Anton Mosimann was one of the first celebrity chefs, before reality TV and cookbooks became key components in building a high profile. He has taken a back seat as other big-name chefs have hogged the PR limelight but, with more catering contracts set to follow the one at this year's Olympics, and with his sons joining him, the chef is reinventing himself and his business, says Emily Manson
To watch a video interview with Anton Mosimann scroll down
Sitting in a plush bucket chair overlooking the restaurant, I can see it all again as clear as day: the bejewelled Belgravia women with immaculate hairdos and rocks the size of hazelnuts on their fingers the seriously professional staff, chests puffed out like penguins, hands behind their backs, gliding over the floor attending to every detail. I'll never be as slick as that, I mused, as I waited to start my stage at Anton Mosimann's Private Dining Club.
Returning to London's West Halkin Street to interview the chef as he celebrates the club's 20th anniversary this month brought the memories flooding back: legging it up and down endless flights of stairs (there are 10 at the club), necking two double espressos before service, cremating trays of bread-and-butter pudding, smoking a cigarette after service with the lights down - and meeting Mosimann for the first time 13 years ago, as I nervously waited to cut my teeth (and other extremities) in his kitchen. What an experience.
His attention to detail in all things - frustrating, at times - proved great training for us. From the meticulous way a Caesar salad was built up layer by layer, to the insistence that toilet paper be put on holders the right way round (loose sheet facing out), the club is the culmination of his relentless quest for perfection.
Of course, I'm not the only protégé. Far better folk than me have trained under Mosimann - Anton Edelmann, David Nicholls, Paul Gayler and Alan Hill, to name but a few. He calls them his "children" and is justifiably proud of what he has achieved with such people.
Watch the full interivew with Anton Mosimann hereThe only child of Swiss restaurateurs, Mosimann jokes that he was born on the kitchen floor and never left. Now part of the UK culinary establishment, with his monogrammed suits and whites and 350-plus bow-ties, he was originally a trailblazer. It was, after all, at the age of 28 that Mosimann became the youngest-ever head chef at the Dorchester in London. He took on what one can only imagine would have been a fairly hostile brigade of 200-odd chefs, moving them away from cooking stodge and turning the kitchen into a two-Michelin-star operation. He recalls: "They were cooking the lamb first thing in the morning, then slicing it, then putting it back in the oven to keep it warm till 8pm. I started cooking it at 6pm and then serving it - that was a totally new concept to them." In addition, Mosimann's decision not to use butter or cream was unheard of when he chose to cook in this way in the early 1980s. How on earth, people wondered, could you have posh nosh without it being covered in a thick, creamy sauce? The Private Dining Club in itself was radical in Belgravia terms. Leaving the comfort of the Dorchester, Mosimann bought a former Presbyterian church after a lunch there, and promptly discontinued the 3,000-strong membership who had been paying a paltry £30 a year with a charming letter inviting them to rejoin the new Mosimann's at a somewhat inflated £300 a year. That took some nerve, but Mosimann got 400 to rejoin. Now, with 2,000 members, he is often seen in his pristine whites opening the door for a patron or watching for parking wardens as one nips into the club. It's part of his ethos - his members have become friends over the years. They drop in bow-ties and trinkets for him, and shower him with Chelsea air-kisses on arrival. But Mosimann didn't stop with the club. The following years saw him become one of the first TV celebrity chefs, and establishing Party Service, the outside catering arm of his business, as well as the Academy, to train chefs and budding cooks in the finer culinary arts. The club also houses the 6,000-strong collection of cookery books and other memorabilia which Mosimann has collected during his career. Over the years, he has kept everything, and has menus and seating plans from all the dinners he has cooked. He is now in talks with L'Ecole Hotelière de Lausanne to create a museum to be displayed and used by the students. A grandfather now, and reluctantly owning up to being 61, there are a few signs Mosimann is starting to slow down. Handing over of the reins of the club to his sons Philipp and Mark, while not really affecting his day-to-day involvement, heralds a new dawn for the club and the family. "I never really expected them to join, but I did hope," Mosimann admits with a proud twinkle. And the boys explain that it was their father who encouraged them to travel the world and work in lots of different operations after finishing their studies at Lausanne. It seems to have stood the pair in good stead - while there are no radical changes planned for the club itself, just a few cosmetic improvements, Party Service has just completed a contract to cater for the International Olympic Committee during the Games in Beijing (see below). Mosimann is currently in discussions with the IOC about London 2012. So how does a man whose whole life has been his work actually hand over the reins? Slowly, it seems. And while Philipp and Mark seem in no hurry to oust their dad, he is surprisingly open to the changes that are coming his way. "I get to do just the fun bits now," he tells me brightly, which include recent trips to Bangkok, China, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, as well as indulging his passion of rally driving. He drives, with his wife as navigator, in a red TR4 - last year they completed the Beijing-to-Paris Rally and have just finished the fourth Tour Classique through the Alps, which he describes as "simply stunning". Mosimann admits that he's lousy at maintenance and so has come up with the innovative solution of "bribing" fellow competitors with free cooked dinners if they fix his car when it breaks down. So far, he has cooked four dinners and his reputation is growing. So Mark and Philipp will carry on the family business while their parents go running around in classic cars. While Mosimann clearly welcomes and is very proud of the fact his sons have joined his business, he does admit that he will probably always be involved in the club in some capacity - even if it's just coming in for a pitstop with the wife for lunch. Keeping it in the family The Mosimanns are one of a handful of high-profile families to hand their businesses down the generations, with the Fortes and the Gorings perhaps the best-known examples. Mark Mosimann says: "It was always in the back of our minds that one day we'd come back to the club, but it was dad who encouraged us to spread our wings and do our own thing." Philipp Mosimann adds: "Seeing all the different cultures, hotels, independent restaurants and corporate entertaining are all experiences which have helped us to see this business from different angles now we've come back." But it's important not to let work take over the personal relationships. The family still meet for lunch every Sunday and they're not allowed to talk about business, while Philipp and Mark live in flats close by, which they say is "like being at boarding school again". Philipp explains that the continuity he and his brother have shown by joining the business has actually enhanced the members' loyalty. "Guests and customers know we are a family business," he says. "They see longevity and understand our product. They see we're here for the next 30-40 years, which gives them reassurance. They know all three of us are working together so that we can hand it down again to the next generation, perhaps." Mosimann's private dining club - Turnover: £5m - Club: £3.5m - Catering arm: £1.5m - Membership fee: £650, plus £250 to join Chinese cooking Mosimann's Party Service was responsible for three of the main dining venues for the International Olympics Committee at the Beijing Games - the Bird's Nest Stadium (400-600 covers a day) the Royal Palace, where the IOC entertained 30-40 members of royalty and heads of state each day in four private dining rooms and a restaurant in the Beijing Raffles hotel with a show kitchen - as well as other corporate entertaining. After five pre-event site visits, Philipp Mosimann took eight chefs and four front-of-0house staff from London to help out. The biggest hurdles were sourcing produce and ensuring consistent quality, as well as finding Western equipment. He explains: "We had trouble finding things we take for granted, such as whisks and pots and pans, as well as larger items such as combi-steamers and bratt pans, which we had to source locally, as it was nearly impossible to import anything." However, he found the Chinese to be really helpful. "One of the biggest surprises was how well we were received by the local caterers we worked with," he says. "They were amazing hosts." Guests served during the games included the King and Queen of Norway, the King of Spain, Henry Kissinger, Bill Gates, Colin Jackson and Sebastian Coe. They served around 500kg of mushroom risotto and 600kg of bread-and-butter pudding. Philipp says: "We had bread-and-butter pudding on the menu once and people just went mad for it." But this venture was no one-off. Philipp has just returned from his first site visit to Vancouver, where he is working out the logistics for the next Winter Olympics. "It's a very different format from Beijing as the sites are further apart," he says, "so, at the moment, we're just putting together the concept." Philipp is also in discussions with the IOC about the catering for London's 2012 Olympics. "Beijing was an amazing experience and we look forward to participating in future games, both as main caterers and for our members," he says. "We've already had a lot of enquires from members who saw us at Beijing and didn't realise we did that kind of thing."