Q&A: NICOLAS PASQUIER
The head chef of Roux at The Landau on English produce, French technique and the growing appeal of open kitchens
Interview: Clare Finney
Where did you grow up?
Vendée, on the west coast of France. There is no big city there, but there is good food. We have a lot of fish: Vendée is famous for dover sole and sea bass. The Vendée town of Challans is known as the ‘duck capital’ of France, because the Challans duck is so famous: a lot of the best restaurants and chefs source their duck from there. Frogs’ legs is another dish the region is known for. I would like to bring it to Roux at The Landau but it is difficult in London to find a supplier, so I am working on a contact I have in France.
How old were you when you first decided you wanted to be a chef?
I was seven. My mother and grandmother are both very good cooks, and I remember I just loved to watch. My whole family is very foodie actually—one uncle is a duck farmer, another beef, another pork, so it very much runs in the blood.
Where did you learn to cook?
At a small restaurant in Bordeaux. There were just three of us in the kitchen, and I learnt everything. Everything. It was amazing training, because we did all of it—even the bread and the pastry—and we were always busy. Everything there was just so fresh. I went to chefs’ school part time, as well. At the end of 10 years there, I fancied a move. London appealed because it is different, but there are lots of French speakers around.
How did you end up at Roux at The Landau?
Joël Robuchon invited me over to London. After three years with Joël at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, I fancied a new project—and it was just an honour to come to Roux at The Landau. The Roux family are so famous and so talented. It was intimidating the first time I met them, but they are such simple, straightforward, family people, with no airs and graces: they just want the best possible. Michel Jnr is just a born enthusiast with tons of talent, and he wants to share it. He is very easy to speak to and work with.
Roux at The Landau has just been substantially refurbished. What changes will we find there?
The Langham, London has always been innovative in its food and beverage offering. Of course, the hotel is rooted in traditional heritage—but that doesn’t mean you can’t innovate, and we wanted to create a space for more informal, affordable fine dining focused on produce. Our staff wear a more informal uniform, there are no table cloths on the tables, and there is more flexibility than previously. You can have that special occasion dining experience if you want to, but you can also come in for a glass of champagne and a bar snack, or wine and cheese. The most important thing for us is to be focused on serving very good produce, from very good suppliers, with a good garnish. That’s it.
What made you decide to take a less formal tack?
There will always be people who want something more formal and traditional, and there will always be places for them—but this is a large London restaurant. We need to make the most of the space. The people around us are mainly business people, and while they want excellent food, they aren’t necessarily going to spend three and a half hours at lunchtime. This is London: we want a high-quality experience, but at a fairly fast pace.
How close is your relationship with your suppliers?
Chris King—the Langham’s executive chef—and I have visited almost all our suppliers, both those in Britain and those further afield. In a few weeks, the whole team is going to La Latteria in west London to see how ricotta, mozzarella and burrata are made, and we’re hoping to go out with our fishermen soon, too. We can’t get everything from the UK—our San Daniele prosciutto comes from Italy, for example, and our olives come from Greece—but our suppliers are all small and of exceptional quality, and you don’t get that without very good animal welfare and production techniques.
A mozzarella maker in London? Tell us more...
La Latteria is an amazing cheesemaker based in west London. They make our mozzarella, burrata and ricotta, using high quality British milk. The ricotta is amazing: it’s made overnight, and when it’s delivered the next morning it is still warm and fresh.
Your burrata is from London, your salami is from Cornwall, and your beef is from Scotland. How do you reconcile that with your French heritage and that of the Roux family?
We keep the Roux spirit alive by using local products but putting them together with classic French technique. For example, the signature dish of Roux at The Landau is scallop from Orkney served with Ivy House beurre blanc. The butter comes from the Ivy House farm—a beautiful small farm in Somerset—but beurre blanc is obviously a French sauce. So, our food is very much a mixture of English and French.
Bar seating and open kitchens have become very popular recently. What was the thinking behind having one at the Langham?
The customers of today are far more interested than the customers of 10 years ago—they ask so many more questions. The chefs too are far more in tune with the produce they are cooking, where it comes from and how to treat it, and they want to share that information with diners. Guests and chefs love it: it sparks conversation and it is so much more sociable. Given that we’re in a hotel and we get a number of solo diners, we felt it was more enjoyable for them if they were able to sit at a counter rather than at a table on their own.
Take us through the process of designing a new dish...
The process is a long one. First, I speak to my suppliers about what is in season, and what is particularly good at the moment. For example, if the turbot is amazing, and when the crab is coming in. Then I share that information with all my kitchen team. My sous chef, my commis chef—everyone is involved. It is a democratic process, because we need to create something everyone feels in touch with. It is important to me that my team feels motivated—and we all come from different backgrounds, so we bring a lot to the table. If it is a good idea, we try it, whoever it has come from. Then, when I have finished the plate, chef Albert or Michel Roux Jnr will come to taste it. If they love it, it goes in.
There is a lot of concern about food waste these days—how do you minimise that?
The ingredients are such good quality—they are too good for any to be wasted. We do our best to use all of the product, every time; for example, using every cut of the meat and making stock from the bones.
Is it very different, working in a hotel restaurant?
This is my first time in a hotel—but I don’t see it as a change for me. Roux at The Landau is not a hotel restaurant, really. It has its own entrance, a full team, there are regular customers: it is a proper restaurant, that just happens to be in a hotel.