Two Michelin-starred Claude Bosi is one of a number of top chefs to have taken up game shooting recently. Marcus Janssen went to meet him at Hibiscus, his London restaurant, to find out more.
Michel Roux, James Martin, Brett Graham, Sat Bains, Tom Kerridge, Galton Blackiston and Claude Bosi. Although this could be a who's who at the top of Britain's culinary tree, it isn't. It is a list of names that appear on a game card from a day's driven pheasant shooting which took place in Norfolk last year. Yup, there were 12 Michelin stars in the line that day.
The fact that an increasing number of the UK's culinary elite are taking up game shooting says a lot – and not just about the growing popularity of our sport. These are people for whom the provenance of their ingredients is crucially important. And of course they are only too aware that animal welfare is a major consideration for their discerning clientele.
“The fact that people care about where their food comes from is a good thing,” says two-Michelin-starred Claude Bosi. “If people take the time to look into it, they will discover that game and venison are at the top of the list in terms of animal welfare. A pheasant or partridge that has been reared for shooting has had a much better life than your average chicken which has also been reared to be killed. But some people choose not to acknowledge where their chicken, lamb or beef comes from.
“People will also discover that there are rules and a strict code of conduct when it comes to shooting in Britain – this is so important. Unlike France – where you can shoot anything that moves! – on a shoot day in the UK you are usually there to shoot pheasants and partridges only. No ground game, no grey partridge. If you shoot a grey partridge, it can be a £100 fine. This is excellent and it shows how much respect shooting people have for wildlife in the UK.”
Bitten by the shooting bug
Although Claude has only been shooting for three years, it is obvious that he has well and truly got the bug. When he talks about that day in Norfolk last year his face lights up: “It was wonderful!” he says. Organised by Galton Blackiston and David Flux, it was the first time Claude had shot with James Martin, Michel Roux and Brett Graham, who have all been shooting for years. “They are very good Shots,” he says, “but Tom, Sat and I are quite new to it. When Sat shot his first pheasant, he celebrated for the rest of the drive! It was incredible and I really can't wait for next season.”
And he means it – he is already counting down the days until September, when he will experience driven grouse for the first time, something he realises is a great privilege. “I have heard that it is the crème de la crème, the ultimate, and I am already truly looking forward to it. I have shot the simulated grouse sequence at West London twice and all I can say is that if the real thing is that fast, I need more practice!”
Claude was introduced to shooting in 2012 when he, Tom and Sat were staying at Gleneagles. “We went to the shooting school there. None of us had done it before and we all fell in love with it, particularly the guns! Men and guns – they are inseparable!” he says, laughing. “And we started from there. I did a lot of clay shooting after that with Mark Heath at West London Shooting School. I love it. Because you have to be focused, it takes your mind off your busy or stressful work life, it is a perfect distraction. You can't shoot well if you are not focused.”
But after experiencing a driven game day for the first time in 2013, Claude knew instantly that shooting would become a bigger part of his life. He is even tempted to get his own gundog – a fox-red labrador, he tells me – and he is currently on the hunt for a new gun.
“I actually went to Holland & Holland on Bruton Street,” he says, laughing. “I had heard that they are the best, but no one warned me how much they cost. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the price tags! I tried to find the cheapest one – it was maybe £30,000. I said to the manager: ‘Do you maybe have another room somewhere?!' But of course what I didn't fully appreciate is that these guns are works of art, an investment. I think I need something a bit more functional, though, something I can shoot a lot and not worry about too much!”
Speaking of shooting a lot, Claude, Tom and Sat went out to Cordoba with Jono Garten of Bodfuan Shoot last year to experience the non-stop action of dove flighting. “That was a hell of a lot of fun,” he says. “I don't know how many cartridges I got through, but it was a lot. But for me it is not about numbers. For instance, I would love to experience walked-up grouse with a few friends, some dogs and just a beautiful day in the hills. Don't get me wrong, I love the overall atmosphere, formality and etiquette of a traditional driven day, and I think the traditions are wonderful – Sat and Tom will tell you that I am more English than they are – but I also like ‘la chasse', to hunt. That is why I would also like to go stalking.”
Claude grew up in Lyon where his parents owned a successful restaurant in the city, so he was immersed in a world of produce, seasonality and the strict discipline of a professional kitchen from a young age. After school he went straight into catering college and then onto an apprenticeship.
His career then took him to Paris for the next four years where he trained under some of the most influential chefs of our time – Michel Rostang, Alain Passard and Alain Ducasse. “My biggest influences have been Alain Passard who I worked with for almost three years in Paris, and Alain Ducasse,” he says. “But my parents set a great example for me – they were restauranteurs and they worked hard, they showed me that if you want to be successful in life, you must work for it. So they set me on my way.”
At the age of 25, Claude wanted to improve his English, so he planned a year in the UK, securing the position of sous chef at Overton Grange in Shropshire. “The next thing I knew, I was head chef and had a Michelin star. It all happened very quickly,” he says, with a slightly bemused look.
But after two and a half years, the owner of Overton Grange wanted to sell so Claude decided to open his own restaurant, without any finance and without any money. “I went to the bank and didn't tell them how little money I had, took out a personal loan and started from there. That was in 2000. I found a little premises in Ludlow, and that became Hibiscus. It might sound like it was a big gamble, but it was an easy decision as I had nothing to lose – I had no children, no responsibilities. If it hadn't worked out, I would have moved back to France. But it did work and by 2003 I had two Michelin stars and things took off.”
Claude moved Hibiscus from Ludlow to its current position in central London in 2007, where he continues to be recognised for his passion for flavours, simplicity and elegance, describing his cooking style as very personal, based on what he loves to eat. “The foundations are of course French – you can't take that away from it – but it is lighter, less rich. On the plate, my food is very simple. The complexity is in the cooking methods and techniques. There is always a lot of work that goes into my dishes, but what ends up on the plate appears to be simple and clean.”
Like all good chefs, Claude places a lot of emphasis on seasonality, something he sees as one of the cornerstones of all great cookery. “In the spring everything is brand new and fresh. And then again in the autumn, everything is new, there are completely different ingredients available. We use a lot of game: a lot of hare, venison, partridge, pheasant, woodcock and wild mallard. These are such wonderful ingredients, things I love to eat, things we are so lucky to have in the UK.”
And in terms of British eating habits, he thinks things are getting better. “In my opinion, people are becoming more open-minded, which can only be a good thing. I know that I am catering for foodies, but I have seen a change over the past 10 years. People are more interested in food than they have ever been. We just need to keep that momentum going.”