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The opening of Sketch in London's Mayfair 18 years ago was the start of what has been one of the most successful – if unlikely – hospitality partnerships in recent years.
Algerian-born restaurateur Mourad Mazouz had secured the run-down townhouse site on Conduit Street, almost on a whim, to create what some at the time regarded as a fantasy project, when he approached the three-Michelin-starred chef Pierre Gagnaire at his Paris restaurant. Looking for advice about how to find a chef for his new venture, Mazouz scored a coup in securing Gagnaire himself.
After a rocky start – Sketch cost £12m to develop, was four times overbudget and opened to a barrage of negative reviews – the restaurant went on to become one of the most enduring and lauded in the capital.
Mazouz's ambitious vision of exuberant, over-the-top interiors and a focus on cutting-edge art installations, combined with Gagnaire's exquisite food, went on to eventually win over critics and public alike. London had not seen anything like it before: one room after another is an explosion of colour, from the blancmange-pink Gallery to the enchanted forest scene in the Glade, and the Moroccan-inspired Lecture Room and Library, the latter achieving a third Michelin star in 2019. Then there are the outrageously futuristic egg-shaped toilet pods.
While Sketch is a collaboration between two of hospitality's most creative minds, Gagnaire and Mazouz have also achieved considerable international careers as individuals.
Having begun as an intern at the age of 14 in Saint-Étienne, close to his home village, Gagnaire was inspired to reach dizzy culinary heights by an early stint in the Lyon kitchen of culinary legend Paul Bocuse. Over a 57-year career, Gagnaire has created a worldwide restaurant portfolio, with sites throughout France, as well as such far-flung locations as Berlin, Moscow, Dubai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul and Las Vegas. He earned his first three Michelin stars in Paris in 1992 for a cooking style that is both highly creative and technical, before going on to achieve a clutch more globally. In 2015 his peers voted him the best chef in the world in French magazine Le Chef.
Meanwhile, Mazouz spent the early part of his career working in public relations. He opened his first restaurant, Au Bascou, in Paris in 1988, before going on to launch outlets in Ibiza, Dubai and Beirut. He arrived in London in 1997 to open the North African-inspired restaurant Momo, a phenomenally successful concept that was later joined by Mo Café and Kwānt bar. At every step, Mazouz has turned heads, while at the same time exploring his love of art and music – he even launched his own music label, Mo'Zik Records.
In all the years they have been partners at Sketch, the duo have never had a cross word. In an interview with The Caterer in 2018, Mazouz said of Gagnaire: "Pierre is unique. I see him work, head down, for an hour, then he has a full menu and an à la carte. All from his head. It can take some chefs three months. He is a magician. You can feel the fire inside him."
The more contemplative Gagnaire said: "Mourad connects with people. He has a talent for reading guests."
Having separately made their mark on the global stage, Gagnaire and Mazouz have in Sketch combined to create a unique venue that has won a worldwide following.
The editorial team of The Caterer, with nominations from all the Cateys' judging panels