Interview with Rosemary Shrager
The British chef and teacher, known for TV shows including Ladette to Lady, tells Zoë McIntyre about working with French chefs and her love of Provence
Which French chefs have inspired you?
The first French chef I worked with was Jean-Christophe Novelli at the Nansidwell House Hotel in Cornwall. That was about 18 years ago and he was just starting out and very young and vibrant. I had been cooking for many years, but he taught me so much. Then working at Tante Claire [the former London-based French restaurant] was tough training. I started by just doing the breads and petits fours, which was the hardest thing I’d done in my life. Pierre Koffmann was a hard taskmaster but he is my absolute hero – he is just so talented and a very generous man, in terms of his time and teaching.
Which French dishes do you think are the most important to master?
I’m classically trained and so, for me, it’s the classic French dishes such as moules marinières and coquilles Saint-Jacques – you just can’t beat them. I still teach them today in my French courses.
Do you have any favourite French dishes?
I know it’s not PC, but I do love foie gras. And I adore confit of duck – it’s just delicious. One of my favourite things is ramier – the woodpigeon.
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You’re running a cookery holiday in France in April. Why did you choose Provence?
I love the Côte d’Azur – it’s my stomping ground. I enjoy going to the Cannes market and the flower market in Nice. I am holding one for just a week; if all goes well, we hope to do more down there. We’re organising it in a lovely château – it’s quite funny because Simon Cowell used it as his [judge’s] house in [ITV’s] The X Factor.
Have you worked in France before?
I worked in the South of France, down in Tourrettes-sur-Loup just above Nice. The head chef was really into floral and he would go off to nearby Grasse and choose flavours from the perfumeries. I learnt a lot about floral flavours, things like vanilla. Everyone is talking about vanilla at the moment saying it’s bland – it’s not bland, it’s lovely!
Are there other parts of France you enjoy visiting?
I love the Périgord – I actually buy my pots from the region’s markets. They are clay pots and make the best stewed fruit imaginable in the oven. Cooking quince in them is unbelievable. I also bring back items from France – dishes and equipment made from olive wood, such as salad tongs.
Do you have any favourite French restaurants?
One of the best meals I’ve had was at Roger Vergé’s Moulin de Mougins. I was working in a Michelin-starred restaurant, so he invited me into the kitchen. There was this incredible garlic mousse and I asked the head chef if I could have the recipe. He agreed and it was for about 100 kilograms of garlic! I still have the recipe somewhere and I make my own version now. Then when I visited Condom, in Gascony, I stayed in a wonderful family-run hotel and had the most magical meal. The food was so simple but delicious. Finding such places – that’s what it’s all about.
Rosemary Shrager will be running a six-night gastronomic holiday at Château Lou Casteou on the Côte d’Azur from 25 April to 1 May, 2015. www.rosemaryshrager.com