RICHARD SHEPHERD & BRIAN CLIVAZ HAVE BEEN BIG INFLUENCES ON MY CAREER
Richard Shepherd and Brian Clivaz are both important to me. Richard Shepherd was one of my mentors as a young chef. He wasn’t in the kitchen anymore by the time I worked at Langan’s Brasserie but he played an important role in my career and in guiding me. Brian Clivaz (owner of L’Escargot) has been a great mentor too. He’s always been supportive and shared a lot of his knowledge and experience with me.
MY COOKING STYLE: CLASSICAL FRENCH CUISINE
To me, classical French cuisine is one of the best and that’s heavily influenced the food we serve at L’Escargot. I trained in classical French cuisine from the beginning of my career. It’s prioritises highly skilled technique; using high quality, fresh, seasonal ingredients; and combining that with knowledge and experience. The French look at food on many levels, like architects, and I think that’s the key to making great tasting food.
I JUST LOVE COOKING
To be honest, I just love cooking and seeing people enjoy my food but I’ve been lucky in my career to cook for some amazing people too: Boris Becker, the Queen of Spain, Sepp Blatter and many more. Whoever you are, I just want you to have a good time at the restaurant, enjoy my food and feel comfortable in the atmosphere we’ve created.
BEING MADE HEAD CHEF AT L’ESCARGOT
Being made Head Chef at L’Escargot was an incredible memory. It was a total surprise. In typical Clivaz style, he didn’t sit me down in private and let me know what was happening or even give me any warning. We were at one of his lunches one day and suddenly he announced to the table ‘Right, now your new Head Chef James will tell you about….’ I never actually got asked if I wanted the job but obviously I did.
IF YOU ONLY EAT 1 DISH AT L’ESCARGOT, IT HAS TO BE…
The duck cassoulet. It’s an indulgent celebration of rustic French cuisine. It’s full of meat: confit duck, Merguez, Morteau and Toulouse sausages… and I make it in exactly the same way that I was taught by a French chef when I was 16 years old. A delicious dish.
MY FAVOURITE POSITION IN THE KITCHEN
I love making sauces. There’s something beautiful about them and there’s a real skill to good sauce making. If you make a good or bad sauce, it can make or break a dish. Good sauce making, good technique is always my favourite section to work on in the kitchen. My favourite sauce is green peppercorn served with a fillet steak. It’s a lovely thing. Or there’s a really old-school sauce that most people haven’t heard of these days - a white onion sauce. Simply cook sliced onions in chicken stock; then remove them, reduce the liquid down with cream and it has a lovely sweet onion flavour. It’s a very clean, well-bodied sauce and goes perfectly with a fantastic quality Toulouse sausage and a creamy pomme purée.
MY ULTIMATE COMFORT FOOD
King prawns in garlic and chilli butter served with a very spicy pilaf rice - usually tomato and mushroom pilaf rice with lots of chilli and turmeric.
Anywhere that Pierre Koffmann’s cooking. I love his food. It's great; exactly what cooking should be. Or, in Paris, there’s an amazing place called Chez L’Ami Louis. To be honest, the food isn’t the best but it’s such a charming old-school French restaurant that I definitely recommend visiting it at least once to experience it for yourself. When you’re there, it’s almost as though time’s stood still. You go there and you have fois gras with enormous rustic pieces of fresh bread. The portions are so generous and it’s so friendly. As a chef, you realize that there are some restaurants where the food isn’t perfect but that’s ok because they’re special and you don’t just go there for the food; you go there because you feel so welcome and it’s a really fantastic experience. Chez L’Ami Louis is exactly like that.
I also like La Petite Maison in Nice. In summer, there’s nothing better than sitting in the sunshine, watching the sea with a glass of wine and some nice seafood; an octopus carpaccio or something like that.
James Tyrell is the Executive Chef at Michelin-starred restaurant L’Escargot in Soho, London.