Play it again, Sam 13 December 2019 Sam Harrison returns to the floor at Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios, where his brasserie is set to be a blockbuster
In this week's issue... Play it again, Sam Sam Harrison returns to the floor at Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios, where his brasserie is set to be a blockbuster
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A chance to Basque in quiet contemplation

01 January 2000
A chance to Basque in quiet contemplation

Although I've been in catering long enough to know better, it always seems somewhat indecent to have to work on Sunday. At Pauillac, however, this feeling is short-lived. Sunday here always offers its own menu dégustation, four palate-tingling courses featuring, it is hoped, some never-seen-before dishes.

Sunday lunch is always busy, but before the idea of hundreds of French people cramming into a carvery takes hold, let me tell you that it's more like 50 people filling the restaurant and all ordering the same thing - not much change there!

One Sunday, however, I was given the night off after the midday service. I had Monday off anyway so it was one-and-a-half days - it felt like a holiday, and I was determined to treat it as such.

I immediately booked a room at Firmin Arrambide's Hotel des Pyrénées at St Jean Pied de Port, deep in the heart of Basque country. The two-Michelin-starred "cuisine de terroir" was what attracted me. The meal was first-rate and the service impeccable but, with only one other table taken, I couldn't have forgiven them anything less!

Nothing to see

Afterwards, I asked to see the kitchen, having engaged the waiter in conversation all night in order to be granted such a request. The waiter assured me that the kitchen was empty, so there was nothing to see, but I wasn't to be put off and insisted he show me anyway.

Two seconds of nodding approvingly at an empty kitchen convinced me that the waiter was right - only the most fanatical devotee of kitchen design could get any pleasure out of this, I thought.

But then, as if by magic, Firmin Arrambide appeared. He was fantastic.

I hadn't known, but I had cooked for him last November, at a Relais et Châteaux get-together at Château Pichon-Longueville near Pauillac. He even remembered what he had eaten.

We talked about his son, who is a chef de partie with the Pourcel brothers in Montpelier - they have just been awarded their third Michelin star, apparently well deserved.

To be granted three stars, you have to really want it, Arrambide explained. He was satisfied with his two.

I was left with the over-riding impression that here was a man confident and relaxed in his cooking, exhibiting to the full the lessons life had taught him - those of a gentle manner and a quiet, calm approach.

I can't help thinking that, if only more caterers adopted this attitude, then we would not have the chronic staff shortages in this industry that everyone complains about.

Next diary from John Homfray: 23 July

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