A true sketch

30 Oct 2016
4 min read
As well as being a creative hub, Sketch in London is home to Pierre Gagnaire’s acclaimed restaurant, writes Sophie Cater

Sketch is a thing of dreams. Laced in cultural quirks, the London-based converted 18th-century building in Mayfair, London is home to food, art and music. It is the brainchild of restaurateur, Mourad Mazouz and superstar chef Pierre Gagnaire. Of course, it is Pierre who oversees the two-Michelin-starred cuisine at Sketch’s restaurant, the lecture room and library, and works closely with Mourad on making Sketch the creative hub that it is.

Heralded for his creative brilliance, Pierre surrounds himself with eccentric and passionate people and inventive inspiration. At Sketch, he works with artistic restaurateur Mourad Mazouz, who has become a close friend and an advisor. “We have worked together for 11 years now and we’ve never had an argument. We get on with our own work, respecting each other, and it works.” Mourad develops the ever-changing artist exhibition and creative side of Sketch.

Walking in to Sketch feels like being part of a Wes Anderson film. Once a townhouse designed by Scottish architect James Wyatt in 1779, it is divided into the gallery, the lecture room, the parlour, the glade and the east bar, each of which is decorated differently and quirkily and has its own function. The gallery—a gastro-brasserie overseen by Pierre Gagnaire—is almost entirely bubble-gum pink and bourgeois in design, and is decorated with artist David Shringley’s witty work. The lecture room and library—a formal restaurant designed in reds and ambers with a retro feel—is where Pierre’s cuisine has been awarded its two Michelin stars. The parlour is a relaxed lounge where patisseries, snacks and afternoon tea are served to passers-by. The glade—an enchanted woodland bar—and the ultra modern east bar offer stylish, cosmopolitan and fun cocktails.

Opening in 2003, Pierre is keen to explain that he is very much in charge of the food and Mourad is in charge of the rest. “I work and collaborate with a project that is initiated by Mourad Mazouz. That’s very important to understand,” he stresses. The success at Sketch for Pierre is down to having “a great partner and the man power.”

Modest, but aware of his strengths, Pierre describes his cuisine as “honest and sincere; it’s not a matter of creating a collage of things that I see and collect, it’s really a culinary story that I have been telling for many years. And the length of time that it has lasted proves that it is really sincere.”

Pierre’s cooking places its roots in traditional French cuisine. However, with various layers of inspired creativity and modern techniques, his dishes transform into symbols of contemporary ideas and refined masterpieces. Over the last 10 years, he has worked with his long-standing friend and molecular advisor, Hervé This. Analysing traditional culinary concepts, chemist Hervé develops the molecular side of Pierre’s cuisine, striving to break up traditions and routines. Despite confessing that he is a bad student of molecular cuisine, Pierre explains that it is a vital part of his culinary story, which seems to be forever evolving.

As a young man, Pierre embarked on his culinary path at Paul Bocuse’s restaurant in 1965. The experience had such an impact on him that—enamoured by the world of the culinary arts—he enrolled in an apprenticeship at restaurant Juliette in Lyon in 1966. Two years later, he took his first role as a commis chef in restaurant Tante Alice, also in Lyon.

Since, Pierre has become one of the world’s most acclaimed chefs. He holds three Michelin stars at his eponymous Paris-based restaurant, and has a total of thirteen stars internationally. He has conquered bankruptcy, which was declared in 1996, lost awards and regained them, he has set sail for a mammoth amount of projects, while forever criss-crossing the world, visiting his worldwide restaurants and developing his menus. His unflappable abundance of energy is astounding.

At Sketch, Pierre has been working alongside Mourad to ensure that the menu reflects the creativity of the concept. “There is no recipe,” he explains. “It only happens through desire, sensitivity and being careful that things are well done, and to ensure that the modernity corresponds with who I am and what I produce in my cuisine. We are forever changing the menus and dishes. It’s a true Sketch here, in the perfect sense.”

Dishes combine a variety of traditional ingredients and flavours in such a refined way that they emerge as pieces of artwork. Executed by chefs Johannes Nudig and Herve Deville in Pierre’s absence, the cuisine never falters and always showcases the finest quality of taste and aesthetics, punctuated by bold and imaginative highlights. With 11 restaurants to juggle around the world, Pierre ensures that they are to his standard by being very personally involved in all the projects and people. “I find honour in having great relationships with all my chefs. Consequently we manage to have a very high standard… I consider my employees to be my children. We are one family.”

Although Pierre first embarked on opening his own restaurants as a soloist, he now observes his projects holistically, swooping in when necessary. “I was the conductor and the stage director at the same time. Today, I am able to step back and explain what I want in a clearer way. I have been able to be part of the whole story and construct it from A to Z. I have become the actor.” This step back has allowed him to gain perspective on his projects and delegate to his team of assiduous chefs. “They come to see me and with their attitude they give me the desire to work with them. They work with me, and I constantly try to give them something. It’s an intellectual exchange. People are very loyal to me.”

It is not only to restaurant-goers that Pierre wants to appeal to. He is to showcase his creative cuisine at Sketch in an upcoming book with food photographer Jean Cazals. The ever-changing creativity and innovation that occurs at Sketch, will be made permanent through this book.

At the age of 64 and having successfully stormed London’s scene as a self-confessed actor in a creative culinary film, I wonder what Pierre will sketch next.

Find out more about Pierre Gagnaire