06/12/12 - 0 Comments
The French Take a Page from Britain’s Top Chef Rowley Leigh
In a unique event for Franco-Anglo relations, Strasbourg, France, has played host to the So British! Festival – part of the UK’s six-month chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s host city. Celebrating all things Britannia (and coinciding with the Queen’s recent Jubilee celebrations), its culinary aspect has been the one thing notorious for falling behind the French. But that’s all been changing in recent decades, thanks to innovative people like Rowley Leigh, one of Britain’s most well-known Michelin-starred chefs and authors, spearheading the departure from a ‘bland’ past.
Chef Proprietor of Le Café Anglais in London, Leigh took over 24 of Stasbourg’s restaurants in collaboration with its renowned Au Crocodile for La Semaine Gastronomique Britannique (British Gastronomy Week) in May – giving the French a proper taste of fish and chips, Lancashire hotpot, Yorkshire pudding, Eccles cake and more.
Leigh is proud of what his own French culinary roots bring to the table, honing his craft under the famous Roux brothers at London’s Le Gavroche. He then went on to open the iconic Kensington Place Restaurant in the 1990s – at the forefront of Britain’s dining revolution – before leaving to open Le Café Anglais in 2007. He’s also an accomplished food journalist and author of the well-received recipe book with a pinch of wit, No Place Like Home.
We grabbed a minute with the star chef himself to get his take on why the French are (gasp!) beginning to take a page from British cookbooks.
Is there a French food philosophy that you bring to your British dishes?
French chefs taught me to refine my cooking. By that I mean refinement in the sense of ‘stripping out’ what’s not necessary. However, sometimes in France refinement can mean adding “frou-frou.” To my mind, the best of French cooking seeks to elicit the maximum flavor from the ingredients in the simplest possible way.
How do you think British cuisine has changed since your time with the Roux Brothers?
It’s evolved beyond all recognition. It has a great deal more confidence than it did then, and with that confidence comes a whole spectrum of quality – there is some very good cooking and there is some terribly self-indulgent cooking. There are more chefs with higher profiles, but fewer people cooking at home, which is a bad thing for a country’s food culture.
What has excited you the most about participating in the So British! Festival?
It was very heartening to see a much more open and positive attitude towards British gastronomy in France than in the past – the people of Strasbourg seemed genuinely interested and curious in knowing more.