Pierre Koffmann


In this episode, Justine interviews the legend that is Chef Pierre Koffmann. Pierre is a 3-Michelin star chef with more than 55 years’ experience in the kitchen.

Pierre was born in Tarbes, in southwest France, to a family that had farmed for generations. His love of food came from the cooking of his mother and grandmother. It was simple fare, based on what they could buy from the local market or grow themselves. One of the greatest pleasures was sucking the juices from string that had been used to tie up meat for roasting.

From such simple pleasures, you might imagine that Pierre was almost born to cook. You’d be wrong. His first thought after being invited to leave school at the age of 14 was to join the SNCF national railway. He only opted for culinary college when he realized the holidays were longer.

Pierre had found his calling, and trained in restaurants across France, venturing as far as Strasbourg and learning the regional differences in cooking that were so pronounced in France at that time. He also crossed the border into Switzerland, working in Lausanne before deciding to set out to England to watch the England vs France rugby match in 1970. After that, he never left, though he says the food in the UK was shockingly bad.

He went to work at Le Gavroche under Michel and Albert Roux, rising to sous chef. The brothers then asked him to open the Waterside Inn, which (like Le Gavroche) went on to win three Michelin stars. Pierre left to open his own restaurant, La Tante Claire, in 1977, where he won three stars in his own right, serving a refined version of the rustic cooking of his youth. His most famous dish of stuffed pig’s trotter still appears on menus around the world.

His books include the classic “Memories of Gascony” and the James Beard Award-winning “Classic Koffmann.”

He retired in 2003 and was only persuaded to return to the stove when he was invited to open a two-week pop-up on the roof of Selfridges in 2009. Such was the demand, two weeks turned into two months. Pierre then went on to open Koffmann’s restaurant at The Berkeley hotel in 2010­. The original plan was for three years, though Pierre lasted for six, enjoying going into the kitchen each day as much as ever.

Pierre mentored a generation of chefs. Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, Jason Atherton, Tom Aikens and Tom Kitchin are among the Tante Claire alumni, while a younger generation, including Tiffany Lo in Hong Kong, graduated from Koffmann’s. This may be his greatest legacy, though he’ll remain best known for his most famous dish from La Tante Claire.

“I know what it’s going to say on my gravestone,” he says. “Pig’s trotter.”

Instagram: @pierre.koffmann and @thefoodheroesfamily

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