The UK has a lot to thank France for – as the birthplace of classical cooking, it has influenced and shaped our own cuisine in all sorts of ways. We should be especially grateful for Claude Bosi, who after earning his stripes in the kitchens of Paris and Lyon, decided to come to the UK to develop his style and further his career. It’s hard to tell whether he knew just how successful he’d be when he arrived on our shores seventeen years ago.
Growing up in central Lyon meant there were plenty of good restaurants for Claude to choose from, but it was his parents’ bistro that gave him his first taste of cooking. ‘My mother cooked while my father worked front of house,’ he explains. ‘It was a plat du jour setup, with two starters, two mains, two desserts and some cheese on the menu – all very simple. I was very, very lucky to be able to avoid school dinners and go home to have a proper lunch every day instead.’
But this didn’t mean he knew he was going to be a chef from day one. Claude came to the point in his life when he needed to decide what to do, and simply chose chef because he’d seen what it was like for himself. ‘I was never that good at school – I kept out of trouble but never really excelled. So when I was in a position where I needed to decide what I wanted to do, I chose to be a chef and go to catering college when I was fourteen.’ He obviously had natural talent, however, as he completed his apprenticeship at Leon de Lyon, a two Michelin-starred restaurant, before going back and forth between Paris and Lyon (as well as six months in the Caribbean) to work in some of the country’s best kitchens. These included L’Arpège, where he worked under Alain Passard and helped the restaurant gain its third Michelin star, and the legendary Restaurant Alain Ducasse, where he worked for a year.
Claude soon felt the need to spread his wings and set his sights on England. ‘I wanted to travel and to start learning the language,’ he says. ‘Also, England isn’t very far away from France – if it all went wrong I could always get the train home.’ He made the move to England in 1998 at the age of twenty-four to work as a sous chef at Overton Grange, a small restaurant in Ludlow, Shropshire. He was promoted to head chef within months, and in January 1999 the restaurant received a Michelin star.
In 2000, Claude left to open his own restaurant, Hibiscus, in the same town, and won a Michelin star just nine months later. In 2004 it won its second star, and Claude was well on the way to culinary stardom. However, he felt the need to move somewhere bigger than the sleepy market town of Ludlow, but didn’t want to lose Hibiscus, something he’d worked so hard for. So in 2007, instead of opening somewhere new, he decided to relocate the restaurant to the capital – despite risking his hard-earned stars.
‘I wanted a new challenge,’ Claude tells us. ‘London is one of the great cities of the world and I’d always dreamed of owning a restaurant there. I never really thought about losing the stars until I’d already moved the restaurant, but if I’d have thought it was a risk I would never have done it. You shouldn’t base things on stars, but I thought if we were good enough to get them in Ludlow then there was no reason we wouldn’t get them here. We just had to work very hard.’ The move was stressful and the Michelin inspectors only had two weeks after the restaurant opened to reassess Hibiscus, which meant the rating dropped down to one star in 2008. However, it regained its second star in 2009, an incredible feat and a testament to how talented and hardworking Claude and his team are.