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Best of times, worst of times: Jean-Hubert Piquet

Categories: Behind the stalls

The likes and dislikes of Jean-Hubert, manager at Une Normande á Londres

Fantasy job
Footballer, but not because of the money or the lifestyle. I would love to experience that moment when the players run onto the pitch in a packed home stadium with the cheering crowd, surrounded by their teammates. Feeling that wave of noise must be amazing.

Worst previous job
Working in an abattoir when I was a student, sitting at my station as pigs’ heads came up beside me on a conveyor belt to be processed. I managed to last a month—you can guess how much I needed the money.

Ideal holiday destination
I would love to go to Russia. I don’t really know why, but it has always fascinated me. I love travelling, and would love to make my way across that vast country.

Favourite childhood food
My father used to make a simple pasta dish, and I loved it. It had garlic, crème fraiche and a bit of olive oil. He was a Frenchman, but his pasta was wonderful. I still remember the taste.

Signature dish
It sounds simple, but if you get it right it is wonderful: fried steak with a shallot sauce and mashed potatoes. It is my girlfriend’s favourite thing that I cook, so it has to be my signature dish.

Best recent meal
It was a dish called ‘berlingot aux brillat-savarin’ at La Dame de Pic. It was like a gyoza wrapped around brillat-savarin cheese. The warmth of the wrapping and the freshness of the cheese—it was wonderful. La Dame de Pic is a one Michelin star restaurant run by chef Anne-Sophie Pic, who was the first woman in France to receive three Michelin stars, for her restaurant Maison Pic.

Worst kitchen disaster
Once, when I was sharing a house, we got home after a heavy night out and of course we were hungry and started to cook. We made a huge mess of the kitchen, and I went off to have a shower, leaving the food on the stove. Everything was so badly burned, and the kitchen was full of smoke. It was a disaster.

Least favourite subject at school
English. It was terrible, a siesta lesson for me. I learned more in three months working in London than I did in seven years of English lessons at school.

Favourite drink
Ricard, a French pastis. I like the flavour, but it is more about the spirit of the drink. It is taken at aperitif time, when you are playing pétanque with your friends and the sun is shining. I love the spirit the drink represents.

Least favourite drink
Bad whisky. I drank a lot of it as a student and now just the smell of it makes me ill.

Food hero
Paul Bocuse, who died earlier this year. He was the first big chef in France to get out of the kitchen and talk to customers. He was a hugely innovative chef at a time when French cooking was tied up by tradition. He changed the way many French people cooked and thought about food. He was a real father to many chefs.

Sporting hero
So hard to choose—we are a lucky generation. We have people like Usain Bolt and Roger Federer. When you see Federer playing tennis, it is super-beautiful. And then you see Usain Bolt smiling and looking into the camera while racing and winning by a mile—it is awesome. Then there was Ronaldinho: he was the kind of footballer who changed the way you looked at football; he was incredible to watch.

Favourite thing about London
The diversity of people you find here. All the time you are meeting people from so many different countries. It is incredible, like working in the United Nations. I am from the deep French countryside and really enjoy it.

Favourite city
I fell in love with Darwin when I went there. It is right in the northern, wilder part of Australia. It is much less developed. You have the sun, you can fish and there is a freeness of spirit in the people there that I loved.

Favourite book
Candide by Voltaire. I was quite young when I read it, but I found that it had a very modern sensibility. He was writing in the 18th century and yet I recognised the mentality as one we have now. It made me wonder whether we have advanced that much at all, or if he was really ahead of his time. I’m still wondering about that.

Hangover cure
Get back to the party. You will feel much better.