Artist Henrietta Graham talks about her Great British Chefs series of paintings

Henrietta GrahamHenrietta Graham is a UK-based artist, who has been successfully exhibiting and selling her works internationally for the past 20 years. She is currently working on a series of paintings entitled Great British Chefs, which has seen her depict some of the country’s most celebrated chefs, including Michel Roux Jnr, Sat Bains and Michael Caines. Henrietta is hoping to turn her works into a book of the same title and took the time to tell me a little more about her exciting project

What’s the idea behind the Great British Chefs book?
Quite simply to paint and sketch some of the greatest chefs and kitchens in Britain today. And to write about the extraordinary culinary journey that they have created over the last four decades. British gastronomy has experienced a meteoric rise during that time; we have become a nation of devotees to the restaurant and the once humble chef has become a well-respected even venerated figure. This book is both a tribute and an exploration into how the British culinary culture has evolved.

albertWhere did the inspiration for it come from?
The idea did not appear as a complete concept but was more an organic culmination of thoughts and experiences that made the book an ambition. For example I was taken to the Waterside Inn as a child and was shown the kitchen where I met Pierre Koffmann – the imagery blew me away. Years later my studio was around the corner from Gordon Ramsay at Aubergine in London and I started sketching there, which was 10 years before the book’s genesis. I just kept meeting chefs, then I made more meetings happen and really just wanted to paint everything I was witnessing.

ainsworthHow many chefs will be featured and who are they?
I am at 50 now and would like this to be the final number – but seeing that I said that at 25, who knows. To name a few of the chefs so far: Raymond Blanc, Albert Roux, Pierre Koffmann, Brett Graham, Clare Smyth, Gary Rhodes, Jason Atherton and Ashley Palmer-Watts.

Can you describe your style of painting?
I am a representational oil painter – if that is brief it is because there comes a point when as a painter you realise your work should do the talking!

john williamsHow is each of the paintings different and individual?
They are as different and individual as all the chefs are from one another and I have tried my hardest to really capture the essence of each chef.

How do you capture a chef’s individual style and personality?
Observation! I have spent hours and hours in kitchens with chefs. I really try to pick up on subtle nuances and I really listen to try to get the measure of who I am working with.


Sat BainsDo you paint from photos or do they come and pose for you?

There is an element of posing on occasion, however, I want very often to capture a split second in time – during service for instance – and therefore take hundreds of photographs and then sketch and put a composition together in my studio. Each painting takes months, sometimes years and they are very often larger than life so I think my chances of doing that in situ would be impossible.

Who was the most challenging chef to paint?
They all are but if you really want a name then it would have to be Brett Graham. I have started four paintings of him and none seem to capture him so I have recently spoken to him and I’ll be back in The Ledbury soon to see if I can get it right the fifth time.

After the book on British chefs – would you consider going international?
Yes. In fact I have started and I have painted Rene Redzepi and Daniel Boulud.

Who would you most like to paint in the future?
Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, Massimo Bouttura and it would be incredible to get Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca all in one huge painting.

Follow Henrietta on Twitter @henriettagraham

Beneath the Whites – Sat Bains

Sat BainsSat Bains is the chef-proprietor of the two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms in Nottingham, which he runs together with his wife Amanda. A former Roux Scholar, he is one of the most visionary chefs cooking in the UK today, who describes his culinary style as “taste, texture and temperature… classics with forward-thinking techniques”. In addition to its two Michelin stars, Restaurant Sat Bains also holds five AA rosettes and is ranked the fourth best restaurant in Britain by the Good Food Guide

What’s your earliest food memory?
My Mum’s version of Indonesian egg noodles.

What’s your favourite smell?
Douglas Pine Fir.

What’s your idea of comfort food?
Really good sausages and mash.

What’s your favourite cookbook?
White Heat by Marco Pierre White. Looking back on it now, it’s just a perfect snapshot of where British gastronomy was at that moment in time. Marco was the original ‘enfant terrible’ and the images of him and the food taken by Bob Carlos Clarke are simply iconic.

Who’s had the biggest influence on your cooking and why?
A local guy called Mick Murphy, who is my food hero. I was only 19 years-old when I met him and up until then my knowledge of the business had extended to the Caterer and Hotelkeeper magazine. He looked a bit like Grizzly Adams. His food knowledge was phenomenal and I think I single-handedly managed to empty his brain. After meeting him my direction changed. Everything at that point fell into place and I knew I’d chosen the right career.

What do you never cook without?
Soy sauce.

What’s the worst thing people can do to food?
Misunderstand their ingredients.

What’s the worst thing that’s ever gone wrong during service?
One evening, one of our front of house team was trying to kill a fly that had been annoying them in reception. He grabbed an Aerosol can and in his determination to kill the insect, sprayed the tin’s contents over one of the fire alarms. Every alarm in the business went off, right in the middle of a busy service. After 20 minutes of screaming alarms, I eventually had to leave the kitchen armed with a spoon and managed to turn the thing off with sheer brute strength. Fortunately our guests all saw the funny side.

Have you ever kicked someone out of your restaurant?
Yes but not as often as Amanda! My guy was drunk and very loud and the other guests were delighted when he left.

When are you happiest?
When I’m at the restaurant.

What makes you sad?
When I’m not at the restaurant.

What do you most dislike about yourself?
Obsession.

What would your superpower be?
Endurance.

What is your guiltiest food pleasure?
Bird’s bakery – our local – cream cakes.

What’s the most disgusting or weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten and would you have it again?
The very worst thing I have ever eaten was at the fish market in Kyoto. I’d heard so much about it and from a chef’s perspective the selection and quality of the fish was amazing. It was five o’clock in the morning and I was there just to experience the energy and sheer passion of the place – wholesalers, fishermen and buyers. So amongst everything else I was sampling that morning and although I was a bit unsure of the name, I decided to give the fermented ovaries of sea cucumber a go. I popped the thing in my mouth and bit in. On retrospect I should’ve just swallowed it whole.  It had a really strong, pungent ‘fish-that-was-off’ taste I could feel myself starting to gag. To make matters worse it seemed to unravel in my mouth so I could not get it all down in one swallow. I just kept swallowing over and over again to try and get it down. It wasn’t that big but it just seemed to take forever to clear from my mouth. And it repeated on me for days afterwards. So no I definitely won’t be trying it again!

Who’s your favourite food critic and why?
At the moment it’s the Sunday Times’ AA Gill – he’s just given us 5/5!

If you could travel in time, where would you go?
Back to the 1890s to watch Escoffier in action at The Savoy.

Follow Sat on Twitter @satbains1

France welcomes new three-Michelin-star restaurant

france-michelin-2014Michelin has announced its 2014 stars for France and promoted Arnaud Lallement’s Assiette Champenoise in Reims in the Champagne region to three stars.

The move comes after Lallement was named French chef of the year by the Gault & Millau guide last year. The results had been leaked earlier this month by Le Point weekly magazine.

“Three stars is the summit of the culinary art form,” Michael Ellis, international director of the Michelin Guide, said at the release of the guide, praising the “subtle mix of flavours and textures” in Lallement’s dishes.

Meanwhile Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée, which previously held three stars has been excluded from this year’s guide as the restaurant is currently closed for refurbishment.

The total number of three-Michelin-starred restaurants in France has therefore remained at 27, more than any other country in Europe but still less than Japan, which has 33.

There are six new two star restaurants in France, including Villa Madie (Cassis), Table du Connétable (Chantilly), Kintessence at Courchevel 1850 (Savoie), Chambard (Kayseberg), Akrame (Paris) and Il Cortile (Mulhouse), where Stefano d’ Onghia has become the first Italian chef to be awarded two Michelin stars in France.

Additionally 57 restaurants celebrated their first Michelin star, bringing the total number of one-star restaurants in France to 504. They included Table d’Uzès, where 25-year-old chef Oscar Garcia has become one of just seven chefs under 30 to win a Michelin star in France.

Yannick Alléno promotes his new book Ma Cuisine Française

COVERFrench chef Yannick Alléno is promoting his new cookbook Ma Cuisine Française.

The epic 1200-page book, which weighs in at a staggering 17kg, is priced at a hefty €1,500 before shipping charges (£1,235/$2,065) so it’s no wonder he’s got the PR machine rolling.

There are 500 recipe and 1,500 photographs in 1,000 copies published by Laymon Editions.

“The book the most emblematic for a whole generation. It is not only a sublime recipe book, but it is also a way to testify on 25 years of creation that helped him to reach the best chefs of the world,” informs the press release.

Published in December, the book is available only from a dedicated Ma Cuisine Française website.

Aged 45, Alléno is one of France’s most acclaimed chefs, who held three Michelin stars at the prestigious Le Meurice in Paris, which he left at the end of 2012 to focus on this book and his restaurant 1947 at Cheval Blanc in Courchevel in the French Alps.

Three-Michelin-starred chef Massimo Bottura wins the White Guide’s Global Gastronomy Award

Picture by Oliviero Toscani

Picture by Oliviero Toscani

Three-Michelin-starred chef Massimo Bottura is to be awarded the prestigious White Guide’s Global Gastronomy Award this year.

The White Guide is Sweden’s leading restaurant guide, which presents ‘the very best, the trendiest, the cosiest, the coolest, the most romantic and the most culturally exotic restaurants’. Its Global Gastronomy Award is given to an international food creator, who has become a role model and source of inspiration in contemporary gastronomy.

Bottura, who runs Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, which is currently ranked third in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, joins an elite group of chefs who have won the award since its inception in 2007. Previous winners include Ferran Adrià (El Bulli); Charlie Trotter (Charlie Trotter’s); Fergus Henderson (St John); René Redzepi (Noma); Alain Passard (L`Arpège); David Chang (Momofuko); and Gaston Acurio (Astrid y Gaston).

The White Guide’s jury said it recognised Bottura for continuously reinventing one of the world’s most beloved cuisines and elevating it to new amplitudes for senses and minds to explore and enjoy.

“In constant dialogue with a rich but conservative tradition, Massimo Bottura has developed a dazzling culinary artistry, covering a broad range of expressions from the seemingly simplistic to the intellectually complex,” the jury said.

“Re-engineering what a meal could and should be all about – bridging history with future, North with South, technology with legend and culture with environment, all with an artist’s sensitivity and passion – he has been a major force in evolving the gastronomy of Italy from a standstill backwater to the bubbling melting pot of great traditions and talented innovation it is today.”

The Global Gastronomy Award will be presented to  Bottura at the White Guide Gala in Stockholm on 3 March 2014.

Massimo Bottura – Beneath the Whites

Dinner at Atelier Crenn in San Francisco

dominique crennLast week, I was lucky enough to dine at Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, where Dominique Crenn, the only two-Michelin-starred female chef in the USA, dons the whites.

The reason for my visit was an interview with Dominique for the first US edition of FOUR, the World’s Best Food Magazine, so of course I’d done a fair bit of groundwork before stepping into her restaurant. I learned that she is considered a ‘molecular’ chef, known for her innovative and deeply personal style of cooking. Her menus are written as poems and tell a story, which all sounded pretty impressive and interesting.

But what struck me the most during my research was one of her Ted Talks, which Dominique had given last year, and in which she talked about her philosophy of life. She defined success not as something that surrounds you but as a feeling you have within yourself, how you measure yourself and how you give back to others. “I don’t believe in perfection,” she said. “I believe in evolution.”

Upon meeting Dominique, it became clear that she is a very conscious human being, who really thinks about everything she does. This naturally translates into her cooking, which is a personal rendition of her memories and feelings, her love of nature and her consciousness of the environment. She really wants to speak to diners through her food, make them feel and think.

menuDominique’s inventive winter tasting menu told a story and my dinner at Atelier Crenn was nothing less than a truly memorable experience. We enjoyed a parade of beautiful dishes that not only pleased the eye and enticed the palate but also provoked the mind. For what truly defines Dominique’s creativity is not just her cooking, her restaurant or her poetry but her thoughtfulness. Without sounding too sycophantic, she really is an artist in the truest sense of the word.

These are a few highlights from the winter tasting menu at Atelier Crenn. You will be able to read my interview with Dominique in the first USA edition of FOUR, the World’s Best Food Magazine this spring.

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Winter has come with its cool breeze

 “Winter has come with its cool breeze” – Kir Royal amuse-bouche comprising a little ball that explodes in your mouth filling it with flavours of white chocolate and apple. ______________________________________________________________________________

sea urchin and oysterMellow serenades of colors licorice and orange” – sea urchin with licorice consommé and caviar (front).
Under the midnight glow, I can taste the sweetness of the sea” – oyster poached in its own liquid, with pickled salsify and garlic sauce (back). ______________________________________________________________________________

squidWhere the broad ocean leans against the Spanish land” – cured squid, black truffle, potato mousseline and Iberico ham consommé.
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Wagyu beefFeeling of black under my toes, I dreamed of” – Wagyu beef, edible soil, mustard seeds, horseradish and apple purée. ______________________________________________________________________________

lobster bisqueThese creatures who move with a slow, vague wavering of claws” – lobster bisque.
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Walk in the Forest “Walking deep in the woods, as the snow might have something to spare” – pine meringue, edible soil, wild mushrooms – sautéed, puréed, pickled and dehydrated – and hazelnut praline and foraged herbs.
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Birth“Birth which gives its morning mystery” – a nest of corn silk, duck mousse, pearls of emulsified corn juice and duck fat, puffed rice and a twig of chocolate scattered with basil leaves. ______________________________________________________________________________

guinea fowl“Where the wild beauty is sleeping under frozen winter leaves” – guinea fowl.
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honeyWinter has come and is full of sweet surprises” – honey dessert.
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Atelier Crenn, 3127 Fillmore, San Francisco; T: 415 440 0460
You can follow Dominique and the restaurant on Twitter @dominiquecrenn and @ateliercrenn