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Minute on the clock: Franck Pontais

25 October 2016 by
Minute on the clock: Franck Pontais

The innovation and development chef at Koppert Cress UK tells Katie Pathiaki about verrines and some of the weird and wonderful flavours that can be found in microherbs

Not at all; I was awful at school and my mother sent me to the butcher's shop and then to butchery school for two years. It was a gamble, but luckily I excelled at it and became the best apprentice at a national competition.

I then chose to work for a Meilleur Ouvrier de France and train for another three years. A Meilleur Ouvrier de France is a 'best craftman' title awarded to someone after a prestigious competition that takes place every four years.

Then you went to work for Harrods. How did that happen?

I was at the top of my class, learning about baking, charcuterie, pÁ¢tisserie, wine and cheese- making, so when the executive chef of Harrods called my school, I was the first one in line! I started as a demi chef de partie and finished five years later as a head chef for the traiteur department.

It's said that you brought verrines to the UK - what are they?

Verrine comes from the word 'verre', which means glass, and a verrine is a food presented in a glass. JoÁ«l Robuchon introduced it around 20 years ago.

Is it right that Michel Roux Jr made a verrine after seeing yours on the menu at Searcys Champagne bar?

Yes, it was nice to see that on TV - verrines are not designed for the English mass market though, so not many chefs talk about them.

What interested you about Koppert Cress?

Koppert Cress opened a new world of flavour, taste and aroma to me. It is a clever company that delivers natural and organic plants direct to the kitchen door and I wanted to be part of the journey into foodservice in the UK.

What is your favourite seasonal product to work with?

I like chard and rhubarb and I love picking blackberries. Pastry chefs can use Yka leaves - they taste like blackcurrant and rhubarb - to make a syrup and 'paint' their plates.

Can you explain what the 'Cressperience' room is?

It's our development kitchen. Our products are used as an ingredient and chefs come to experience different flavours and dishes that are created and learn how to use microgreens.

What is your favourite cress and food pairing?

One of my favorite cresses is the Tahoon cress, which has the flavour of beechnuts, mushrooms and umami. The BlinQ Blossom is popular, as it dazzles on the plate, but my favorite food pairing is Floregano, an edible flower, served with liquorice butter.

How do you use microgreens and cress in an innovative way?

One of the most unexpected herbs is the Sechuan Button, which is well known among chefs for its electric, numbing effect. However, only a few know how to make the most of it. I blitz it with caster sugar and use the sugar in pastry or roll fruit in it - fantastic!

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