The two Michelin-starred chef and patron of Le Manoir shares his passion for simple cooking
My kitchen is quite small, but it’s fine for me as I spend most of my time at Le Manoir. I live in a beautiful 1920s house with lovely original features, which we’ve just finished renovating. We tried to create an open-plan cooking/living space, but sadly, we couldn’t get planning permission. I like my Aga for its classic style, but my two Gaggenau ovens epitomise modern functionality and beauty. I love my kitchen – it’s warm, friendly and unassuming.
My ideal kitchen
would be open-plan and large enough for a sizeable pantry and a double fridge-freezer with an ice-maker.
Only close family members would be on my dream dinner party guest list. I’d have my two sons because they’re great company, and my partner Natalia, who has fantastic sense of humour. My eldest son,Sebastian, is a theatre director, and my youngest, Oli, has just created an app called Henri Le Worm. The aim of the app is to encourage children to connect with food and understand where it comes from. I’ve created all the recipes for it and Simon Pegg has done the voices. It’s a fantastic concept. I’m very proud of both my boys.
Working at Le Manoir is like going to the opera every day. You’re constantly creating the most extraordinary food in a spectacular environment. But sometimes, I crave simplicity, so when I come home in the evenings, I’ll prepare something light such as smoked salmon with lentils, chickpeas or hummus. Occasionally, I’ll panfry a steak – I’m a guy, after all.
My most notorious kitchen nightmare happened when I was 12-years-old. I was cooking for my mother for the first time and decided to make pancakes in a Pyrex dish, which I put directly on to the flame – it exploded everywhere. There was caramel all over the ceiling and my mum’s hair. Thankfully, disasters like that don’t happen anymore!
My grandmother was an amazing cook, as is my mum. She’s 91 but even to this day, she’d be so hurt if people didn’t eat her food. She taught me that cooking is an act of love. My passion for seasonality and the provenance of produce comes from her – as does my zero tolerance on wasting food. Most importantly, she showed me how sacred the dinner table is. It’s where the family gathers to chat, debate, laugh – everything.
My favourite kitchen product is my own set of knives. I know I’m not really supposed to say that but I spent 14 years creating them, so of course I’m going to use them. When you have amazing food, you want to cook it well and this requires the best equipment. My top tip is to buy a decent set of knives. You only need three: one for chopping, one for vegetables and a small all-purpose knife.
I don’t play any music in the kitchen at Le Manoir but at home, I’ll go for classical – something very serene like Chopin or Beethoven. I want music to soar in my kitchen and help me to create beautiful dishes.
I’ve trained 27 Michelin-starred chefs. It’s exciting to be part of a revolution in British food. Chefs are connecting with farmers and fishermen more now, and consumers are far more knowledgeable these days. We want our produce to be local, organic and ethical. That’s a big change from 50 years ago when food was a mere commodity.