I was asked the other day by H&C News to cast my mind back and write about a memorable dining experience.
I am fortunate to have enjoyed a great many, on my travels and at home in London and Bombay.
Having read a number of the previous authors similar recollections, my lasting memory is special because of who I enjoyed it with.
I was one of a group of chefs invited to do one of the Jumeirah Festival of Taste events organised by Chef Willi Elsener in 2012. Chef Willi Elsener was a great character and at the time was working with Jumeirah, although he was probably best known as one of the very few Executive Chefs at The Dorchester.
In the Group were Chefs Michel Roux, Brian Turner, James Martin, Jean-Christophe Novelli, Kerry Heffernan, Ainsley Harriott, and myself.
A great event that created a great number of memorable moments I will never forget, another time perhaps. One of the moments is what follows…
Chef Michel Roux and I were cooking a twelve course meal for American Express on an indescribably fabulous yacht, part of a day’s corporate entertainment for some of their most valued clients.
We both reached our meeting point at the Burj Al Arab in good time, the yacht had just returned from a trip and was being cleaned out and prepared for our excursion.
We decided to sit in the lounge to relax and chat while we waited.
A short while later the Captain of the yacht came and apologised saying that departure had been delayed. He seemed far more concerned with the delay than I and my companion for the day, and asked if he could he get us some refreshments. The delay would be at least a few hours, but the captain assured us we would be well looked after while we waited.
We moved to the outside bar area overlooking the sea and located a table with what I would call a perfect sea view. It was a beautiful day and a cool light breeze kept us at just the right temperature.
Chef Michel Roux in his unique style asked if I liked Caviar, indeed I do I replied. We were given a caviar menu by an extremely attentive waiter and Michel Roux ordered Sevruga for us both, with Taittinger Rosé Champagne.
When the caviar arrived it was served in a bowl with two small spoons and a delightful variety of potential accompaniments. We both marvelled at the dish in front of us, made from just one ingredient and what seems like a hundred options alongside it.
Two glasses of champagne were poured, and we toasted our impromptu feast before it was started. I wish I had taken a picture as the presentation was sublime, it could and should have been captured to use in teaching students.
We both took a small spoon on its own first and then tried the various accompaniments. We both agreed it was best on its own, but we both enjoyed the test.
We chatted about setting up restaurants in London, how we had rolled our sleeves up and sweated over countless dishes for countless hours. Before we were both famous, we both laughed at the term, and Chef Michel Roux told me that if another interviewer referred to him as a celebrity chef he would implode.
The specifics of the conversation are not what I fondly remember, it was just sitting down and enjoying a piece of very precious time with someone I had always greatly admired.
He had a way of making me feel special by just being himself, not trying in any way to be Chef Michel Roux, just two chefs reminiscing.
Just before we were informed that the yacht was ready to leave, Chef Brian Turner passed us on his way to his. In his inimitable Yorkshire tone he seized on the opportunity to scold us both with warnings the sea would disagree with us after our all too indulgent banquet.
Later when both boats returned, we heard that Chef Brian Turner had prophesied his own lack of sea legs, when we met later, Michel Roux very courteously reminded him of his warnings, we all laughed.
It does go to show that there are many different ingredients to a great dining experience, and for me the company is always top of the menu. And once I was truly in the company of greatness.
I would like to end my short tale with my wider memory of Chef Michel Roux who sadly is no longer with us. He was a gentleman in every sense of the word. A family man and a family restaurateur.
His contribution to London dining changed a great city for the better.
Cyrus Todiwala OBE
My memorable dining experience – is a series of reflections from people who shed light on why one dining experience for them lasts the test of time.
Each is quite different and as the series builds it expands across the world geographically. The author’s perspectives are sometimes taken from planes, trains and boats, some in truly remarkable locations.