Senior’s solutions
Searching for quality?

French chefs Pascal Aussignac and Germain Marquis are bringing traditional Gascon cuisine to the UK in very different ways, but what they both share is a desire to keep it simple, says Grahame Senior

By Grahame Senior | Published in Leisure Management 2012 issue 3


In a more forgiving economic climate, achieving a ‘high level of mediocrity’ (once the stated strategic aim of one of our leading hospitality operators) might well have been enough to get you by. In today’s demanding and economically constrained world, only the very best will do. Success in the hospitality and leisure business today demands ever more of the operator. Integrity and top class performance in every aspect is demanded.

Britain – World Focus for Foodies?
Over the past 20 years or so, Britain has undergone a revolution in restaurant provision. The British cooking scene has created a host of superstar chefs whose opinions, publications and enterprises have flourished and waned with all the usual rhythm of reality. Those who have continually improved and perfected their food offering have largely remained and prospered. Those who have been distracted from their purpose by the heady trappings of media success and celebrity have in many cases disappeared.

It was ever thus. No matter how much hype, innovation and sheer chutzpah is invested in new ways of delivering pleasure on a plate, at the end of the day, it does comes down to the three Cs: Cooking, Consistency and Commitment to quality.

France still cares deeply for food
Long before the rise of modern British cooking, France was famous for food. From the days of Elizabeth David onwards, we Brits have wondered at the quality, range and diversity of the products of the French kitchen. Sadly, France has suffered as much as (or even more than) we have from the fast food invasion and, to an extent, the growth of the workaholic society (“lunch is for wimps!” becoming the battle cry). However, in la France Profonde good cooking is still the order of the day in domestic kitchens and in the regional restaurants.

It is arguable that the French haute cuisine truly has a simpler beat at its heart. That great heart is Gascon.

Gascony has long delivered a robust celebration of good food, well cooked and lovingly presented. Of course, it is a region richly blessed in natural resources. From the duck, geese and foie gras culture of Les Landes right through to the foothills of the Pyrenees, you will find foodie perfection. With truffles to search for and acorns and beechmast to munch, the forests are a paradise for pigs. The restaurants offer perfection on a plate for pork lovers and the resources of the sea and rivers are no less rich and no less well used. In Gascony lunch is not for wimps but is a proper punctuation in each day for those who understand the art of living well.

Gascony is the country of bucolic pleasures and Boccaccian gusto. The land of d’Artagnan also throws up sophisticated and intelligent cooking and gastronomy like that temple of Sybaritic sense that is Michel Guerard’s Pres d’Eugenie. Nowhere is the balance between robust ingredients perfectly prepared and finesse more exquisitely explored than in his cuisine minceur. Eating well and living well do not have to be alternatives, they can be good companions.

Throughout France, restaurateurs and hoteliers follow the Gascon tradition and find it a robust route to success with the demanding diners of today.

Great British Gascons
Interestingly, we have two superb practitioners in this country of this passion for perfect regional seasonal produce perfectly presented – Germain Marquis, owner of Le Clos du Marquis in Hampshire, and Pascal Aussignac, owner of Club Gascon in London. While they couldn’t be more different in their approach in terms of style of cooking and dining appeal, at their heart Marquis and Aussignac are both fully Gascon with a respect for the ingredients that shines through their entirely different styles. One is robustly and resolutely rooted in the country, the other is as achingly metro-sophisticated as it is possible to be.

Each is achieving considerable success in these challenging times. Each appears to have the rigour and focus on quality and consistency that will stand the tests of time very effectively. Perhaps most importantly of all each is always full with happy diners. Success on a plate!

I don’t know whether Marquis and Aussignac know each other or whether there is some secret league of Gascons who plot to deliver ever better hospitality. If there is, I hope one day I get invited to one of their meetings. Dissimilar in so many respects, both Clos du Marquis and Club Gascon have one wonderful thing in common – they’re always full with happy people. Surely that is the essence of success.

Keep it simple, do it well, release your inner Gascon.

Achingly cool, thrillingly authentic:

Club Gascon

Club Gascon in London’s Smithfield is about as far removed from Hampshire in both location and style as it’s possible to get, yet it offers much the same model. Both restaurants have cook shops, both restaurants sell ingredients and wines and both restaurants are true to their Gascon roots.

However, the Smithfield crowd is a world away from the Shire market of Clos du Marquis. It’s a very sophisticated mix of metropolitan foodies, serious business people and well travelled families. Pascal Aussignac’s style of cooking matches and is the essence of refinement.

It is, however, also the essence of Gascony, with a commitment to freshness and authenticity of ingredients that is almost religious. If Pierre Gangaire outdoes even Heston Blumenthal in his weird combinations, Pascal Aussignac goes in the opposite direction, creating an intensity of flavour which is quite remarkable from a very focused range of ingredients. Of all the restaurants I have ever taken guests to in London, this is the one that best delivers the shock of the new. Yet it does this by taking traditional ingredients and presenting them with a freshness and inventiveness that remains true to its Gascon roots.

 



Pascal Aussignac opened Michelin-starred French restaurant Club Gascon in 1998
 


Michelin-starred French restaurant Club Gascon
 
Traditional style, exacting standards:

Le Clos du Marquis

‘How difficult to be simple’ was the mantra of Pierre Bocuse. It’s a mantra delivered to zealous effect by Germain Marquis in his traditional restaurant in the heart of Hampshire. He is Gascon, his food is Gascon and his standards are Gascon. It is simple, bucolic, robust, rustic and pretty well near perfect.

To eat his rabbit with mustard is to return to the blue remembered hills of the France of our youthful visits. Simple ingredients, perfectly prepared and perfectly presented. The hospitality too has that quality of commitment and nothing is taken for granted. Every day, Germain greets every diner, and his wife Glanis is a charming chatelaine. Even the restaurant manager, Garth (a bit of a ringer for Gerard Depardieu, despite the fact that he is South African) presents an aura of confident, all-encompassing hospitality. Their love of good food shines through every aspect of the operation.

The wine list is also a triumph and resolutely South Western. It is a triumph because it takes this relatively unknown region and delivers superb quality at amazing value. Germain, Glanis and Garth have got their market dead right. They like it traditional but it must be good and it must be good value. I have never been there when it’s not been packed.

 



Le Clos du Marquis is in Hampshire
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Leisure Management
2012 issue 3

View issue contents

Leisure Management - Searching for quality?

Senior’s solutions

Searching for quality?


French chefs Pascal Aussignac and Germain Marquis are bringing traditional Gascon cuisine to the UK in very different ways, but what they both share is a desire to keep it simple, says Grahame Senior

Grahame Senior
Grahame Senior

In a more forgiving economic climate, achieving a ‘high level of mediocrity’ (once the stated strategic aim of one of our leading hospitality operators) might well have been enough to get you by. In today’s demanding and economically constrained world, only the very best will do. Success in the hospitality and leisure business today demands ever more of the operator. Integrity and top class performance in every aspect is demanded.

Britain – World Focus for Foodies?
Over the past 20 years or so, Britain has undergone a revolution in restaurant provision. The British cooking scene has created a host of superstar chefs whose opinions, publications and enterprises have flourished and waned with all the usual rhythm of reality. Those who have continually improved and perfected their food offering have largely remained and prospered. Those who have been distracted from their purpose by the heady trappings of media success and celebrity have in many cases disappeared.

It was ever thus. No matter how much hype, innovation and sheer chutzpah is invested in new ways of delivering pleasure on a plate, at the end of the day, it does comes down to the three Cs: Cooking, Consistency and Commitment to quality.

France still cares deeply for food
Long before the rise of modern British cooking, France was famous for food. From the days of Elizabeth David onwards, we Brits have wondered at the quality, range and diversity of the products of the French kitchen. Sadly, France has suffered as much as (or even more than) we have from the fast food invasion and, to an extent, the growth of the workaholic society (“lunch is for wimps!” becoming the battle cry). However, in la France Profonde good cooking is still the order of the day in domestic kitchens and in the regional restaurants.

It is arguable that the French haute cuisine truly has a simpler beat at its heart. That great heart is Gascon.

Gascony has long delivered a robust celebration of good food, well cooked and lovingly presented. Of course, it is a region richly blessed in natural resources. From the duck, geese and foie gras culture of Les Landes right through to the foothills of the Pyrenees, you will find foodie perfection. With truffles to search for and acorns and beechmast to munch, the forests are a paradise for pigs. The restaurants offer perfection on a plate for pork lovers and the resources of the sea and rivers are no less rich and no less well used. In Gascony lunch is not for wimps but is a proper punctuation in each day for those who understand the art of living well.

Gascony is the country of bucolic pleasures and Boccaccian gusto. The land of d’Artagnan also throws up sophisticated and intelligent cooking and gastronomy like that temple of Sybaritic sense that is Michel Guerard’s Pres d’Eugenie. Nowhere is the balance between robust ingredients perfectly prepared and finesse more exquisitely explored than in his cuisine minceur. Eating well and living well do not have to be alternatives, they can be good companions.

Throughout France, restaurateurs and hoteliers follow the Gascon tradition and find it a robust route to success with the demanding diners of today.

Great British Gascons
Interestingly, we have two superb practitioners in this country of this passion for perfect regional seasonal produce perfectly presented – Germain Marquis, owner of Le Clos du Marquis in Hampshire, and Pascal Aussignac, owner of Club Gascon in London. While they couldn’t be more different in their approach in terms of style of cooking and dining appeal, at their heart Marquis and Aussignac are both fully Gascon with a respect for the ingredients that shines through their entirely different styles. One is robustly and resolutely rooted in the country, the other is as achingly metro-sophisticated as it is possible to be.

Each is achieving considerable success in these challenging times. Each appears to have the rigour and focus on quality and consistency that will stand the tests of time very effectively. Perhaps most importantly of all each is always full with happy diners. Success on a plate!

I don’t know whether Marquis and Aussignac know each other or whether there is some secret league of Gascons who plot to deliver ever better hospitality. If there is, I hope one day I get invited to one of their meetings. Dissimilar in so many respects, both Clos du Marquis and Club Gascon have one wonderful thing in common – they’re always full with happy people. Surely that is the essence of success.

Keep it simple, do it well, release your inner Gascon.

Achingly cool, thrillingly authentic:

Club Gascon

Club Gascon in London’s Smithfield is about as far removed from Hampshire in both location and style as it’s possible to get, yet it offers much the same model. Both restaurants have cook shops, both restaurants sell ingredients and wines and both restaurants are true to their Gascon roots.

However, the Smithfield crowd is a world away from the Shire market of Clos du Marquis. It’s a very sophisticated mix of metropolitan foodies, serious business people and well travelled families. Pascal Aussignac’s style of cooking matches and is the essence of refinement.

It is, however, also the essence of Gascony, with a commitment to freshness and authenticity of ingredients that is almost religious. If Pierre Gangaire outdoes even Heston Blumenthal in his weird combinations, Pascal Aussignac goes in the opposite direction, creating an intensity of flavour which is quite remarkable from a very focused range of ingredients. Of all the restaurants I have ever taken guests to in London, this is the one that best delivers the shock of the new. Yet it does this by taking traditional ingredients and presenting them with a freshness and inventiveness that remains true to its Gascon roots.

 



Pascal Aussignac opened Michelin-starred French restaurant Club Gascon in 1998
 


Michelin-starred French restaurant Club Gascon
 
Traditional style, exacting standards:

Le Clos du Marquis

‘How difficult to be simple’ was the mantra of Pierre Bocuse. It’s a mantra delivered to zealous effect by Germain Marquis in his traditional restaurant in the heart of Hampshire. He is Gascon, his food is Gascon and his standards are Gascon. It is simple, bucolic, robust, rustic and pretty well near perfect.

To eat his rabbit with mustard is to return to the blue remembered hills of the France of our youthful visits. Simple ingredients, perfectly prepared and perfectly presented. The hospitality too has that quality of commitment and nothing is taken for granted. Every day, Germain greets every diner, and his wife Glanis is a charming chatelaine. Even the restaurant manager, Garth (a bit of a ringer for Gerard Depardieu, despite the fact that he is South African) presents an aura of confident, all-encompassing hospitality. Their love of good food shines through every aspect of the operation.

The wine list is also a triumph and resolutely South Western. It is a triumph because it takes this relatively unknown region and delivers superb quality at amazing value. Germain, Glanis and Garth have got their market dead right. They like it traditional but it must be good and it must be good value. I have never been there when it’s not been packed.

 



Le Clos du Marquis is in Hampshire

Originally published in Leisure Management 2012 issue 3

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