Flash-grilled: Elisabeth Passédat

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Flash-grilled chef Elisabeth Passédat

Related tags: Chef, Restaurant, Pierre Koffmann

Elisabeth Passédat, who has previously worked under Pierre Koffmann and Helena Puolakka, was named head chef at The Cleveland Arms in London’s Paddington earlier this year.

What was your first job?
My first job was actually at McDonald’s in Paris. I was still studying at university but needed some money, like many of us at that age, and I ended up flipping burgers for two months! At this time I wasn’t even thinking about becoming a chef. It was interesting, I learned a lot about what it takes to run a big operation where all tasks are monitored almost perfectly.

What is your guiltiest food pleasure?
I love a nice crispy piece of fried chicken, and my favourite way to enjoy it is with a Katsu curry sauce, a bowl of rice and salad. However, the sauce must be spot on!

What’s the best restaurant meal you’ve ever had?
My best restaurant experience was in Marseille at Le Petit Nice, which has three Michelin stars. We were sitting on the terrace, just by the ocean, and the service lasted four hours. The food was unbelievably fresh, straight from the ocean and when the sunset came, it was just amazing.

In London, I went to this restaurant called Bistro Vadouvan, in Putney, and it really deserves to be better known. I loved the combination of spices used with different techniques to create dishes somewhere between Indian and French cuisine. It was great and very good value.

What industry figure do you most admire, and why? 
I hugely admire Helena Puolakka, a great Finnish chef who I worked with at ASter. You can tell she had Viking ancestors! She is fearless, an exceptional chef, and extremely clever. Helena is truly the chef I try to follow, and anybody working in her team should realise the chance they have to learn.

If you weren’t in kitchens, what would you do? 
My dream job when I was a child was to become a diplomat, so I would have been able to travel and discover new cultures whilst sharing my own. I love discovering new ways of seeing the world because you get to understand it better.

What is your biggest regret?
My biggest regret is when I let one of my ex head chefs down, in very particular circumstances which I won’t go in to but the memory will always stay with me – so that I’m certain it will never happen again.

Pet hate in the kitchen?
I get really annoyed when chefs don’t respect the products or the system in place. Everything has to be measured and controlled, and when it’s not it can become messy.

What’s the oddest thing a customer has said to you?
One day, I was working in this little café and we used to put two trays of hot food in the display. A regular customer comes and looks at one of the trays with the most pretentious look ever, and said “are you satisfied with yourself?” I had a very good answer in mind which would certainly have been inappropriate so I just chose to walk back into the kitchen without comment. The food was not fine dining in presentation, but still, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

What’s the dish you wish you’d thought of?
Pierre Koffmann’s pig’s trotter. It is a trotter, deboned and then stuffed with a chicken mousse, morels and sweetbreads, and glazed with a deep rich Madeira sauce. It can be a bit heavy, but when I think about the steps to create this dish I’m always impressed by Koffmann’s intelligence.

Describe your cooking style in three words
Spontaneous, tasty and open-minded.

Most overrated food?
I don’t like food which looks like art but doesn’t deliver on flavours. It can look pretty, but if the taste doesn’t match up to that then you just end up disappointed.

Restaurant dictator for a day – what would you ban?
I would ban the use of plastic and blue paper roll. There is so much plastic consumption in kitchens, it needs to change. Especially the vac-pacing machine. You spend money on the bags, and on the person closing the bags… although at least your fridge looks beautiful.

What’s the worst review you’ve ever had?
Every Sunday lunch, Pierre Koffmann would come to eat in his restaurant at The Berkeley with his family. Once, I cooked him a whole John Dory and he came over and said to me that it was the worst lunch of his life. He repeated to me the same thing for the next three days. These things stay in your mind forever.

If you could cook for anyone in the world who would you pick, and why?
I would cook for my dad because I would never be where I am in my life without the training and the push he gave me, which led me to my decision to start cooking. I would like him to see what stage I am now at.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
You need to be obsessed with food, and give everything you have to it. If you start thinking about the long hours and all the other sacrifices, you will be frustrated. But every chef is different, some cook in a very routine way; purely as a way to bring money home. Personally, I have always seen cooking as a way to escape reality and to make people happy. You don’t need to be a psychiatrist to ease people’s problems; give them a two hour experience of an amazing culinary feast and just like that you become more than just a chef.

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
A spoon. How can you taste the food otherwise!

What do you cook at home on your days off?
These days I am not cooking so much at home. I need a break from cooking from time to time and at home it’s the only time when I take a step back from the stove. But if my fiancé is here, I will make him a nice buttery mash potato with chicken.

What’s your earliest food memory? 
My grandmother used to go to the butcher and buy breaded ham knuckles. It’s a speciality from north-east France where she’s from, and since then I love everything to do with charcuterie, tripes and all the animal parts not everybody is actually found of.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Do what you want in life, but do it for real.

What’s the closest you’ve ever come to death?
I was walking on a pedestrian bridge made of wood in Colombia, on a rainy day. It was quite windy, my brother was in front of me and he tripped. I tried to reach out to him and my foot went just between the wooden panels. I really thought I would fall! That was a scary moment.

Where do you go when you want to let your hair down?
I go to my living room, put the speakers on and get crazy with the music.

Tipple of choice?
My favourite drink is probably cider; I like a cider in which you can really taste the apple and the farm. My grandad used to brew his own cider in Normandy, using apples from the garden. I had my first taste when I was six years old.

What would you choose to eat for your last meal?
I would have a buckwheat crepe, filled with grated Cheddar, ham and an egg. And I would be sitting at the end of a pier looking at a very red sunset, with a bottle of proper dry cider.

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