Drawing: Dario Cecchini

Autographed drawing of Chef Dario Cecchini

One of life’s little pleasures is David Gelb’s Netflix series, CHEF’S TABLE. It’s part of my overall vice for watching cooking shows, replacing a gap in my vocational achievements. The latest series was released this February with four episodes. My favourite was about Dario Cecchini, the charismatic Tuscan butcher and celebrity showman. In the small village of Panzano in the Chianti region off Italy, where Dario grew up, his father ran the local butcher shop, which had been in the family for eight generations, spanning 250 years. Dario, however did not want to be a butcher. He wanted to be a vet. After his mother passed away from cancer, Dario moved to Pisa to study veterinarian science, but he had to cut his studies short and return home to look after his ailing father, who also died leaving Dario no option but to take over the family business.

He said, “I won’t be the one to save the animal, I will be the one who kills the animal.” Even though he grew up in a butcher’s family he knew nothing of the it. He contacted Orlando, his father’s meat adviser and confidente, who took him to many farms and introduced Dario in his philosophy, “When an animal is born, we must try to give it the best life and when the animal dies by our hand we must respect the gift of the animal.”

Dario customers just wanted steaks and fillets, he but wanted to use all the animal, including the ‘less noble’ parts, as he puts it, from ‘nose-to-tail.’ All parts of the animal are useful if butchered and cooked in the appropriate way. Dario says it’s a combination of knowledge and a consciousness respect for the animal. In order to persuade his customers of this, he starting cooking to show how this could be done, establishing ‘Ristorante Soloccia’ across the street from his shop “I am not a cook. I am a butcher who cooks.”

He relies on instinct and keeping things simple and a glass of red wine that helps the process. It became such a huge success that a second ‘meat-centric’ restaurant Officina Della Bistecca was opened next door. The boy who wanted to be a vet had become the most famous butcher in the world.

Combining another vice, the need to scribble, I did this quick sketch and sent it to Dario to sign, which he did, appropriately in a big red marker, cleverly adapting the philosophical phrase ‘carpe diem’ to ‘carne (meat) diem’.

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Drawing: Dave Myers and Si King aka the Hairy Bikers

Autographed drawing of Si King and Dave Myers The Hairy Bikers

My ritual Sunday diet of TV cuisine shows always includes an ample helping of the UK’s most popular cooking duo, Dave Myers and Si King, aka the Hairy Bikers. The exuberant, down-to-earth chefs have had a string of hit television shows over the past twenty years, involving a mixture of cooking and travelogue, creating their own fresh take on culinary classics.

They have now taken to the road on a nationwide tour. AN EVENING WITH THE HAIRY BIKERS is described as an “epic night of cooking and conversation’. The pair rocked up to the iconic London Palladium on Saturday for their only gig in the capital. Luckily I noticed them from my vantage point across the road where I was watching a Six Nations rugby match and partaking of the local hospitality. I quickly raced across to catch them.

After eventually sorting a car park outside the stage door and posing for the obligatory selfies with a few passers-by I asked them to sign my sketch. “Is that a kiwi accent?” asked Si. “Guilty,” I said. That’s why I often put a little stick-note on the drawing ‘To Mark’ to avoid getting ‘Mack’ or ‘Mike’ or some other deviation. But he was conversant with the Antipodean tongue and inscribed correctly.

Drawing: Anne-Sophie Pic

Autographed drawing of chef Anne-Sophie Pic

With a great grandfather, grandfather and a father in the business, French chef extraordinaire Anne-Sophie Pic seemed destined to follow the family culinary career path. Growing up in the family three Michelin star restaurant, ‘Maison Pic’ in Valence in southwest France did not initially influence her to stay. She left to pursue management interests in Japan and the US, but, at the age of 23 returned to her ‘passion’. Three months later her father Jacques passed away. The restaurant had also lost its third Michelin star so Anne-Sophie took over the business to win back her ‘dad’s star’.

With no formal training in cooking she successfully regained Maison Pic’s three star status. In 2011 she was won the Veuve Clicquot World’s Best Female Chef Award in the first year the category was established. Two years earlier she had opened her second restaurant, ‘Restaurant Anne-Sophie Pic in Lausanne, Switzerland which was immediately awarded two Michelin stars and in 2012 the Paris-based ‘ La Dame de Pic’ opened winning its first Michelin the following year.

In 2017 Anne-Sophie started ‘La Dame de Pic London’ in the Four Seasons at Ten Trinity Square, winning it’s first Michelin star this year. While no single dish is attributed to her signature style, she is known for her imaginative approach to combining complex scents and flavours.

I sent this drawing of Anne-Sophie to her London restaurant and it eventually came back signed with a lovely appreciation note, in French of course.

Drawing: Mary Berry

Autographed drawing of chef Mary Berry

‘The Queen of Cakes’, Mary Berry is a British TV institution. The 81 year-old presenter and writer, who trained in France at the Le Cordon Bleu School sixty years ago, is also a reluctant ‘style icon’. As the Huffington Post said she is “loved for many reasons, her collection of brilliant jackets is just one of them.”

During Mary’s seven seasons on the BBC’s hit culinary show THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF, viewers got to see the full range. For example, a stork-print bomber from Marks & Spencers sent social media into a spiral in 2014 and the jacket sold out before the show finished at 9 pm. Mary has written 75 cooking books, including the 2009 bestseller ‘Baking Bible’ and last year she won a British Television Award as Best TV Judge.

I sent this sketch to Mary, which she returned, signed and dedicated.

Drawing: Clare Smyth

Autographed drawing of chef Clare Smyth

Culinary star Clare Smyth, the first British female chef to hold and retain three Michelin Stars, has just been named the Best Female Chef on the planet by the World’s Best 50 Restaurants judges. It’s an accolade she found a little ‘strange’ given that she has competed on a level playing field with men since the beginning of her career.

“Separating male and female chefs for me is strange, but there’s not enough women coming through at the top so we need to do something about it,” she said in an Independent interview. In 2002 she joined Restaurant Gordon Ramsey in London, running it for 13 years, before opening her debut establishment, CORE BY CLARE SMYTH in Notting Hill last summer, with the philosophy, ‘artisanal flair and sustainable ethos.’ It won the Best Restaurant at the GQ Food and Wine Awards this week.

I actually meet the friendly and laid back Clare, when she was one of the judges for the UK Young Chef Awards held at Harrods in 2015 and I was masquerading as a photographer with a food fetish. I did do a sketch of her but never got it signed so sent this quick one to her at CORE, and she duly obliged.

A confession: she signed in pencil and corrected my misspelling of her first name, which I have subsequently sorted for this post. Spelling was always a truant in my education.

Drawing: Raymond Blanc

Autographed drawing of chef Raymond Blanc

One of Britain’s most respected chefs is entirely self taught. Raymond Blanc grew up in a tiny village near Besancon in eastern France. He trained as a waiter at the local Michelin-starred Les Palais de la Biere, but in 1972 he was fired for giving the head chef some advice on cooking. The manager knew of a job in England, so three days later he was working at ‘The Rose Revived’ in Oxfordshire and married the owner’s daughter. In 1977 they opened their own establishment, ‘Les Quat’Saisons’ in Oxford, which literally became an overnight success.

This was followed by a chain of boulangeries, patisseries and cafes across the UK. In 1983 Raymond and his wife opened ‘Belmond Le Manoir au Quat’Saisons’ hotel-restaurant in Great Milton in Oxfordshire, winning two Michelin stars. In 1996 the first of the ‘Le Petit Blanc’ chain of brasseries was opened.

I sent Raymond this sketch and he returned it, signed, including his distinctive ‘plate doodle’.

Drawing: Tom Kerridge

Autographed drawing of chef Tom Kerridge

Tom Kerridge doesn’t think of himself as a ‘Michelin-star kind of guy,’ but he is… well he has two of them, so technically he’s a Michelin-stars kinda guy. The very popular TV chef, who describes himself as ‘big, bald and easily distracted,’ and his sculptor wife Beth opened their gastropub ‘The Hand & Flowers’ in the Buckinghamshire town of Marlow on the river Thames thirty miles west of London in 2005. Within a year it had won its first Michelin, followed by a second, becoming the first pub to achieve the accolade.

Tom’s philosophy is based on the premises that food brings people together. His French, British fusion dishes are ‘sophisticated yet familar’. ‘I don’t go in for that ‘temple of gastronomy’ thing,” he says, “I just want people to have a nice time.” His signature dish is a take on the traditional hog roast, cooking pork belly in a Bain-Marie, wrapped in skin and roasted, accompanied by the stuffed pig’s trotters. Yum.

I sent this sketch to The Hand & Flowers for Tom to sign, which he did and returned immediately. Star.

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.

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: 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.