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Simon Cottard – My Life in Hospitality

12 August 2010 by

Simon Cottard is the executive chef, at Le Café du Marché.

Simon Cottard grew up among some of the most iconic chefs of the last 40 years. His father, Jean Cottard, joined the Roux brothers as a restaurant manager at Le Gavroche when it opened in 1967, before helping to open the Waterside Inn with Pierre Koffmann.

Cottard would spend his school holidays at the Waterside, helping in the kitchen. "It was a mad environment with lots of testosterone flying around. Pierre was a huge inspiration. He bought me my first pair of wooden kitchen clogs when I was 12," Cottard recalls. "I was quickly hooked."

As soon as he was old enough, Cottard went to Le Gavroche as an apprentice, where his study was divided equally between the Mayfair restaurant and Le Gamin, the Roux-owned pastry laboratory at the Old Bailey.

When he completed his apprenticeship, Cottard spent 11 months working in the Alsace region of France. Here he discovered that, despite being half French, his peers considered him very English. "But once they could see I could cook, I was quickly accepted," he says.

On his return to the UK in 1986, Cottard joined the Milton Sandford (now L'Ortolan) restaurant in Shinfield. When the owner decided to sell up, Cottard opted to move into private dining but three years later he realised he missed the buzz of a restaurant.

He took what he thought would be a temporary job at Le Café Du Marché, a collection of three different dining ventures under the same roof.

Cottard says: "It was a totally different concept to how I was taught and I fell in love with it. With high-end cooking comes high levels of pressure. I found this a lot more easygoing and I've been here ever since."

HIGHS… Cottard says that finishing his apprenticeship gave him an enormous sense of achievement and, while he admits that it was scary to be stepping out into the real world, he felt his experiences left him better equipped to deal with new challenges than most of his student contemporaries.

"College funding back then wasn't like it is now and it was through the Roux brothers that I was able to see such amazing product at such a young age," he explains. "They trained us to have confidence and instilled us with strength, and I have taken that with me."

In particular, Cottard relishes the opportunities he has had in his career to work with people from around the world.

"I've met and worked with so many different people - some I'm still in contact with to this day - who have gone on to do many different things," he says.

LOWS… The death of Le Café Du Marché owner Charlie Graham Wood in 1999 was incredibly significant for Cottard. Not only had they worked together, they had also become close friends.

"He was incredibly generous. He even bought me a BMW as a company car; there aren't many catering bosses that would do that," he recalls fondly. After Wood's death, his wife set up a management team, with Cottard at the helm.

"He was a very important part of my career and we decided to keep the business going in his name, exactly how he would have wanted it," says Cottard.

He has achieved that goal with the support of long-term team members, head chef Phil Hayes and pastry chef Keith Davis. "With those two on my side, I've been able to survive. You're only as good as your team," he adds.

The team has had to pull together on a few occasions due to power cuts caused by the Crossrail construction work. "It's a nightmare if you've got 200 diners and the electricity goes. These days we've got good contingency plans and a lot of candles on standby," says Cottard.

Family Single
Age 45
Favourite holiday Thailand
Drives De Rosa bicycle
Motto Keep your team happy and interested

RECESSION-BUSTING TIP
Albert Roux always told me that if your profits are down, you should look in the bin. The best French kitchen uses everything.

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