Interview with an Innovator

Pied a Terre’s David Moore: ‘I’ve been doing this restaurant for 28 years – now I’m making my exit strategy’

The chef-restaurateur discusses his new cooking school, the limits of British produce and being more ethical about ingredients with Adam Bloodworth.

9 August 2019
chefsrestaurantsseafoodveganvegetables

Moore on Paper – CV

  • Trained with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons for six years in the late 80s after finishing his diploma in catering
  • Opened Michelin-starred Pied a Terre in 1991 on Charlotte Street where it remains
  • Works as a restaurant consultant throughout the UK, advising on food and business trends

Pied a Terre has had a Michelin star for so long, it’s almost synonymous with fine dining in London. But after 28 years, Moore tells Food Spark that he is mapping out a new business plan that may see his famed restaurant handed on to new owners.

Ever since the early 90s, Pied a Terre has dilligently served what Moore calls “old-fashioned” food in theatrical surroundings. The restaurant has a members’ club feel to it, because returners are as likely to go back for a conversation with Moore as they are for the latest iteration of head chef Asimakis Chaniotis’ tasting menu.

That could all be set to change, as Moore says the latest addition to the space – a cookery school and chef’s table on the first floor above the restaurant, opening next month – has been designed as “a business model we’ll sell to somebody.”

“I’m still young, I can do something else,” he says, as he ruminates over sustainability, provenance and the art of longevity.

 

My first memories of food are not particularly interesting. Growing up I had a very boring palate, totally unadventurous. I ate a lot of potatoes with a lot of butter. I enjoyed omelettes with raspberry jam, that was a bit of a phase, but as an early teen I wanted to be a chef. Perhaps that was because we had a small hotel in southern Ireland, my mum cooked a lot and I liked the frantic movement and the energy in the kitchen.

In Ireland everything was based around having at least two types of potato on your plate. I came to quality food quite late in life. The catalyst was a placement in a restaurant called The Box Tree, a two-star Michelin in Ilkley in Yorkshire. The chefs there were exciting; that was the first time I’d seen really good food, and they were all very proud about what they were doing. They would be excited when the vegetable supplier would come in with punnets of wild strawberries or wild mushrooms, so I started to find food interesting!

The head chef at The Box Tree said, ‘When you finish college, get yourself a job at Le Manoir.’  So I went back to college, applied for a job at Le Manoir and worked there the week after I left college. I was totally immersed in the best restaurant in the country: I spent six years working for Raymond Blanc, and was surrounded 24/7 by quality produce. You’d see Raymond coming out of the garden, jumping for joy about the first wild garlic leaves coming through. He’d pick things as late as possible so there’d be as fresh as possible on the plate. His ethos was very contagious, urelenting in his want to make it better.

We still don’t celebrate the seasons enough in England. But we’re starting to. If I’m in Waitrose, I’m not going to pick up asparagus from Peru in January, I’m going to wait and have English asparagus. One thing I’d never thought about was that fish have seasonality. There are round fish in the winter, flat fish in the summer: that’s the detail people don’t think about.

That said, it’s not always as simple as British produce being best. Probably a tomato from Spain is better than a tomato from the UK, because in the UK they’re grown in polytunnels, and the footprint of that lovely English tomato is probably more than the sun-ripened tomato flown in from Spain.

In some instances, we’ve flown food over from Australia. We’ve had kingfish flown over from there. It’s a farmed kingfish out in waters in huge pens. This fish is going to save the planet: they’re able to propogate so many new fish in a controlled environment and the quality is amazing. That’s flown over fresh 36 hours after it’s come off the slab. So it’s saving the planet and saving the seas, but then there’s the carbon footprint of the plane… The plane’s coming over anyway, whether it has five or six boxes of fish on it or not. 

Ultimately, I want to serve customers the best food we can find. If there’s something that comes from halfway round the world, I’ll have to take that on the chin because it is the best produce.

Vegetables are trickier in the UK. We buy a lot more vegetables from France and Italy as they have a grading system. We’ve got a long way to go in terms of the quality of produce we’re growing.

I don’t think ethically you can have a concept that is mostly meat-led anymore. That’s going to flounder now. People ask me what I think of this veganism trend. I say it’s not a trend or a fad, it’s a real thing. The planet cannot sustain the same level of meat eating. In 20 years’ time, people will say, ‘Did you really eat meat three times a day?’ There will come a time where it is not sustainable. There are so many intelligent, brighter, creative chefs working alongside the rise of veganism. Our vegan tasting menu was voted number-one vegan menu in the UK.

I find myself not wanting to eat so much meat, although I’m a meat eater. I’ll never be vegan. I don’t think it’s a steak, it’s not a piece of turbot, it’s the humble egg which I don’t think I could live without.

We’re going to be doing a vegan class upstairs at Pied a Terre in the new Cookery School, which opens at the end of September. You’ll walk in there and it’ll be a quintessential English kitchen. One class per week will focus on vegan cooking. People can get some really good ideas and thoughts on ways to cook vegan produce to make it more interesting. People lack the knowledge of how to make tasty vegan meals at home.

I’ve been doing this restaurant for 28 years. I’m 55 in August. I’m making my exit strategy in changes that we’re making here to the first floor, and we have plans next year to put a bar into the front room.

Sometimes I’ll see something and that will be the kernel that starts to turn into a dish. I’ll look at a dish [head chef] Asimakis has created and say, ‘How did you think of that?’ He has this wonderful kombu broth with a syringe filled with a pea puree that has a gelling agent so when it hits the hot liquid it turns into a noodle. He was doing something recently with abalone that I’d actually never eaten, and it was stunning.

I have a veto, but I’ve only used it once in two years. That was for a jalapeno foam with raw scallops. There was no crunch, and there was a certain spiciness that surprised a lot of people, so after the second or third day I said, ‘That’s got to come off the menu.’ [Asimakis] changed it overnight to a ceviche of scallop with salt-baked celeriac with pickled kale.

Hospitality isn’t spoken about in careers offices around the country. I don’t know how we’re going to cope when we come out of Brexit. I’ve got a kitchen full of Greek cooks, I’ve never been better staffed now because of the Greek connection [to the head chef]. How am I going to get them in after Brexit? My restaurant floor is filled with Italians, Spanish, there’s not going to be English kids taking those jobs.

People need to be introduced to hospitality earlier. It needs to be at schools and not everybody needs to go to university. By the time you’ve left university you’ve got three or four years of experience; you’ve got no debts and you might be earning £30,000 per year. Some restaurant managers go up to £150,000.

English people immediately want to be supervisors. I honestly don’t know how the restaurant world’s going to survive without the young kids coming over to perfect their English for a year or two.

My job means I have a fantastic social life. I’m meeting new people all the time. My wife and I get invited to events. I’m considered a family friend by dozens of people purely because of how we’ve interacted in the restaurant.

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