Tratra is going to be your first restaurant outside of Paris. Why now, and why London?
When Prescott and Conran first opened The Boundary hotel, Peter Prescott had one of my books, Ripailles, and said to his chef that he wanted to have my food in the restaurant. And then separately, Terence Conran called Peter and also said he wanted my food in the restaurant. So Terence called me. I said, ‘OK, I’ll get on a train tomorrow.’
Will it be helpful for you to be part of a group rather than independent?
It’s a new challenge. I haven’t worked for anyone else for 26 years, but I couldn’t say no. It’s an exciting project to figure out. But it’s easy because they’re very excited and open to my ideas.
What will Tratra be like?
Tratra is a colloquial word for ‘traditional with a modern twist’ in French, so it will be like that: a place for both the older and younger generations. It will be a place to share. People can come and have a drink and a plate of ham but then also stay for dinner. It’s also funny because of the different ways that the English and French say ‘Tratra’ (with the French rolling their ‘Rs’). It was a little joke there, too.
You’re well known for your love of the Ardèche region of France. Will Tratra source its produce from there?
There will be elements of the Ardèche, but I won’t focus on that. Some ingredients will come from France, such as all of the charcuterie, terrines and sausages. I’m always looking for good products, because you don’t have to do much to them.
What’s on the menu?
There will be finger food and sharing plates, such as confit of lamb shoulder for two to four people. It’s so tender you can cut it with a spoon. Another dish is cochon de lait (suckling piglet), served with dates and tarragon. It’s one of the dishes in my restaurants that I couldn’t remove from the menu because people would be upset.
Is the London menu taken from your Paris restaurants, or is it new?
The dishes are mainly new, but what I’ll serve in London, I would be happy to serve in Paris. I haven’t changed things especially for London tastes.
How confident are you that people will understand this kind of cuisine?
I am sure they will. For me, London is the best place to eat; there are so many different cuisines from everywhere in the world. I’m always impressed by London restaurants’ decor and food and its young chefs. In France, we are more focused on background, whereas in London it’s so free. I love it. And with Brexit, it’s also nice that a French guy is coming to London.
Do you serve dishes from your cookbooks?
It’s generally the same style, but Sunday lunch will reflect my books especially. It will be family-style, with only one dish: a big roast or a whole fish. This month, we will serve a black chicken with potatoes, with flavours such as tarragon and smoked garlic.
Is that nostalgic food from your own childhood?
It’s not really nostalgic, just food that has always existed and will always exist. I opened my first restaurant in 1989, when nouvelle cuisine was in full swing, but I wanted a French bistro with traditional food. People told me it was finished. But it will never be finished.
How will you divide your time between France and London?
I’m going to be in London one week a month. My head chef in France in my last restaurant is actually an English guy, James Warburton, and he is now the chef at Tratra. I’ll be helping to test everything, find new suppliers, try new recipes and check everything is going well.
You’re also a cookery writer, particularly about pork. How does that tally with being a restaurateur and chef?
I had opened a restaurant before I started writing, but I learned my cooking as a kid in my grandparents’ butchery in our French village. When it closed, I wanted to write its story. I chose to write about the pig because it was very important to us. I was lucky because my publisher let me write what I wanted.
Do you have plans for more restaurants, in France or London?
Right now, I’m just focusing on my retail products, such as my terrines, and the London opening. But tomorrow? We’ll see.
This article originally appeared in the May 2017 Restaurant Magazine. Subscribe here from just £70 per year today!