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Chef Claude Bosi on Hibiscus, Critics, and Responsibility

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Photo: Hibiscus

The Lyon-born chef Claude Bosi has cooked in some of the best French kitchens in the world, including those of Alain Ducasse and Alain Passard, but he's been making a mark on his own in England for over a decade. At his London restaurant Hibiscus, which first opened in Ludlow twelve years ago, Bosi continues to make French food, but in a way that reflects his city and his travels. He's earned two Michelin stars there and a reputation as one of the best chefs in Europe. In the following interview, he talks about his career, what he aims to do at his restaurant, and critics.

Tell me about the path to Hibiscus.
I opened Hibiscus twelve years ago. I went to catering in school in France before that and also did apprenticeships at various restaurants.

What were the most important early cooking experiences?
Definitely the ones with Alain Ducasse and Alain Passard.

How was it with Passard? You were there when L'Arpège got three stars, right?
Yes, it was incredible. Alain Passard is a genius on the stove, the way he thinks and he moves. The hardest part is learning how to follow him and his moves. It's intuitive and totally creative. I learned so much about the idea that cooking is not just about heat — it's about passion, seasonality, the way you move throughout the kitchen. It was incredible. With Ducasse it was similar but completely different. It was about excellence, getting the best products you could possibly find, luxury.

Talk more about working with Passard in the kitchen.
I wouldn't say he is crazy, but he's very, very passionate. That is what genius looks like. You need to spend time there and just learn what his vision is. Then it becomes magical. Those were some of the best years of my life at L'Arpège.

And then when did Hibiscus happen?
I opened Hibiscus in the countryside twelve years ago, but then I realized I wanted to move it. I didn't want to be in the countryside, so London was the best choice.

A lot of chefs with gastronomic or Michelin-starred restaurants like being away from the city. Why did you choose to go to London?
I love the countryside, but Ludlow, where I was, was made up of 8,000 people. I didn't exactly like the idea that I was seeing the same people all the time and that we were doing the same thing over and over. The city was more exciting. It was also very hard to get staff and have them motivated. A lot of them felt like they didn't have a life outside of the restaurant, so that's part of why I moved.

How would you describe your food?
My food is French, no question. I do a lot of traveling to see different styles and flavors, which influences my cooking, but I can't say enough that it is French. I'm not trying to be too modern, I'm just trying to be myself. It's hard enough, so you can't really try to be something that you are not and be successful, I think.

I really don't feel there is that much of a difference between being in London or any other city. I feel, personally, that I could be anywhere in the world. We cook and feed people and can't take customers for granted.

What else can you say about how you look at food and what you try to do?
Seasonality is the principal thing for me. I can't stress that enough, even though a lot of people say that. There is a scallop dish we have here with pork pie sauce. That reflects my French technique and basis, but there is also a lot of in England there, too. The food reflects where I am and where I have been.

Do you care about Michelin stars and the 50 Best List?
I care about anybody that gives us an accolade. They are risking their reputation on us. If they are saying we have one of the best places in the country, that is a big risk. I respect it.

Do you feel pressure to maintain or improve upon that?
No, there's no pressure. I did nothing special to get it. I just got it doing what we were doing. You can't start worrying about whether you are going to lose it. It's a mess if you do that.

You've been to several Cook It Raw events. How has that been for you?
Yes, I've done every one of them. There's always been a community of chefs, but maybe this is different now. They are interested in getting together and talking about what they care about. No question for me: it is fantastic.

How do you feel about people that criticize conferences and events like that?
Why? Because maybe they are jealous? Because maybe they don't understand it? I think Cook It Raw, especially, is about going somewhere, using the local produce, and learning something. We just went to Poland. It was fantastic. If Cook It Raw hadn't gone there, I don't think a lot of people interested in food wouldn't really know about what was available there, what it was about. You just have to leave jealous people to just be jealous. It's so easy to criticize other people, but Andrea Petrini and Alessandro Porcelli [the organizers] are doing something very special. People are just jealous of them.

I just interviewed Sat Bains, and he has been known to openly respond to criticisms. You've had similar situations, right?
No, not the same as that. I got in an argument with someone and lost my temper and wrote about it on Twitter. If you look online, though, you won't find me responding to people. But what happened in that incident — it happened because it happened. I just lost my temper. I think everybody has an opinion, but if you aren't honest to someone's face, you shouldn't talk about them after or behind their back. That really upsets me. I don't want my daughter to read me being angry.

Do you regret it?
I don't regret it, to be honest. I just don't like to do it.

You've been around for more than a decade and a lot of chefs have passed through your kitchen. Do you consider yourself a teacher?
No, not really. I am a cook [laughs]. I can't try to do too much. But if I can influence some of the young guys that have been with me, fantastic. I try my best. I can't go as far to say that I have protegés or something like that. I just hope I can communicate what my idea of what food is about.

I don't want you to repeat yourself too much, but what are your ideas of what food is about?
Like I said, it is about seasonality. But it is also about responsibility and honesty.

What do you mean by "responsibility"?
You have a responsibility to use the right produce and cook in the right way. If someone is coming to spend 200 pounds for dinner, you have a serious responsibility to make sure it is worth every penny. That is a big deal. You can never forget that. Chefs that love cooking understand that. We are not secret agents, we are not saving lives. We are putting food on the plate. So you have to do your best in that and not take yourself too seriously.

But I also see with MAD and things like that, that you have a responsibility — if you have the media behind you and the support — to show people what that is about.

Now that you mention not taking yourself too seriously, what do think of the debate about the tyranny of tasting menus?
We tried to do only tasting menus, but it didn't work with the customers, ultimately. Now we do the traditional thing where you can choose between à la carte or tasting menus. So there is as little tyranny as possible here. But we do make sure with the tasting menu that there is balance and that we feed people properly.

So even though you're involved with heady, high-minded events, people shouldn't think you take yourself seriously?
No, because my daughter would kick my ass!

· All Claude Bosi Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Eater Interviews [-E-]


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