“With a star, I couldn’t do what I really wanted to do. I’d have to do stuff that fits into the box of the Michelin Guide”
Gordon Ramsay made culinary history in February, when he became the first British chef in France to win two Michelin stars for his Bordeaux-based Le Pressoir d’Argent. But he is not the only chef from the UK to make waves in the elite world of French gastronomy.
Karl Lashford’s culinary career began in Stourport-on-Severn, at the knees of his grandmothers. “They were both cooks at schools and just to keep out of trouble, we used to go and spend a bit of time with them,” he says.
The 48-year-old chef recalled cycling more than seven miles to work in a “quite nice hotel” as a teenager, as he followed the passion that would become his career.
While studying, Karl also worked part-time in a kitchen, where he loved the team spirit, and was promptly handed the chance of a lifetime.
“A friend of a friend knew the Roux brothers were looking for somebody, so I got a three-day stage at the Waterside Inn, Bray. I finished on the Sunday, had a phone call Monday morning at 9 o’clock offering me a job at Gavvers in Lower Sloane Street, which is where they first started Le Gavroche, and they moved it to Park Lane,” remembers Karl.
Karl’s stint at Le Gavroche saw him work alongside Gordon Ramsay: “I could see he was way above me but I was catching him up,” Karl said, but he and wife Emma were set on the idea of moving to France. “We came on our honeymoon, just to find somewhere to live, and we said ‘okay, we’ve both done London, where do we want to go?’.”
They settled on Mirepoix, near the border between Ariège and Aude, where they took over what used to be a four-star Relais & Châteaux hotel. “The quality of produce where we are at the moment is amazing, suppliers are fantastic,” says Karl. “The market in the square, which is about 200 metres from our front door, sells beef, veal and chicken. I got some asparagus that was picked at 6 o’clock this morning and now it’s ready to use for lunch.”
While the reception from locals has been positive, Karl says it doesn’t come easy. “I have to work harder because I’m the only English person in the village. People come in and ask if I’m French or have French grandparents, then ask why I cook so well. That’s the mentality, but to me it doesn’t matter. It’s the experience that we try and instil through the food.”
While many chefs, both French and English, yearn for a Michelin star, Karl isn’t one of them. “Yes it’s an amazing honour, but the aftermath of that is to lose it. If we got one, I’d want two.
“I love my job – and I’ve been in the industry a long time. No day is ever the same, no service is ever the same, products are natural, they come in different shapes and sizes, there’s always something to do and take things to that other level.
“With a star, I couldn’t do what I really wanted to do. I’d have to do stuff that fits into the box of the Michelin Guide. It’s not something I want to do.”