Who prepares, wins. Chef Andreas Antona, the founder of Simpsons, talks to Richard McComb about the secrets of good food.
Andreas Antona is in typically combative mood inside his fortress of gastronomy, Simpsons restaurant in Birmingham.
Rungis market might be in Paris but he insists it’s his local. He’s only half joking and here’s why.
Antona believes the drive to promote local produce, sometimes for local’s sake, has reached the level of middle class hysteria.
He is all for supporting the top producers of meat, cheeses, fruits and vegetables in the West Midlands. (Not even the most ardent “localist” would suggest Birmingham is teeming with native seafood.)
But if the ingredients are not good enough, they won’t get through the side entrance to his kitchen in Highfield Road, Edgbaston.
For this reason, Andreas’s chefs are always in daily contact with suppliers in Rungis, or “God’s hub of excellence” as he calls it.
Because without first class produce, you don’t get first class food.
I have met Andreas, at least ostensibly, to talk about the launch of his new recipe book, titled in trademark under-stated style Simpsons, The Cook Book.
It is 10 years since the last book from the boss of the Michelin-starred restaurant and he says he wanted to update customers on the subtle changes that have happened to Simpsons’ cooking. He wants to demystify haute cuisine and give diners an opportunity to recreate some of his team’s finest dishes in their own homes.
But as is the way with Andreas, a soupçon of controversy is never far away. In Simpsons, The Cook Book, he argues that the French food mantle has slipped. The best chefs in Europe are now British, not French, he believes.
“We have plenty of raw talent and a more educated and demanding public to satisfy. We just need to channel our expertise in the right way,” he says.
Antona talks passionately about the necessity for top produce and makes no apology for buying produce from Rungis, the “stomach of France.”
“There is a movement towards locally sourced ingredients, but what is local?” he says.
“That’s my argument. To me, local in some parts of the world is 200 miles. As the crow flies, that might just about be Paris. Why should I compromise quality for the sake of being local?
“It takes many years to nurture good local suppliers. We have an abundance of good people in the area but maybe not as many as the French, Spanish or Italians,’’ he says.
‘‘They have an abundance of produce but they also have a regional identity when it comes to food. We haven’t. Roast beef is the national dish in Aberdeen as much as it is in Plymouth.
‘‘That wouldn’t happen in France. The national dish in Calais isn’t the same as it is in Marseille. There is a huge variation. Europe in terms of food and culture is still very much a regional entity. You can only buy Alsace’s version of food in Alsace.”
Good ingredients make or break good cooking, it’s as simple as that for Andreas.
“I’ve never known anyone turn bad into good. We’re not Paul Daniels. If you start with a bad raw ingredient it is only ever going to be a bad cooked meal.
‘‘That’s why people like me have a bee in their bonnet when it comes to supermarkets. You’re better off