Drawing: Michel Roux Jr.

Autographed drawing of Chef Michel Roux Jr

My latest favourite culinary wizard is two-star Michelin chef Michel Roux Jr, owner and Chef Patron of one of London’s finest restaurants, ‘La Gavroche’ (named after a character in Victor Hugo’s LES MISERABLES) in Mayfair. Opened in 1967 by Michel’s father Albert and his uncle Michel Snr, it was the first UK restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star in 1974 and then a second, three years later. Michel Jr grew up in the kitchen, where he developed and refined his cooking skills, before embarking on his culinary journey that took him to France and around a number of the established restaurants in London, eventually returning to ‘La Gavroche’ to take over in 1991.

Other notable chefs who have graced the Gavroche kitchen are Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsey and Marcus Wareing. Specialising in the classical foundations of French cooking, with a mixture of contemporary meals, some of the notable dishes include, the ‘Soufflé Suissesse (cheese soufflé baked on double cream), Omlette Rothschild and Le Caneton Gavroche (whole duck in a light consommé).

The restaurant, which has a three-month advance reservation list, gained some notoriety, with an entry in the Guinness Book of Records for serving the most expensive meal per head when three diners spent $20,945 on one meal… admittedly $19,248 was for six bottles of wine.

Michel has appeared in a variety of TV cooking shows, the latest as one of the co-presenters of SATURDAY KITCHEN since James Martin left in 2016. I dropped this sketch in to ‘La Gavroche’ for Michel to sign, which he kindly did.

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Drawing: Grace Molony in Lady Windermere’s Fan

Autographed drawing of Grace Molony in Lady Windermere's Fan at the Vaudeville Theatre on London's West End

Dominic Dromgoole’s year-long effort to stage all of Oscar Wilde’s plays at London’s Vaudeville Theatre continues with his four-act comedy, LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN.

Playing the title role is recent LAMBA graduate Grace Molony in her West End debut. Last year she won Best Actress in a Play at the Stage Debut Awards for her first professional role, playing Kate in THE COUNTRY GIRLS at the Minerva Theatre in Chichester.

The Telegraph’s Claire Allfree described her as a “freshly hatched chick, full of undimmed optimism and awkward passion.” As the funny, winsome and good-hearted Lady Windermere, who suspects her husband is having an affair, Grace “is terrific in a part where she has to hold her own against (Jennifer) Saunders’s stonkingly good Duchess of Berwick,” wrote Mark Brennan in The Times.

I met Grace at the stage door after Saturday’s matinee where she signed and inscribed my sketch.

Drawing: Sir Alan Ayckbourn

Autographed drawing of playwright Alan Ayckbourn

“I hope my plays hold up in 400 years time, that’s the real test,” Sir Alan Ayckbourn once said. Well, none of us will be around to find out, but all 82 of them are certainly more than holding their own during his lifetime and a few to come.

Regarded as one of the world’s pre-eminent dramatists, Sir Alan is known for satirising middle class manners since his first West End hit RELATIVELY SPEAKING in 1968. Most of his plays started life in his beloved Stephen Joseph Theatre – named after his mentor – in Scarborough where Sir Alan was Artistic Director for 37 years, retiring in 2009. In that time such classics as ABSURD SINGULAR SINGULAR, BEDROOM FARCE, A CHORUS OF DISAPPROVAL, HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES and THE NORMAN CONQUESTS were born.

“The joy of the English Language is in its infinite capacity for being misunderstood,” he said in a recent interview. I like his 2004 quote, “I am a playwright. Right? Writing is part of my ancient rite. It is my god-given right to write. I exercise that quite rightly, and write, write, write.”

I have had the privilege of meeting Sir Alan on a couple of occasions at London press nights and sent him this quick portrait drawing last week, which he kindly signed and returned.

Drawing: Toby Jones, Zoe Wanamaker, Stephen Mangan, Pearl Mackie, Peter Wight and Tom Vaughn-Lawlor in The Birthday Party

Autographed drawing of Toby Jones, Zoe Wanamaker, Stephen Mangan, Pearl Mackie, Peter Wight and Tom Vaughn-Lawlor in The Birthday Party at the Harold Pinter Theatre on London's West End

Many happy returns to Harold Pinter’s ‘comedy of menace’, THE BIRTHDAY PARTY as the starry West End revival opened last month. The play turns 60 this year and to celebrate at the theatre that is bearing the playwrights name, Sonia Freedman and seasoned Pinter-director Ian Rickson have assembled a wonderful cast for this British classic.

Famously savaged by all but the Sunday Times after the legendary London premiere in 1958, it has now grown to become one of Pinter’s most famous and most performed works. It’s a disturbing portrait of life in a run-down seaside boarding house on the southern English coast where piano-player Stanley Webber (Toby Jones) lives, run by Meg (Zoe Wanamaker) and Petey (Peter Wight) Boles, who arrange a party to celebrate their lodger’s birthday. The flirtatious Lulu, target of Stanley’s lust (Pearl Mackie) joins them, followed by two sinister strangers, Goldberg (Stephen Managan) and McCann (Tom Vaughn-Lawlor).

Critic Dominic Cavandish, in his five-star Telegraph review “rejoices in the play’s undiminished power to disconcert.” It has all the Pinteresque elements, ambitious identity, confusions of time and place and dark political symbolism.

I left my sketch with Toby at the Pinter stage door on Saturday and he along with the rest of the cast very kindly signed it for me.

Drawing: Alain Passard

Autographed drawing of chef Alain Passard

The wonderful French chef Alain Passard signed my drawing in super quick time. I only sent it to his signature Parisian restaurant ‘L’Arpege’ a few days ago and it arrive back today. Merci.

Alain is a multiple, multiple Michelin-star winner. He purchased ‘L’Archestrate’ in 1986 on the corner of Rue de Varenne and Rue de Bourgogne from his mentor Alain Senderens. He changed the name to ‘L’Arpege’ as a tribute to his love of music. Alain is a very fine saxophonist. The restaurant won a Michelin in its first year, and its second and thereafter. His menu is based on seasonal and natural organically grown produce from around France, including his own three farms in Sartre, Eure and Manche.

Drawing: Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughton in Beginning

Autographed drawing of Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughton in Beginning at the Ambassadors Theatre in London's West End

After a sell-out run at the National’s Dorfman Theatre, David Eidridge’s masterful new play BEGINNING transferred to Ambassador’s Theatre just off Charing Cross Road in central London until 24 March.

‘The (anti) romance for the 21st Century,’ is a two-hander with Justine Mitchell as Laura and Sam Troughton as Danny, sozzled loners, desperately seeking common ground and a connection. It’s the early hours of the morning, and Danny is the last straggler at Laura’s party. The flat’s a mess and so are they. In his four-star review for the Guardian, Michael Billington said, “Both actors peel away the protective layers in a play that leaves you caring deeply about its characters and which adds unusual poignancy to the dating game.”

Justine and Sam signed my drawing at the stage door, between Saturday shows.

Drawing: Ken Hom

Autographed sketch of Chef Ken Hom

Appropriately, as the Chinese New Year is ushered in, my drawing of popular TV Chef Ken Hom arrived back, signed with a complimentary card attached wishing me New Years greetings. Widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest authorities on Oriental cooking, Ken is a regular on our TV screens.

Born in Tucson to Chinese parents he grew up in Chicago. He didn’t find the American food agreeable so his mother would send him off to school with a flask of hot rice and stir-fried vegetables.

At the age of 11 he started working in his uncle’s restaurant and ran cooking lessons in his native Chinese cuisine to pay for his university fees when he moved to California, eventually swaping his history studies to follow his heart at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Ken’s British connection came in 1982, when he was chosen, after a two-year global search for the BBC’s new Chinese cooking series.

Numerous programmes, books and accolades have followed since. He opened MEE at the Belmont Copacabana Palace Hotel in Rio de Janeiro, the city’s first luxury pan-Asian restaurant, winning a Michelin star in it’s first year. Ken divides his time as a global culinary citizen between residences in France and Thailand, but is a frequent visitor to the UK where he has a number of business interests including his wok empire.

I sent this drawing to his Hampshire headquarters, managing to coincide with one of visits.

Drawing: Malin Bystrom in Salome

Autographed drawing of Malin Bystrom in Salome at the Royal Opera House in London

“In Swedish soprano Malin Bystrom, we come as near to perfection as we ever will: a petulant, imperious teenager becoming drugged with lust,” wrote Michael Church in his five-star Independent review for the third revival of David McVicar’s gory and provocative production of Richard Strauss’s SALOME at the Royal Opera House. “Her voice rides easily over the hundred-piece orchestra and the porcelain purity of her tone contrasts ever more starkly with her blood-bolstered presence. Wonderful.”

After six appearances since her Covent Garden debut in 2002, Malin returned for the ROH’s 2017/1018 Autumn season, playing Helene in LES VEPRES SICILIENNES in November and the biblical femme fatale SALOME in January.

Malin signed my sketch for me after I left it at the stage door.

Drawing: Uma Thurman in The Parisian Woman

Autographed drawing of Uma Thurman in The Parisian Woman at the Hudson Theater in New York

Uma Thurman made her Broadway stage debut late last year in Beau Willimon’s Trump-inspired THE PARISIAN WOMAN at New York’s Hudson Theatre. Known for creating the original Netflix series HOUSE OF CARDS, Beau’s fifth play, a dark humoured drama, is set in Washington DC, where powerful friends are the only kind worth knowing, especially after the 2016 election.

Uma plays Chloe, an ambitious socialite with charm and wit, coming to terms with an unknown future, where truth isn’t obvious and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

I remembered speaking to Uma at the Royal Opera House stage door during the BAFTAs a few years ago when she snuck out for a nicotine break. She was very chatty, signing siggys between ciggys, so I figured she would be nice enough to sign a sketch for me if I sent it to her at the Hudson, and, thankfully I figured right.

Drawing: The Play That Goes Wrong

Autographed drawing of Dave Hearn, Henry Lewis, Charlie Russell, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields in The Play that Goes Wrong at the Duchess Theatre in London and the Lyceum Theatre in New York

One of the big success stories of British Theatre is the creation of the Mischief Theatre Company and their first hit production THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG. Written by LAMDA graduates Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, it follows the exploits of members of the fictitious Conley Polytechnic Drama Society and their disastrous attempt to put on a 1920’s murder mystery. The writers were joined in the original cast by Charlie Russell, David Hearn, Greg Tannahill, Nancy Wallinger and Rob Falconer, who used to work at my local pub and said he was working on an interesting theatre project.

From modest beginnings above one of London’s oldest taverns at the sixty-seater Old Red Lion Theatre in 2012, it moved to the Trafalgar Studios a year later then to the Duchess in September in 2014, where it is currently in residence and booking to later this year. It won the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. Last year it transferred to the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway, where it won the Tony Award for Best Scenic Design. It has now gone global, with productions in over 20 countries, including a UK tour.

Last month the two Henrys, Jonathan, Charlie and David returned to the West End, as part of the ensemble for the improv MISCHIEF MOVIE NIGHTS at London’s Arts Theatre, where I met them to sign this drawing for me.