French connection: Jeff Galvin goes to Edinburgh20 December 2012
Jeff Galvin is a Michelin-starred chef and restaurateur. Known for their warm service and high-end French cuisine, his five London restaurants were recently joined by two more at The Caledonian, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Edinburgh. Here, he talks France, family tradition, and working with his brother.
My brother Chris and I have never had a cross word in our 16 years working together. He's 12 years older than I am and my first job was in his kitchen, so when we opened our first restaurant eight years ago, I knew we could collaborate well. We have a very similar ethos. It sounds a bit corny, but I feel blessed.
Our grandmother had 11 children and I used to think it was quite normal that on a Saturday she'd have 40 people in her house. On a Sunday she probably started preparing for the following weekend. Many cooks say their grandmother was an amazing cook, but what stood out with ours was her generosity. And while Chris and I are obviously passionate about food, we're equally interested in hospitality.
This comes in part from our background in hotels. Sometimes in restaurants, you can feel that once you've paid your bill, no-one gives a monkey's about you. Hotels are different: when somebody walks into a hotel they're in its care right up until the moment they leave.
So we try to apply the same principle to restaurants, and we do that by finding genuinely nice staff. We employ the sort of people who, if you went to their home, would offer you something to eat or drink. They'll say good morning to you because they want to, rather than because they've been trained.
Two new restaurants
Most recently we opened two new restaurants in Edinburgh, in The Caledonian, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Although we've only been trading for about three and a half months, they feel like they've been open far longer. This is our first venture outside London, and I thought it'd be completely different, but our Edinburgh customers are very well informed. They don't accept anything they shouldn't, and that's fantastic.
Here, as with our other venues, the menus feature classical French-inspired cuisine. We're often asked about our connection with France, but we don't do French for French's sake. When I came to London 27, 28 years ago and did an apprenticeship at The Savoy, all the chefs were French, and they cooked in a French style with French ingredients. If you wanted to train in the best restaurants, they were predominantly French.
Why France has the edge
Nowadays, although there are lots of fantastic suppliers from elsewhere, I still think France has the edge. It's tempting for people to lie about their produce and sell it for a premium, and in France if you get caught you're in huge trouble. Here, we just don't have those regulations - you can take a cow from England and graze it on grass in Scotland for a few weeks, then call it Scottish beef. Things are changing but this regulated approach to ingredients has been ingrained in France for hundreds of years, and we're just a little bit behind.
My favourite city at the moment is New York, purely for the restaurant scene. I think it's probably the leading city in the world in this regard. The crowd aren't prepared to settle for second best.
In London, my favourite place to eat is Chez Bruce in Wandsworth. This does very relaxed, good quality cooking with a Michelin star. I quite like all the trappings of the food in Michelin-starred restaurants, but not the formality, and I think it's difficult to find places that do both well.
2013 is going to be a very tough year with the economy. We're just managing to have a small increase in turnover, but we've worked very hard to do that, and next year we're going to have to work even harder. People aren't able to leave work at lunchtimes - our customers say they're not allowed out of the building. It's a matter of time, rather than money. But that's where we've got to try to be clever. We're going to do an express menu, where we can guarantee they'll be gone in an hour.
We've also got a lot of consolidation to do with our restaurants in Edinburgh. In London, once you have a really good review, you're bombed out the next day. Here, it's not quite the same, but we're through the opening stage now, which is generally a part I don't like. I like restaurants when they're settled, and we are at that stage - we've seen a lot of people, business is good and we've had some amazing reviews.
Interview by Abi Millar