Soho Create is an annual festival celebrating all the extraordinary offerings of London’s most vibrant district –Soho. With many sessions lined up, it is a great place to meet like-minded individuals and listen to creative minds discussing their trade. Entertaining, thought-provoking and well curated, Soho Create is a platform to share the best of modern art and creativity. At ‘The Art of Live’ discussion this year, comedian Sara Pascoe, chef Alexis Gauthier and theatre director Steve Marmion came together and shared their perspectives on the live moment.
Whether on stage, facing a live audience, or catering to a crowd at a restaurant – a single moment has the power to delight or disappoint. With so much effort involved in creating the live moment, what does it mean to a live performer or a chef who aims to present his ideas in edible form? To shed light on the ‘The Art of Live’ and to discuss food, the vibe that attracted him to Soho and more, we interviewed chef patron of Gautheir Soho – Alexis Gauthier. Famous for being the U.K’s first Michelin-starred chef to include a calorie count for every dish on the menu, Gauthier Soho boasts a strong celebrity following. French celebrity chef Alexis has succeeded in creating a space where many of his customers become regulars and the food manages to delight and wow as much as the ambience.
Q). We live in an age obsessed with social media, which often means diners take selfies with their food. Do you think that taints the experience of fine-dining at your restaurant?
A). No, not at all. I believe we should all be free to live as we want to and my restaurant is about feeling relaxed and comfortable and enjoying yourself. If you enjoy taking pictures of the food and you’re not constantly using a flash or bothering others, then please go ahead. It’s good for business exposure anyway.
Q). When you were asked at ‘The Art of Live’ session at Soho Create who the best live performer in your field of work is, your answer was ‘The Pope’. Could you elaborate on that for our readers?
A). It was such a broad question I couldn’t think of a better answer. Of course there are people I’ve seen live from popular culture – Coldplay, The Cure, Peter Gabriel for example – who are fantastic at capturing an audience’s attention through art and charisma. But the Pope – like other global religious or political leaders – is commanding attention through completely different channels, and their live performances are founded on a much greater responsibility.
Q). With the new residential development around Soho and campaigns to ‘clean up’ the district, do you think it is losing the charm and mystique associated with Soho’s dark side?
A). For me, the cleaning up and regenerating of Soho is inevitable, but slightly sad and sometimes I don’t see the logic in it. All the estate agents are selling these super apartments and restaurant rents on the dark, independent, seedier side of Soho, it’s as if they are saying ‘hey, come and live in Soho, it’s where the gay scene is, it’s where the cool creative kids hang out, it’s where naughty things happen’. I think the biggest problem will be when the last dark alleyway, sex club and grimy bar is finally replaced with a shiny apartment block or branch of Starbucks; the very thing Soho is sold on will be lost. It will simply become a central London version of an airport lounge shopping centre. Who will want to live in a central London Westfield? The same thing happened in the 90s with Greenwich Village in New York. It went super ‘normcore’, and nobody wants to be there now. It’s a ghost town. Everyone went to Brooklyn.
Q). You believe in the freelance style of cooking without the use of scales; does that apply to when you bake as well- especially as baking is considered to be such a precise science?
A). Because baking is such a precise science, there are rules and timings you simply have to adhere to if you want consistency in fine patisserie for example. But there is always room for a little self-expression and freedom, especially with rustic breads and puddings.
Q). Which chef most influenced you at the start of your career?
A). Alain Ducasse, Alice Waters or Roger Vergé.
Q). To a first-timer at your restaurant, what dishes would you recommend they try?
A). Well, our classics are the truffle risotto (best in October/November, when the white truffle is in season) and the Golden Louis XV chocolate pudding, both directly influenced from my time in Monaco in the early 90s.
I would recommend also they try the tasting menu, which changes every season. It is the best way of enjoying a little bit of everything we try to do best, without the burden of choice. Apart from those, the fresh brioche we make daily in the kitchen are always wonderful, and that’s free! You can eat as much as you like.
By Manjiri Chitnis