The French Michelin-starred maestro has been hosting some of chefs for foodies most popular classes since the launch of the platform. Known for elevating classic French cuisine, Galmiche has had a life in food that sounds like something from an idyllic novel. It’s no surprise his countryside culinary education led to a wisdom and a respect for ingredients that has seen him awarded with four Michelin stars in four different restaurants and a Chef of the Year award. With his latest cookbook French Countryside Cooking coming out in May, we spoke to Daniel about working with the Roux brothers, the importance of teamwork and his love of Comte cheese.
1- You have a fascinating history with food. Can you tell us about your grandparents organic farm and how it inspired you from an early age?
We were very lucky because they had an organic smallholding but it was only for family and friends, it was not a commercial farm. We used to go there a lot, practically every weekend, to feed the animals but from a young age we knew that they were going to be in a pot once in a while! It didn’t matter because we knew they had a good life.
My great aunt was a very, very good cook and she taught my mum a lot. My father used to hunt with my great uncle but I was more in the kitchen than in the field. When I think about it, I still see the whole scenario. My inspiration also comes from helping mum at home always. We used to collect food from the garden, from the orchard. My mum sent us to pick green beans and peas and this and that. She’d say, ‘Make sure you choose that one and not that one.’ Traditional French family stuff, it was really good.
2. You come from Comte, are you a fan of the cheese and does it feature in your dishes often?
Obviously! We still call it the King of Cheese in France. It’s the number one selling cheese and it's just wonderful. I’m lucky I live in the region so when I go to the Fromagerie, which you cal l a cheesemonger here, we have all the top varieties and the ones that are still made in a farmhouse in the mountains which are a bit more expensive but my god, what flavour.
I use Comte in my souffles, my gratin, I use Comte to eat, of course! I generally will take the 18 month [aged Comte]. The 26 month with the salt crystals is really good for connoisseurs, but the 18 month is a little nutty and it does suit cooking a bit more. But for eating, I mean, Comte is wonderful. It’s difficult to describe if people have never tried but it’s also a favourite with British people. Comte, Vacheron D’or and Morbier… very nice!
3. You continued field-to-plate dining with your apprenticeship with Chef Yves Lalloz, how did this help build your passion for cooking with fresh produce?
We were lucky enough to have a tiny smallholding on the side of what we used to call ‘the farm’. We had accommodation, ducks, chickens and a couple of geese, so we used to collect the eggs and use the poultry on the menu. It was a learning curve and good to make the connection with earth, field and farm. How to treat and respect the produce, that was really a big thing for us. The advantage for me was that, at that time the apprenticeship was three years, not two as it is now. It was a complete apprenticeship where we learned to do, in my case, charcuterie, butchery and all these kinds of things. [Lalloz’s] father-in-law was a butcher as well so we learned a lot.
We are trying to reintroduce that in the UK, to have a proper apprenticeship. It’s always difficult within the industry to have three years but we are making progress so we’ll see.
4. You’ve worked with prestigious chefs including the late Michel Roux senior. What was he like to work with?
I worked with the Roux brothers after my apprenticeship. I came to work in Le Gavroche, a very hard school but very interesting. The two brothers were great colleagues. Quite strict, each with different passions, because one specialised in pastry, sugarwork and cakes and the other was more the chef and not a pastry chef. They had two Michelin stars, so there was a lot of pressure because of the reputation. They were possibly the best restaurant in the UK at the time. When I arrived in Le Gavroche I was 19 so it was a shock when I went straight to the kitchen! They were really well organised, a fairly big company at the time, so it was amazing.
I went back to France and worked in different 2* and 3* restaurants and worked in Sweden and after that came back to the UK. It was 1986 and my first Head Chef position - because in France you really cannot be Head Chef before you are at least 27/28 and you gain enough experience to be able to teach people under you. I ended up in Scotland, in a beautiful, small boutique hotel in Portpatrick. Ten bedrooms, a small team of five in the kitchen and that’s where I gained my first Michelin star and Chef of the Year in Scotland. I stayed there for seven years and I loved it. I love Scotland. It’s kind of my second country. It’s just beautiful - and the produce and meats, I mean, wow. Just mind-blowing.
After that, I came down South. I’ve been South since then, apart from spending three and a half years in Singapore and one year in Portugal. My other three Michelin stars were at Harveys in Bristol, L’Ortolan in Reading, Cliveden and after that the famous vineyard Le Relais de Chateau where I gained Chef of the Year, which was amazing stuff.
5. Which of your awards are you most proud of?
Something which I’ll never forget is that - it’s the same for every Michelin-starred chef, I guess - if it wasn’t for your team, you wouldn’t be there. It's very much about teamwork. I have kept that in mind all my life. If your team is not consistent and you are not consistent, you cannot win the award. Now Chef of the Year, that’s my own thing but I was allowed the time to do it. Chef of the Year for Relais de Chateau, it’s worldwide, it's massive. I didn’t know I was getting it! You just work with your team and try to be consistent.
Yes, I’m very proud. When you have a Michelin star, you always have a Michelin star. Like when you have an Oscar you are always an Oscar winner. I’ve had that four times so it’s a great achievement - four restaurants with four Michelin stars - but it’s thanks to my team.
6. You’ve written several books on the art of French cooking. Can you tell us more about them?
I have written books, I’ve been lucky to be commissioned. The first one came when I was running Cliveden as a Michelin star Executive Chef at the Waldo’s restaurant. I was asked to do my first book through DBP Duncan Baird Publishing, which is now Watkins Publishing and Nourish Books. I wrote the French Brasserie Cookbook which has been a bestseller. A lot of British people have houses in France, a lot visit France and they relate to the dishes because of the region they’ve been travelling through and have enjoyed. It remains to this day a very good book, it’s in six or seven languages and 14 countries and it’s still doing really well. I love this book, it’s very special to me. A lot of it is my childhood memories.
The second one is called Revolutionary French Cooking, which is a bit more modern. I realised that Spanish and Australian and Danish countries were modernising their food, using their recipes and specialities and produce and reworking it, modernising it. And France and Italy were still really traditional, so I decided to refresh the recipes and modernise them. It worked very well too but was difficult to understand because I had only three chapters - egalité, fraternite, liberte. People were not too sure about the way to go within the book because each chapter contained starters, main courses, desserts etc so it was confusing but still sold quite a few.
I’ve just finished a third book which is a reworking of Revolutionary French Cooking with new chapters, new introduction, new cover, new recipes, new theme and it’s called French Countryside Cooking. Within seconds, [the reader] can travel with their mind to the destination. It’s coming on the 11th May. It’s already on Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops for pre-order. I love the cover, it's bloody brilliant!
We’re already talking about a fourth book on fish, the health benefits and sustainability, which will be really good because it's in fashion. A lot of vegetarians and vegans are becoming pescetarians now because there’s a gap in their diet. Although they can help themselves with pulses and nuts and supplements, it's not quite enough in replacing oily fish. I think in lockdown people have learned how to cook fish better because it’s very difficult. The cooking process is very fragile to get right and people have spent a bit more time in the kitchen and mastered it a bit more. Something that struck me when I came here was that people only eat the fish that look nice. People were seeing a monkfish or something that looks ugly and saying, ‘I’m not eating it.’ They would only eat salmon, cod, haddock and mackerel. Now, people are much more adventurous, they realise there is much more to eat - many more fish in the sea! - and actually they’re all very good.
7. How does teaching classes on chefs for foodies compare with working with chefs in a professional kitchen?
We are starting to get some large classes and corporate events - I like doing that. For companies, it’s a way for people to reconnect and a break from the normal workload because it seems that, although people work from home, there is no timing when you’re at home. You do your timetable in a good way and you allow yourself time for family, friends, work, breaks, eating properly - or you work all day. A lot of people find themselves exhausted and they end up working the weekend too, which I’ve seen a lot within Zoom. I think companies are rewarding their staff by saying, ‘Have a break, have a cooking session,’ which gives a nice ambience and breaks the ice. If you’re in your own home, your family can participate, even if it's part of your work. It’s starting to be very successful.
8. Your classes cover complex yet traditional dishes such as risotto and duck confit, what would you say is your speciality?
They are not complex! Well, the duck confit is a bit more challenging because of the timing - you need to marinade it before - but people love duck confit with braised lentils! It’s a very British thing. Complex yet simple, that is the advantage. We are using recipes from the French Brasserie Cookbook and there’s no more than six ingredients, generally speaking, because it’s the cost of buying the produce to make the recipe. Some families have one child and that’s fine, some families have two, three, four and that’s where the cost is becoming a problem. So when you write a cookbook it not only has to be enjoyable with nice pictures but you also need to look at, when people buy the produce, can they afford to buy for the recipe? It’s very important, nowadays it’s even more important because obviously with covid, everyone is a bit in the sh*t, sorry for my language, but it is true and we need not forget!