As I walk up the few steps leading to the heavy fortress-like doors that conceal 1 Lombard Street restaurant, the flashbacks of 15 hour shifts, busy kitchens, staff buzzing around like worker bees in a giant beehive, pop into my head. No more long shifts, no more difficult customers, no more deadlines, last minute changes and problem-solving drama. I am a guest now and all is calm. In the two years that I’d worked for Herbert Berger at 1 Lombard Street, I learned many lessons. Some often painful, about work, people, the restaurant industry and life… and I shall never forget those lessons. As Events Manager of the three restaurants owned by Jessen & Co at the time, it wasa constant hustle to bring in new business, organise endless events and ensure the smooth running of all events at all venues. Food didn’t always come into my role, but I was absolutely engrossed by the kitchen and would spend hours watching the Chefs at work in all the different areas of the kitchen from starters to grill to pastry. I found it absolutely fascinating and it showed me that the best kitchens in the world are tightly disciplined, well-oiled machines and you don’t hear raised voices, unless it’s for encouragement and there is no abuse behind closed doors.
In fact, more often than not, the kitchen doors would always be open which would always attract diners who would peer into the kitchen to see what was going on.
Chef patron Herbert Berger has worked in some of the finest establishments inEurope and has gained many awards and accolades including the coveted Michelin Star.
His cooking ranges from European classics to traditional fare, gastronomic cuisine as well as the modern flavours. The quality of his cooking justifies Herbert’s reputations as one of the best chefs in London. His career has spanned over 40 years and his formative years were spent at Claridges, The Connaught, Mirabelle and Café Royal. After a superb 6-course lunch, I sit down to interview the perfectionist figure-of-a-man, whose meticulous nature is what makes him one of the greatest Chefs today.
How has the credit crunch affected your restaurant?
In the beginning lots of people were suffering, but we were lucky enough to have shown little change. The last 2-3 months however, have shown a slight reduction in covers but the main difference is that the average spend seems to have decreased somewhat. We have created special menus for the summer featuring more simple dishes still using great ingredients, but set at more affordable prices to suit all pockets. Value for money, despite some of our menu prices, is still excellent.
What is your view on the pricing of food in top restaurants today? Do you feel it is fair to charge £30 for a main course?
There has to be a limit. If you use lobster, foie gras and other expensive ingredients, you should still strive to maintain reasonable prices, to try and encourage people to enjoy your dishes. The ingredients should justify the cost.
You were famously quoted slating Gordon Ramsay for giving your profession a bad name. What do you think of Chefs who have secured a second career in television or brand endorsement? Do you feel they are compromising their professional integrity?
Not necessarily, although I do think some of it has grown out of hand and they tend to play up to the media and the press, but of course some people are worse than others. As a Chef, you should be committed and dedicated to your clients and if they are not present at their own restaurants, how can it still be their restaurant?
How important is organic produce and locally sourced ingredients to you?
Both very important, although organic meat is not as much a priority as free range, top quality, well bred and well sourced meats. Locally sourced produce is very important especially with carbon foot print. Why should we source produce from overseas when we should be supporting our local farmers and economy, which actually enables us to be more seasonal in our food choices, which is better for everyone really.
The use of ‘blue fin’ tuna has been causing quite a stir lately, what is your stance on sustainability of fish?
Whilst we want to give clients what they want, we only serve line-caught sea bass, diver-caught scallops and we only serve yellow fin tuna.
What was the best meal you ever had?
I once went to the Grill Room at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo. It was a fantastic summer’s evening and the ceiling would open up at night. There was a superb Rotisserie and they served simple yet exquisite dishes like seafood salads with lobster and langoustine, Poulet de Bresse from the Rotisserie, which was just incredible.
If you were granted a ‘Last Supper’, what would it be?
Roast grouse with bread sauce, gravy and giblet pate followed by a summer pudding, washed down with a bottle of Amarone Allegrini wine from the Valpolicella region of Italy.
Tell me more about your young Chefs training scheme?
I’ve always believed in good, solid training. If we don’t train our young Chefs, there will not be a next generation. Lately colleges have become governed by budgets and government schemes and I think colleges should be more selective and discerning when it comes to candidates. We were once sent an ‘award-winning’ candidate by one such college, but sadly he didn’t last more than two days in our kitchen. By and large, the best training is still to be gained in a restaurant environment.
Is there anything else you would like to say or promote?
I would like to promote genuine, real food. Encourage people to stop eating processed food, but also to stop wasting food. I think we should stop wasting needless packaging and just go back to basics, eating local and seasonal food wherever possible.