Foodie Features

Armand Sablon – Back To The Classics

By Rosie Birkett

Former Roux scholar, Armand Sablon, is putting his mark on food at the iconic Hotel Café Royal’s Ten Room. Rosie Birkett spoke to him about why he’ll take pots and pans over sous vide any day.

“I still very much like the classic way of cooking – I don’t use a lot of water baths. It’s not that I think there’s anything wrong with them – it’s just not my style of cooking. I prefer to play the piano.”

Play the piano?

“Yeah, you know, like the old fashioned way when you play the piano with the pots and pans. With water baths, a lot of the time it’s – drop it in the water bath, take it out, snip the bag, seal it off – and serve it. I understand why people do it, because you get consistency – but what you’re getting now is young chefs coming into the kitchen who don’t know how to roast a chicken – and we’ll end up losing the whole ethos of cooking.”

Roasting a chicken is not a problem for Armand Sablon who, along with his Executive chef Andrew Turner, goes as far as to work with the farm providing his birds to feed them flavour-enhancing sage as part of their diet. It’s hardly surprising that he would be fond of the classics, having twice made the finals of the prestigious Roux Scholarship, the second time – in 2007 – winning overall. He was awarded with a stage at the long-established, three-Michelin-starred Auberge du I’ill, on the French- German border in Alsace, where he observed the French culture of ‘hospitality as vocation’.

“It was like a family out there,” he says. “In France this trade is treated as a career and the people are looked after – the sous chefs and some of the waiters had been at Auberge de I’ill for almost 25 years. We’ve come a long way in this country and obviously all the television work has helped but still, if you say you want to become a chef or waiter, it’s not seen to be as prestigious as it is in France.”

“I still very much like the classic way of cooking - I don’t use a lot of water baths. It’s not that I think there’s anything wrong with them - it’s just not my style of cooking.” - Armand Sablon
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The thirty-three year old has had his fair share of strong kitchen role models, having worked under Chris Galvin, André Garrett and Ed Wilson at Orrery and Galvin at Windows respectively, before joining Turner in his current role as head chef at the Hotel Café Royal, which reopened in 2012.

And he’s keen to point out the importance of mentoring to the industry. “André mentored me along with Chris through the Roux Scholarship, to win it the second time, which was amazing – and Andrew is very much like Chris, in that he’s a humble person who tries to get the best out of the people around him. Working with him has changed me – I look around myself and mentor people more than I did five years ago. You need to mentor your staff and encourage them, it’s really important – the younger generation coming through need to have guidance.”

Putting his and the Hotel Café Royal’s own stamp on the food is another focus for Sablon, whose recent projects include working with cheese makers to create bespoke cheese for the restaurant.

“We’re very much into the product. We have two cheeses now and we’re in the process of making a third. We’ve got a Brillat-Savarin, which we cut in half before we mature it, then we add some Cazette hazelnuts, then it’s ripened in the fromagerie for us.”

“We have another which is ‘Coin de Picadilly’ – it’s a Reblochon-style cheese, washed in Absinthe – no one else in the country has it. I use my experience and knowledge but we come up with lots of creative ideas – some of which come off and some don’t. We keep things classic, but with a modern flourish – and we let the ingredients speak for themselves.”

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