Cooking the best food in Britain while he was chef-patron of La Tante Claire, Pierre Koffmann set new standards, using simple, classic ingredients to create extraordinary dishes. One of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, and one that has well and truly stood the test of time, was his Pig’s trotters stuffed with chicken mousseline, sweetbreads and morel mushrooms – superb depth of flavour, decadently rich and meaty. This dish encapsulates perfectly Pierre Koffmann’s style – luxurious creations from humble ingredients, using every part of the animal when other chefs were throwing away things like sweetbreads and other offal. That is the case as well of his Braised beef cheeks in red wine (daube de boeuf), another renowned speciality that reinvented a cheap, undervalued cut of meat for a high-end audience – meltingly soft strands of meat, smoky bacon and browned onions in an intense, deep gravy.
In 1998, following the death of his wife Annie, La Tante Claire moved to The Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge where it stayed until Pierre Koffmann retired in 2003. After decades at the peak of culinary achievement he decided to relax – fishing, golf, travel and mushroom picking now taking priority.
A spell consulting for various restaurants and retailers followed, but in 2009 he was back. Persuaded to run a pop-up La Tante Claire on the roof at Selfridges, one week turned into two months and by the time they finally shut up shop he’d served 3200 servings of his famous stuffed pig’s trotters to a wildly appreciative audience.
This taste of the kitchen had reminded Pierre Koffmann of the life he once loved, and in 2010 he returned to The Berkeley Hotel to open Koffmann’s with his new partner (now wife) Claire Harrison. No longer chasing Michelin stars, he is instead cooking the Gascon food of his childhood, the kind of food he likes to eat, though his emblematic dishes are still in evidence. His Pistachio soufflé with pistachio ice cream, for example – delicately textured, perfectly executed, beautifully balanced. Also his Oeuf à la neige – a classic French sweet with lightly poached meringue, crème Anglaise and dark, golden caramel. And, of course, the pig’s trotters and beef cheeks too.
The Good Food Guide says of his latest venture: ‘Some formality may have gone, but the food is as forthright as ever – well aged, supremely crafted and packed with potency.’ Tom Parker Bowles is also lavish in his praise: ‘Koffmann and his brigade are cooking up some of the finest French food ever to pass my lips. Nothing overly elaborate; no incongruous smears or ill-thought-out towers. Just food to bring a tear to the eye.’
Pierre Koffmann says of his return: ‘I still do it at 65 for only one reason – because I enjoy it. I might be a bit mad, but I enjoy it. Coming in in the morning and spending the day with young chefs … One of the reasons I came back to cook was to pass on some of my knowledge to the young chefs … If I still wake up in the morning at 7 o’clock to come to work, it’s because I hope, during the day, they will learn something and they will finish a bit more clever than when they started.’ In discussion with Jancis Robinson, his wife Claire said of his return: ‘He was really alive and since then he has come back every day with a different story.’ Asked to describe his finest culinary moment he said: ‘Coming back to work after retirement – I love being in the kitchen.’