Anton Mosimann – chef extraordinaire, raconteur and forever Swiss
At 62, Anton Mosimann is one of the most illustrious members of the elite European Guild of Master Chefs. A Swiss chef who went to try his luck in London 30 years ago, he has opened up new gastronomic avenues that have found acceptance all over the world.
The Mosimann name has become an established brand in the upper reaches of gastronomic excellence. Anton Mosimann has been accepted by the rather “refined” members of society in England as a highly experienced host. Queen Elizabeth II awarded him the Order of the British Empire in 2004.
Swiss Style: Mr Mosimann, what made you take the step to go to London over 30 years ago to practise your con-siderable culinary skills?
Anton Mosimann: In 1973, I was offered a position as Head Chef at The Dorchester in London. This offer was a tremendous opportunity and a challenge that I was keen to accept. I was just 28 at the time but very highly motivated.
SS: Can you describe the kitchen as it was at that time in The Dorchester?
AM: The hotel was managed in a very traditional fashion. The kitchen was good but very classical, kind of heavy and somewhat old-fashioned. It was clear to me that I would have to bring a wind of change into this kitchen. All the experience that I had been able to gain up to that point turned out to be very useful. My job was, nevertheless, not always easy. Right from the start I had over 100 employees under my control that I had to manage and motivate.
SS: Before you went to The Dorchester, you worked in some of the best palace-hotels in Switzerland, such as those in Montreux, Lucerne and Gstaad. What were the other decisive steps in your career before you took the job in England?
AM: I did my apprenticeship in Twann. When it came to the final exam, I was the only one of four candidates who managed to pass. My boss at that time offered me a job in Arosa. He just could not understand why I turned down this opportunity and instead decided to go to the 5-star Grand Hotel in Vilars. I had several positions in the grand hotels in Switzerland and then I went to Japan for a year as a Head Chef and was able to gain an insight into their cuisine. It is light, honest and artistic – simply marvellous! It has influenced me tremendously to this day.
I must also mention a particular love of mine – not a woman but a fish, the herring (laughs). I went to Stockholm to learn how to prepare it from A to Z.
SS: At some point you decided to become self-employed. How did you arrive at this decision? What were you aiming for?
AM: During my time at The Dorchester,
I trained an enormous number of good chefs. We had a waiting list of some 650 chefs of both sexes who would have liked to work with us. That was an unbeliev-able time. But at 40, I began to ask myself, What is next? Did I want to spend another 25 years in a hotel as Head Chef or was there perhaps something more to do?
So, after 13 years at The Dorchester under five different directors and having achieved two Michelin stars, I felt I wanted to step out. Getting the two stars had given me some publicity. Up to this moment, no hotel or restaurant outside France had earned two Michelin stars. I had offers to go to Tokyo, Hong Kong or New York. But in London, I knew a lot of people who I had grown fond of. I decided to turn down all these offers and stay in London to be my own boss. Also, I noticed a particularly enchanting old church, the very one my restaurant is situated in today. Even then, there was a restaurant in this church. It came to me in a flash that here I could do my own thing. I renovat-ed the restaurant and later bought the entire building.
SS: After 20 years as an employee, you decided to set up your own company under your own name: Mosimann’s, at the Belfry in Belgravia – today, a restaurant of superlatives. Tell us about your business plan.
AM: I considered very carefully how I wanted to organize everything. Of course, the main objective was to provide the very best cuisine available. I was the first person to involve sponsors. There were three well-known companies who each sponsored a private dining room. In return, they were allowed to display their names and products in my clubs. This arrangement then was entirely new in marketing and PR. The three firms were: Tiffany’s, Gucci and Wedgewood.
Today, we have seven private dining rooms that are all sponsored. This model was not only very successful for me but also for the participating companies. I can’t even attempt to name all the companies that would love to sponsor a dining room. The waiting list is very long. Along with the quality of the food,
the quality of these sponsors and their products must also match the highest standards. This is the only way to attract people who can afford this exquisite luxury.
SS: In the early 19thcentury, Jean
Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Antonius Anthus and Carl Friedrich von Rumohr were among the first critical gourmets who began to occupy themselves at the highest level with gastronomy. Brillat-Savarin divided people who appre-ciated good cuisine into four groups: the money-men, the doctors, men-about-town and the Bible-bashers. Do you find these categories of people among your guests and, if so, which do you like most?
AM: (laughs) The guests I like best are the ones that appreciate my cooking and with whom I can develop a friendly relationship. Of course by that I mean mainly the guests that come back again and again. It is a great delight to cook for people who understand something about food and appreciate quality. I have been self-employed for over 20 years now and many of my original guests, who came when I started up, still come to dine and support my concept. We operate as a club. That is a model that has always been popular and successful in England but in other countries it is just beginning to develop. Our club now has about 2,500 members. That is quite a large number, of which we are justly proud.
SS: What has happened in European cuisine in the last 200 years since Brillat-Savarin?
AM: Well, quite a lot has happened and a detailed account would fill a book. The rather heavy cuisine of that period has been developed further. The dishes have become lighter and more varied.
Cuisine has become globalized. A few decades ago we had the so- called “nouvelle cuisine”, which was certainly a milestone in the history of cooking. I was lucky enough to be one of the few people to introduce nouvelle cuisine to Great Britain. My previous Japanese experience was a big advantage.
Furthermore, it is possible nowadays to eat without meat. I don’t think Brillat-Savarin would have permitted that.
SS: You have taken great pains to understand and then express nouvelle cuisine and in doing so have influenced it considerably. What are the main characteristics of nouvelle cuisine?
Am: Nouvelle cuisine’s main characteristic is that fresh food is used and is prepared à la minute, which is to say immediately before it is consumed. Traditional cuisine often uses products that have been prepared hours or even days before. Nouvelle cuisine attempts to preserve the original taste of the ingredients and is much lighter than traditional cuisine. This applies especially to sauces.
This cuisine, in the right hands, is fantastic. Many chefs have misunder-stood nouvelle cuisine and serve up menus under this label that in no way merit it. I myself created what I call “cuisine naturelle”. Its main charac-teristic is that it does without such ingredients as butter, cream and alcohol.
My latest cookery book has just been published in which I look inten-sively at the possibilities of cuisine naturelle. [Ed note: Anton Mosimann, Natürlich frisch, Rezepte eines Starkochs, Stämpfli Verlag AG, 2008.]
SS: Is it possible to remain modest even though you have cooked for Queen Elizabeth II, received the Order of the British Empire and meet famous people day after day?
AM: Yes, it is true; I have cooked at many state banquets for Downing Street in honour of foreign heads of state and cook every now and again for the Royal Family. But for me, it is always the product that is important. That I have the opportunity to get to know some interesting people and occasionally even make friends with important personalities is a welcome side-effect. If you are engaged as a chef by people all over the world, then you are able to make some interesting trips. I appre-ciate all these advantages and I’m very grateful for them. But, even so, my feet are firmly planted on the ground.
SS: So, in a way, you have become an ambassador for Switzerland. In your opinion, how do you personally, and your illustrious guests, see Switzerland?
AM: As far as I can gather from conversations with my guests, they have a very positive view of Switzerland. Prince Charles and the Royal Family know Switzerland well from their regular skiing holidays and they are very appreciative of our country. Kofi Annan also seems to have developed a strong attachment to Switzerland.
It is interesting to note that lots of people appreciate the fact that Switzerland has not joined the EU and has retained the Swiss franc. Swiss neutrality is also much admired and is often a topic of conversation. But that is all political and I am not in the least politically involved. I don’t really understand politics much. Whether Left or Right, Labour or Conservative, Democrats or Republicans, it is my experience that they all like to eat well and appreciate a good drop of wine (laughs).
SS: Lastly, I would like to ask you to tell us some anecdote regarding one of your illustrious guests.
AM: (laughs) There are so many stories!
In our club, you have to wear a tie and we don’t like trainers. English society sets great store by etiquette. However, when superstars like Mick Jagger turn up in a turtleneck pullover, you can’t turn them away. We do make an exception now and again.
Quite recently, we did a survey of our guests. We wanted to know whether we could dispense with ties over lunch. Our members were of the opinion that due to the very hot summer, it would be possible to come to the club without a tie at lunchtime. Since then the rule is: Lunchtime without, evenings with. However, our experience is that despite the rule, 90% of our guests come to lunch wearing a tie. On this topic, the following comes to mind. Two years ago we were invited once more to the Queen’s birthday ceremony. Everybody who is anybody was there and it was terribly hot on that day. Many of the guests were sweating quite noticeably. But despite the heat, no one took off their jackets. So you see, in England it takes more than a heat wave to cause them to depart from tradition!