will go far. Also Merlin at Portland and Tom at Bonhams. I’ve not been to Bonhams but I’ve heard good things. I like these young guys who just keep their head down and put the time and effort into what they believe in.

 You’ve opened The Swan Inn in Esher, Surrey earlier this month, what made you want to move into pubs?

Pubs make me think about what my parents used to have. They used to have a bistro cartier, a pub is very similar to that on a certain level, you can come and have a drink, read the paper or have a meal. I like the community of it.

Hibiscus
Hibiscus

So what can people expect from The Swan? Very different from Hibiscus?

It’s definitely not going to be the dishes of Hibiscus because I won’t be cooking there. I’m trying not to cook in my other places because I don’t want people to get confused and start saying ‘where is Claude cooking today?’ The dishes will be what you would expect to find in a good pub, not a gastro pub, just a good local pub. We’ve refurbished it a bit and brought it back to life.

I’ve done the menu, it will be traditional dishes like sausage and mash up to a rump of lamb. I call it upmarket, good home cooking.  

Have you reached a point in your career where you want to do something a bit more relaxed?

I just like the idea of home cooking, it’s something that is very close to me. I like the simplicity of going to the market, you get some produce and you put a special on the menu, it sounds inconsistent but you don’t have to think too much about it. At Hibiscus it takes days to get it perfect but a special here may just be a piece of grilled fish but it’s fine because that’s what it is about.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th May 2016

Claude Bosi, Chef Patron, Hibiscus