Arnaud Bignon is producing some extraordinary food at The Greenhouse restaurant in Mayfair, London. Recently recognized with two Michelin stars for the second time in his career, Arnaud found time to speak to fine dining guide about his culinary adventures and aspirations.
Tell us some background about yourself…
My culinary passion was inspired by my grandfather’s garden in France, where much of the household food was grown in the garden; this is also where I discovered my respect for the seasons. High quality seasonal ingredients become an essential part of my approach to cooking – a philosophy combining my traditional French training with contemporary techniques. Our classic meets avant-garde food philosophy ensures that each dish finds perfect harmony and balance, often playing with fresh and original flavour combinations coupled with stylish and contemporary presentation.
I started working in kitchens at the tender age of fifteen working first in Le Mans. The next stop was a restaurant called Rambouillet, near Paris. This was a classic ‘cuisine bourgeiose’ kitchen. This type of work is generally so important for an aspiring young chef – to learn the building blocks, the fundamentals and get an insight into how a kitchen works. With this grounding it is possible to reach the higher levels: I see these early stages in my career as crucial to my experience and where I am today.
For thirteen years I worked across various kitchens in Paris, which included Restaurant Drouant at Le Meridien Montparnasse: A restaurant which boasted the best cheese trolley with over four hundred varieties. For a short time I worked at Ducasse before spending seven years as sous chef to Eric Fréchon at the iconic Michelin three star address Hôtel Le Bristol.
Then I decided it was time for a change so I headed to Greece where I took up my first head chef position at Spondi. I enjoyed my time at Spondi and indeed in Greece immensely. The different ingredients and climate meant I had to evolve in my approach. With the warm weather I began to cook lighter dishes by using olive oil in the place of butter and cream, I also rediscovered my passion for fish and in particular shellfish.
We were so thrilled when after three years the restaurant gained its second Michelin star. This was a first for me and a first for Greece!
When the economic crisis struck it was time to look for a new position and a new challenge. I was delighted to meet Marlon Abela, Chairman and founder of MARC (Marlon Abela Restaurant Corporation). I realised immediately what a great opportunity it would be to join The Greenhouse restaurant in Mayfair and soon after my family and I relocated to London.
In accordance with MARC’s philosophy the menus in all restaurants change seasonally and showcase the highest quality produce available on the market. With a focus on epicurean excellence Mr Abela inspires us to set the highest standards offering the excellence of experience in food, wine and service.
In just under two years as Head Chef we have received our second Michelin star – myself and all the team are thrilled and I am particularly delighted to repay the faith that Mr Abela has shown in me from the start of this latest adventure.
How would you describe your cuisine at The Greenhouse?
Cooking with precision, a lightness of touch – it is so important to me that the customer leaves feeling happy, contented and well rather than overwhelmed and uncomfortable.
I also prefer when our customer’s don’t think too much about the food on their plates so that there is a sense of surprise as well as sophistication about the dishes. We are passionate about delivering epicurean excellence to our guests.
What is your favorite dish to cook? And what are your best sellers?
I enjoy working with shellfish, in particular scallops and langoustines and so on. Our two bestselling dishes on the menu are the Cornish crab with green apple, mint jelly, cauliflower and curry, and the monkfish with nori, cockles and Razor clams and dashi. As well as the ingredients involved I enjoy the various elements which make up the dish including the preparation, presentation and precision of plating.
The most important time of day is before I start cooking, first thing in the morning when we receive the deliveries. I still find it exciting to see what our trusted suppliers bring for us each day.
All menus at The Greenhouse are seasonal, offering the very best that is available on the market that month, and in some cases that week or even day. Our goal is to be able to offer the best quality as well as diversity.
Describe the menus currently on offer at The Greenhouse?
The Greenhouse has two tasting menus; the first with 6 courses and the surprise tasting menu with 9 courses. There is a full a la carte menu with 7 starters, 7 to 8 main courses and 5 desserts. In addition to these The Greenhouse has a great value set lunch menu, which is refreshed every fortnight.
The cheese trolley at The Greenhouse varies from day to day. We offer around 30 out of a possible 300 cheeses at their absolute peak.
What’s your kitchen management philosophy?
Certainly I prefer to speak instead of shouting at the staff, we find that morale and productivity work better this way. People are usually surprised as to how quiet our kitchen is even in the middle of service. We prefer to work in this way and it is a lot easier to communicate with each other as well as focus on your job without noise distraction.
How would you describe the front/back of house communication at The Greenhouse?
We work very closely together, every time there is a change on the menu the whole team taste each new dish. There are briefings twice a day where we talk about the dishes and cover any questions. The sommeliers organize the wine pairing for the tasting menu and explain the pairings to the chefs and staff.
What do you think of sites in the internet age like Trip Advisor?
I read Trip Advisor once a day to note all comments of the guests. We take note of all feedback – I believe it is important to take all comments seriously whether in writing or online.
What is your view of inspector led guides like Michelin?
Every year the industry waits expectantly for the new guide, indeed it is a huge recognition. I believe Michelin can help a chef to improve because the award system creates a goal – striving for an additional star.
To me the best way to look at it is that it is a contest with yourself – we should not to get too carried away with recognition received by others, but focus on improving each and every day. Ultimately, it is the guest who benefits from Michelin because the personal benchmarks of each chef are improved and therefore the standard of the restaurant increases.
Do you eat out? If so favorite places?
I enjoy going to a variety of places, from formal to informal depending on the mood and the occasion and as to whom I am dining with. For example, I love taking my family and friends to La Gazette in Battersea. At the same time, I have enjoyed some memorable dinners at Alain Ducasse and Hibiscus.
Which chefs do you most admire and why?
Eric Fréchon is of the great chefs and I had the privilege of working with him for 7 years at the Hôtel Le Bristol in Paris – I learned so much and now I am proud to call him a friend as well as a mentor.
I have also had the chance to speak to and taste the food of Pierre Gagnaire. He is someone who fascinates me because when he speaks you can tell he has a thousand ideas all at the same time!
What are your ambitions for the future?
To be better tomorrow than today. In addition, why not go for the third Michelin star, I don’t know if it is within me but as a goal it helps me grow into the future. As a company we are always open to new opportunities, whether in London, New York or further afield. We are always on the look out for new sites both for the existing restaurants and for new concepts. I am fortunate to be part of a company which has many platforms but always with the same DNA: classic meets avant-garde, focused on excellence of experience and food.