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Chewing The Fat with Eric Avenier

5pm Blog, 27/08/2010
by Jonathan Trew

Eric Avenier is the head chef at the Corinthian restaurants and bars. Poised for a grand public re-opening tomorrow, the flagship venue of the G1 Group has just undergone an eight month, multi-million pound refit.

A club, casino and brasserie with multiple bars and a massive choice of private dining rooms, meeting rooms and conference facilities, the Corinthian aims to reposition itself as one of the most impressive entertainment venues in the country. From refurbishing the ornate plasterwork in the domed brasserie to installing a 500,000 piece floor mosaic in one of the bars, there has been no stinting on the dosh spent.

Eric, who has been with G1 since 2006, is in overall charge of all the food served at Corinthian. With the Teller Brasserie, Mash and Press Room bars, Boutique Bar, Bootleg Bar, late night piano bar and private dining rooms all in full swing, he will be a very busy man.

In the latest Chewing the Fat interview, Eric tells us about the food offer at Corinthian, growing up in Brittany and talking to his kitchen tongs.

Corinthian's 5pm offers will be live from tomorrow.

Q: Did you always want to be working in a kitchen?

EA: Yes, I always wanted to be a chef and started cooking from a very young age. My Aunty took the role of my Grandma and would teach me baking and cooking after school. I grew up in Brittany and then finished my training at the Quimper catering college. In 1990, I came to Glasgow.

Q: What was your first job here?

EA: I worked at One Devonshire Gardens. This was back in the day when Ken McCulloch still owned it. My first head chef there was Roy Brett. I was there for two years and then I worked in Grangemouth. From there, I joined up with the Hebridean Princess cruise ship for two years. After that, I went on another ship, the Seabourn Legend, which took me all over the world.

Q: Had you always wanted to travel?

EA: When I came to Glasgow, I was very much a classically trained French chef. Coming to Britain meant I had to expand my style of cooking. French cooking isn’t into different international trends whereas in Britain you have a lot of influences from India, China and so on. Working on Seabourn was a perfect way to expand my knowledge.

Q: What has changed about the UK restaurant scene since you started here twenty years ago?

EA: When I arrived in Glasgow in 1990, people needed to be more adventurous. The Brits in general were not very adventurous. For example, they weren’t into meat cooked medium rare while it is quite normal now.

Also, people in this country complain now. They didn’t use to. The French complain all the time. The Germans complain all the time but the British would never say anything was wrong. It used to be very difficult to please a British customer. They wouldn’t complain but then nor would they come back. The French will complain on the spot and then come back. People should complain. How else will you know if they are not happy?

Q: Tell us about the food at Corinthian?

EA: It’s more brasserie style, perhaps more modern than it was before. Last year, it was more fine dining. It’s still good but it’s not all fine dining now, it’s more relaxed and more accessible. The new menus are designed to open doors to a different range of customers. Last year, there was no burger on the menu. If you want to come here and have a burger now then you can. Of course, if you want to push the boat out then you can do that as well by, say, going for the seafood platter with lobster.

Q: What do you like to eat on a day off?

EA: I was brought up on a farm and I like traditional cooking. If I’m at home then I’m happy to eat a roast on my day off.

Q: What are you favourite ingredients to work with?

EA: Scottish game and seafood are great to work with. I was brought up in Brittany and the seafood there is similar.

Q: What can’t you or won’t you eat?

EA: Mushy peas. I’m not a fan of them and I hate Marmite.

Q: Is there a gadget that you can’t live without?

EA: My tongs. I can’t lift anything without my tongs. They laugh at me in the kitchen because I talk to my tongs sometimes.

Q: You can have anyone in the world cook you a meal. Who will it be?

EA: Alain Ducasse from the Louis XV in Monte Carlo. I worked for Ken McCulloch at the Columbus Hotel in Monte Carlo and I ate at the Louis XV twice while I was there. The whole experience is amazing. Monte Carlo is something else and the Louis XV is just sensational.

Q: Who cooks at home?

EA: My wife cooks most of the time. I cook if we have guests. She is very good at looking after people and is a great host. We make a good couple.

Q: It’s your anniversary. What are you cooking for a big romantic meal?

EA: I’d start with scallops. I love them and women seem to as well. Scottish scallops are a delicacy and I think you score lots of points with scallops. I do with my wife, anyway.

I’d probably stick with fish for a main course. Do something classic like a lobster thermidore or, if I did go for meat, perhaps a beef tournedos. You have to turn on the luxury or your evening might turn out to be a bit short. You’re not going to get very far with baked beans on toast.

I would finish on a soufflé or flambéed strawberries with ice cream. A little bit of theatre never hurts.

Q: What’s been your daftest customer complaint?

EA: I’ve had some crackers. A few years back, we had an American guest. He ordered duck and that’s what we served him but he was convinced that it was lamb. We had to point out that the skin had little holes in it from where we had plucked the duck and reassure him that lamb didn’t come with feathers.