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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With the surname Kitchin, you could hardly end up working as a mechanic in a garage. And so it was, young Scottish chef Tom Kitchin stayed true to his name and made the kitchen his working domain, leaving his native Edinburgh to work in the top Michelin-starred restaurants in London, Paris and Monte Carlo.
On his culinary journey he meet his wife Michaela, who worked for the Savoy Group and together they established their own restaurant back in Tom’s hometown, on the stylish Leith waterfront in 2006. But what to call it… no brainier… The Kitchin.
Tom’s cooking style combines French techniques with seasonal Scottish ingredients, a philosophy he calls ‘from nature to the plate’ – the title of his 2010 book. After only six months in business and at the age of 29, he became the youngest recipient to be awarded a Michelin star. Tom and Michaela have since opened two more restaurants in Edinburgh, the Castle Terrace and Scran & Scallie.
I have been a fan for some time, and always enjoy his appearances on Saturday Kitchen, among other TV shows. I sent this sketch to the Kitchin for him to sign, which he did, adding a stylish rendering of his own.
My lifelong interest in TV cooking shows began way back in the sixties when television was, like me, in its infancy in New Zealand. The very first celebrity chef was Graham Kerr, who had moved to the Antipodes from London to take up a role as the chief catering adviser for the Royal NZ Airforce. When ‘the box’ was introduced in 1960, he first appeared on a programme called EGGS WITH FLIGHT LIEUTENANT KERR before it evolved into the popular ENTERTAINING WITH KERR, which I watched religiously, before attempting to channel Graham and his culinary creations in the family kitchen, much to my mother’s alarm, who advised me to draw instead.
Graham later moved to Australia, then Canada, where he became a global superstar with the show THE GALLOPING GOURMET, one of the most viewed cooking programmes on the planet, earning two Emmy nominations. The term ‘Galloping Gourmet’ originated from a book, co-authored with wine expert Len Evans in 1967, when they completed a 35-day trek around the world’s finest restaurants.
When I experienced another burst of appetite for celebrity chefs – in a sketching sense, not cannibalistic – earlier this year, resulting in a new batch of renderings being produced of my favourite cooking people, I just had to include Graham. Now, aged 84, he has retired and living in Washington State on America’s Pacific Northwest. I sent him this sketch, which he immediately signed and returned, much to my delight.
My culinary collection continues. French-born chef Michel Roux opened ‘Le Gavroche’ (the urchin) with his brother Alain in 1967. It became the first three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Britain and after its success they opened ‘The Waterside Inn’ in Bray, Berkshire in 1972. It became the first restaurant outside France to hold three Michelin stars for a period of 25 years.
As food critic Max Davidson wrote in 2002 ,”Nothing flash, just mouthful after mouthful of pure quality.” Among his many awards is the unique and prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France.
I always enjoy watching Michel Senior on the BBC 2’s SATURDAY KITCHEN and his various other television appearances. I sent him this drawing to sign, which he quickly did and returned it last week.
Continuing my combination of vices-cooking shows and sketching – I’ve been on a scribbling spree over the past fortnight, sending my sketches to some of my favourite British chefs.
First back was Marcus Wareing, described as an ‘ambassador for British cooking.’ Since starting his cuisine career at the age of 18, he won his first Michelin star at 26, one of only a handful to do so at such a young age. Marcus and his wife Jane operate three London restaurants, opening the double-Michelin star winning ‘Marcus Wareing at the Beckley’ in Balgravia (now known simply as ‘Marcus’) in 2008, adding ‘The Gilbert Scott’ at the St Pancreas Renaissance Hotel and ‘Tredwells’ in Seven Dials in the West End.
He lists his main value as “excellence without pretence”. Apart from his Michelin stars, Marcus has accumulated a number of accolades, including Tatler Restauranter of the year, GQ Chef of the Year, Catey and Acorn Awards. In 2014 he replaced Michel Roux Jr as a judge and mentor on the TV series MASTERCHEF: THE PROFESSIONALS (UK).
I mailed this drawing to Marcus at ‘Marcus’, which he signed and returned within a couple of days.
From a humble background, the son of a poor immigrant, Danish masterchef Rene Redzepi rose to establish the best restaurant on the planet and become one of the world’s most influential chefs. Founded by Rene and Marc J. Blazer in 2003, the two-star Michelin restaurant NOMA had its origins in an old warehouse on the waterfront in central Copenhagen. It is a linguistic blend of the words NOrdisk (Nordic) and MAd (food), and has become responsible for the reinvention and refinement of new Nordic cuisine. It’s so popular and extremely difficult to get a booking, even the great Rick Stein couldn’t get a reservation when he was doing his TV doco on Copenhagen culinary delights.
“For me cooking is something that is completely transparent and without pretence that is honest and generous and has something true and original about it,” Rene said. In 2012 TIME magazine listed him as one of the 100 most influential people in the world and he appeared on its cover, citing the Dane as the ‘local produce hero’.
For Rene cooking is all about a sense of time and place. NOMA is not in London, Paris or New York, it’s in Copenhagen in Southern Scandinavia where most ingredients are from Sealand and Southern Sweden and follows the seasons. Initially NOMA was not a success as the food industry and critics ridiculed the unconvential dishes and ingredients.
Eventually that all changed. It become the decades greatest restaurant, winning the World’s Best Restaurant Award three years in a fow from 2010-2012 and again in 2014. NOMA served it ‘last supper’ on the original site in September 2016 and will reopen and reinvent itself as an urban farm on the out-skirts of the city later this year. In the meantime, Rene and his full team have gone NOMAdic, travelling the globe, creating pop-ups in places such as Sydney, Tokyo and Tulum Beach in Mexico, preaching the gospel of using local produce. I sent my sketch to the old address earlier this year, not realising NOMA had closed, but it must have eventually got to him, arriving back last week, signed and dedicated.