Eric Chavot, Executive Chef, Bob Bob Ricard

The  Staff Canteen

Eric Chavot has done it all. He’s worked for some of the best chefs including Pierre Koffmann and Raymond Blanc, he’s held and achieved Michelin stars and opened his own restaurants Interlude de Chavot and Brasserie Chavot.

At 50 you’d think he’d be looking to slow down, but his new role as Executive Chef with the Bob Bob Ricard brand would suggest not.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Eric about the new site Bob Bob Cité, why he is no longer chasing accolades and what he looks for when recruiting chefs.

Eric Chavot  plating
Eric Chavot

What made you want to take on your role here at Bob Bob Ricard?

I didn’t want to get involved (laughing)! The only thing I knew about Bob Bob was ‘press for champagne’ and I’d never been before.
So last year, I was working on a lovely little project, an old pub in the countryside as I’m based in Epsom, and I thought after 30 years of London enough is enough but the project fell through. Before that we’d closed the brasserie (Brasserie Chavot) not because of business but the owners wanted a bigger rent and we couldn’t do it.

September 2016 was black September for us, the brasserie closed, my wife got cancer and my son got colitis – but whatever doesn’t break you makes you stronger.
I was going to France for a week when I got the email from Bob Bob owner Leonid (Shutov) about the new project Bob Bob Cité. I met him on site it was supposed to be a five minute meeting which lasted five hours and that was it we were on the same wave length.

What is your actual role and when will Bob Bob Cité open?

I could have started just on the new project next year because they had Anna (Haugh) as executive chef at Bob Bob but she left and they had a head chef, in August (2017) I thought I would start as it would be quiet – my arse! It wasn’t! They are just busy, it’s like Christmas every day.
So, I’m the mother hen! I’m the executive chef and I’ll be looking after both sites but at the moment I’m in the kitchen at Bob Bob until we open Cité in Spring 2018. I didn’t want to barge in to the kitchen like a bull, but it needs to be organised to do the number of covers it does.

You’ve achieved accolades in the past, are they something you are still hungry for?

No because I’ve had them and that’s actually liberating not having the chase. At Bob Bob I’m looking to apply what I know. It’s bloody tiring to keep stars and that was the most stressful part of my life. I had to do it for ten years and it’s nerve racking. Once you have them you have to hold them and that’s not fun, cooking is fun.

Bob Bob Ricard does hundreds of covers a day, how are you finding that?

The Brasserie (Chavot) used to do about 150 to 200 covers, the first Saturday night I was at Bob Bob we started at 5.30pm and I didn’t look at the clock, they plateau at 240 covers and I thought it was about 10.30pm – it was 8.30pm and I still had 2 hours of that to go! The numbers here blow your mind so imagine what they will be at Cité which is bigger.

Info bar

Top five restaurant meals

1. Pigs Trotters @ La Tante Claire (Pierre Koffmann)

2. Dinner at El Bulli, Costa Brava (Ferran Adrià).. I think it was 32-courses! 2011

3. Snails Mauricette @ Bistro Bruno (Bruno Loubet)

4. Brandade de Morue @ the Champignon Sauvage (David Everitt-Matthias)

5. the Breakfast @ Earth Lodge, Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, South Africa

Five most influential chefs in career

1. Chef Lahy @ Le Boucanier (Arcachon)

2. Pierre Koffmann @ La Tante Claire

3. Raymond Blanc @ Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons

4. Bruno Loubet @ Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons

5. My mother @ home ! 

Top 5 comfort foods

1. Slow-cooked short ribs (beef) with creamy mash

2. B.L.T. with ranch dressing on thickly sliced home made bread

3. French onion soup (home made)

4. Baked beans spicy a la Chavot with a fried egg

5. Buttermilk pancakes with blueberries and greek yoghurt

Have you changed the dishes currently on the menu at Bob Bob Ricard?

I’ve looked at them all individually, for example the Kiev, we’ve changed to honey panko and one part parmesan. You blitz the panko to a fine powder, you add grated parmesan to that and when you deep fry it, it’s absolutely gorgeous. It’s harder when a restaurant is already running to make changes, Bob Bob Cité will be bigger but easier as we are starting with a blank page.

Beetroot and Goats Cheese Gateau
Beetroot and Goats Cheese Gateau

People know Bob Bob Ricard but what can they expect from Bob Bob Cité?

There will be some similarities décor-wise, but it’s more modern and everything I son one floor which makes it easier. There will be an open kitchen, a big lounge, a red room, a blue room and three private dining rooms. I’m not going to say everything but there are plenty of rooms which will wow you.

The format on the food side is French a la Chavot, the original site is Russian English and we do the caviar, the little blinis, crème fraîche and sour cream, the dumplings – Cité is almost an extension of Brasserie Chavot. You’ll have your Blanquette, I’m going to do a snail dumpling, baba – so it’s me over there. I know exactly what I’m going to cook and I have most of my core team in place. We’ll start with 22 in the kitchen but it will go up to 30 plus. Most important for me is a prep team, they have to be ready for service.

You had Interlude de Chavot and Brasserie Chavot. Why did you choose to open your own place?

I was 27 when I opened Interlude de Chavot in Charlotte Street, you think in the business of cooking that once you have everything ready and the door is open that’s it the business is open and we are going to be busy. It doesn’t work like that and you find that out.

Before that I’d worked for Raymond Blanc, Koffmann – these are established places which are always busy and foolishly you think it will be the same for you. You have to realise that you have to build that.

Private Room at Bob Bob Ricard
Private Room at Bob Bob Ricard

What advice do you have for chefs looking to open their own place?

Start small and do it when you are young! Don’t do it with family or people with money who are not in the trade. You hear those horror stories all the time, chefs open with someone who has money but doesn’t understand the business – they want a quick turnover, it doesn’t happen so they close you down.

You’ve been cooking in the UK for many years, you’ve not gone back to work in France, what keeps you here?

The French! No, it’s because my home is here. I arrived in 1986 and Marco (Pierre White) in 1987 so I saw the change in the cooking scene change very quickly. I worked with the old guard who were sceptical but Marco provided an opening. It was great to see the progression and the freedom and confidence it gave chefs. And it’s not just London, look at what’s happening in Padstow and look at Nathan (Outlaw) he used to be my commis! Seeing all these chefs doing what they are doing is absolutely brilliant. The chefs now have created their own movement but the base of what they do is still French, they’ve all been trained in the rules, but they have brought that confidence to British cooking.

Are British chefs as good as French chefs?

Yes, but there are more French chefs so it’s not a question of are they better – they are just as good. A few years ago the French cooking was getting a bit stale between the old guard, but the younger generation has had to reinvent themselves to keep up with the food movement.

Can you pinpoint a chef you have learned the most from in your career?

Chocolate Glory
Chocolate Glory

After being an apprentice I was quitting, my first head chef said to me ‘after two years with me you will either be a chef or you’ll quit’ – I was quitting, I’d had enough and it was not for me! Where I come from there was not much to do you are either a chef, a carpenter, a mechanic or you go in the army.

The first chef who kept me on track was Chef Lahy at Le Boucanier, it was a little seafood restaurant in Arcachon. I spent three months with him and I wanted more, so he was the one who inspired me.
But the other two chefs are definitely Mr Koffmann and Raymond Blanc. 

You’ve worked for some amazing chefs and now as an employer, what do you look for when you are recruiting?

I just look for willingness. And they have to be aware it’s not a job it’s a career. I always ask chefs to spend a day with us and make them aware of what it’s going to be like. I have knowledge and I want to pass it on because it’s so much fun.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th December 2017

Eric Chavot, Executive Chef, Bob Bob Ricard