March 23, 2012 10:06 pm

FT Foodies: Chris Galvin

‘My father won on the horses and drove us through France for two weeks. That was when I got hooked ’

Chris Galvin grew up in Brentwood, Essex, and started his career there as a washer-up for Antony Worrall-Thompson. He went on to work at the Ritz and other restaurants in London, France and New York. In 2005 he opened Galvin Bistrot de Luxe with his brother Jeff; their fifth venture, Galvin Demoiselle, run by Chris’s wife Sara, has just opened in Harrods.

What’s your earliest memory of food at home?

Every Saturday my nan would feed about 30 or 40 people – my mum’s family was huge. I liked watching her cook, and she had a lovely garden with gooseberries, pears, rhubarb, chickens, fruit trees – they had kept their plot going after the war years.

What inspired you to cook?

When I was about seven my dad won a “yankee” on the horses – you put money on one horse, it goes on to a second, and the money escalates; he won about £300. He drove us through France for two weeks, which I loved. That was when I got hooked. We saw peaches and apricots for sale in little lay-bys, ate in the routiers cafés by the road, nicked grapes from the vineyards. I remember that vividly.

What was your most hated chore as a trainee?

I hated the aggression; in a lot of the kitchens it was screaming, shouting, physical abuse, shocking language. Lots of the top chefs were lunatics. Today, when I interview chefs I don’t mind where they’ve worked – they have to enjoy giving. I didn’t get a Michelin star until I was 40, but I made it by being decent.

What do you think about when you’re cooking?

I always feel lucky. I love the changing seasons and that no two chickens are the same – I see beauty coming in the back door. My work is fascinating – I feel like a puppy every day; I still feel like it’s day one.

Is the customer always right?

Yes. They’ve chosen to come and eat at your restaurant, and we do our level best. We’re all equals – staff, supplier and customer. But we also protect our staff, that’s hugely important.

What would you consider bad manners at the table?

A lack of appreciation for someone’s care and hard work. And it’s one of life’s greatest luxuries to be served. Waiters are easy targets.

Is it difficult working with a sibling?

No – we’ve never had a cross word. I love my brother dearly. If I’m down or tired Jeff will pick me up, and vice versa.

How has food changed?

Lots of chefs laugh when I say there wasn’t cling film in the kitchen – they couldn’t live without it. People used to smoke too. Our ingredients have got better and better – and customers are better educated. They want to discuss the difference between a grey-leg partridge and a red-leg, and what goes into a mirepoix – I enjoy that.

www.galvinrestaurants.com

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