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Pierre Gagnaire, ‘executive master chef’ at Sketch on Mayfair’s Conduit Street, talks to Square Meal about the differences between France and England, including the produce, the press and the punters.
Making money isn’t what drives me. My ambition is to create quality and for that you must make choices regarding your time and lifestyle, and with the people who you see and don’t see.
I find it easier to work in Paris. There, I’m the owner of two places, and if I want to do something, we do it. At Sketch I have to be sensitive to the other people involved in the business. But I must stay true to my principles – it’s my responsibility to maintain the high quality of the food.
The English think they know what quality food is. But what is good quality for the English is not necessarily good quality for the French. The products in France – the meat, the vegetables – are much better than in England, in terms of both quality and choice. But then, the French are pretentious – they think they know everything, but it’s not necessarily true.
Today the average dining experience in England is better than in France. Perhaps fine-dining restaurants still have the edge in France, but the gastropub offerings in London are much better. Our equivalent in Paris – bistros – are not as fun.
Critics in French newspapers are not considered authorities. The British newspaper critics are more unfair and are out to provoke – which isn’t a terrible thing – and their reviews are more inquisitive and more ironic. They’re more into spectacle here. But the French critics are starting to be more polemical.
In the early days of Sketch we got a zero out of 20 rating. In those early days we were really rejected and it was very difficult. But at the same time we understood that it’s all part of the game. In France if someone writes that about you, it’s very serious and you take them to the tribunal. Here, it’s horrible but if you’re in the spotlight one day, the next day it will be someone else.
Today the press is expected to produce information minute after minute. I’m sickened by it. So they make lists to classify restaurants: one minute we’re number three, then number six, one day we’re on the list, the next minute we’re not – it makes no sense.
The French are very emotional. They will tell you immediately if they have a problem with you. British people aren’t like that: they talk nicely to you but behind your back…
I don’t play games. I behave the same with everyone. I hate mauvaise foi [bad faith], nastiness, and people who do stupid things. Each day you must try to be honest, respectful of others, try not to say anything stupid, and aim for quality.
I wouldn’t ever eat at McDonald's. But I can understand why people eat fast food sometimes: it’s honest, fresh and inexpensive. I prefer the idea of people eating fast food for a low price to people eating bad beef in an expensive restaurant. Fast food isn’t trying to be something else.
Interview by Nicky Evans, News and Online Editor