I recently had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with Jeff and Chris Galvin – the Michelin-Star brother duo responsible for elevating Britain’s culinary scene with their beautiful collection of critically acclaimed French restaurants. Little did I know that our conversation would touch on topics such as Michelangelo, derelict English pubs, and walking on the moon.
While I sat with the brothers at their hotly anticipated restaurant Demoiselle by Galvin (their first in Dubai), it was easy to feel the affection between them. “We famously have never had a cross word,” says Jeff “not even in the heat of the kitchen or in the heat of the battle.”
Decades worth of culinary experience, both together and apart, would eventually culminate in the brothers joining forces in 2005, when they opened their first restaurant together, Galvin Bistrot de Luxe. One year later, they launched their restaurant Windows at the Hilton Park Lane in London, which was awarded its first Michelin Star. The brothers opened seven restaurants in seven years, and twelve years after the first, their grand total stands at an impressive eleven. With no plans of slowing down, a second Dubai location is set to open in the fall of 2017.
Curious about their love of cooking, I naturally asked how it all started. Their answer was one that resonated with family and togetherness. “It started at a very early age at our grandmother’s house,” recalls Jeff. “We had a huge, huge family. It was a small house, and across the weekend gran would have at least fifteen to twenty people over at one time with everyone coming and going during the day. I guess it was just normal, really. It wasn’t until I started talking to media about it, that I realized she probably started preparing after that weekend for the coming weekend. We were always around food. Gran grew lots of things in her garden, your basics really. It was just your good hospitality, she always made sure you had something to eat and drink.”
Early on in our conversation, Chris retreated from our table only to return with Warren, who is fondly referred to as the third Galvin brother (actually the fourth, their third brother resides in the UK and looks after the Galvin operations in the dark hours of the night). “We needed a third brother, if you like. Warren has worked for us for so long, and has really been brought up with us. He joined me as a commis (junior chef), and we worked side-by-side for over twenty years. He is our executive chef and has worked with us in London and with everything we do.”
When we got onto the subject of markets, all three men lit up like they were kids given carte blanche in a candy store. Warren remembers the amazing markets while living in Vancouver and says, “It really is guys turning up with a little table and putting out what they’ve grown. It shows you what the real seasons are. They can only grow what’s coming in and coming out.”
Chris interjects with a sparkle in his eyes “We have a massive love of markets – that’s how I think you discover the underbelly of a city or a culture. We have great markets in the UK and France as well. We take all the chefs to Rungis in France. That’s a powerful visit. We go there about four or five times a year, although we buy from Rungis almost every day. It’s incredible, the garden of France!” His voice trailed off for a second as he turned to me and asked “Lidija, why don’t you come to London with us? We’ll take you to the market!” It was at that very moment when I felt the warm hospitality their grandmother had instilled in them. The apple certainly does not fall far from the tree.
With English pride echoed throughout our conversation, Chris recalls when he worked as a head chef in New York back in 1986, “London was the center of my world until I came to New York, it was so far and so exciting. When I had come back to London, it felt like a tiny village compared to New York.”
Jeff and Warren have a good laugh as Chris continues ”There’s a joke that since I was born in 1958, I was too young for the 60’s, people saying you weren’t there, and that I’m too damn old for the noughties. I kind of missed the two special times in a couple of centuries! But London is on fire, it is so exciting now.”
“In a culinary sense?” I ask.
“Everything. Music fashion art, the energy is just amazing!”
It seems that everything the Galvin brothers touch is elevated to the highest standard of excellence. Even their Galvin choux-croute hot dog sounds poetic. “I love New York hotdogs.” Says Chris. We’ve developed a choux-croute sausage with a sourdough bun out of a potato starter. The skin cracks when you bite into it with the sauerkraut underneath. We had Maille make a little truffle and Sancerre mustard to go with it. It’s beautiful.”
When we get to the topic of English pubs (it seems like I’ve hit Warren’s hot spot here), I was surprised to find out that around thirty pubs a week are closing in Britain, mainly due to changes in lifestyles and increased challenges in operations. The brothers opened The Green Man, a seven hundred year old derelict English pub which they had fully restored and brought back to life. “It’s healthy, but it is very much an English pub.” Says Jeff (with a juice bar that coexists with a perfectly kept beer cellar – it sounds like my kind of pub!).
“It’s like a barn, with one a half acres of garden with a river running through it. Walking through the garden you can see the chef sharpening his knives. There are hares, rabbits, partridge and pheasants. It’s very rural, very English.” explains Warren. “We really look after the building, and give it the respect that it’s due.”
On the challenges of refurbishing a seven hundred year old pub and the responsibility that goes along with restoring a historical structure, Chris eloquently offers words of wisdom, “Two things in life: when I have a challenge I look at the moon and think ok, ‘we walked on that’ so this is not tough, if we can walk on the moon we can do it. I am besotted with Michelangelo! He did that amazing statue, and I always think that he started with one chip with David. My daughter, who lives in Florence, took me to look at Michelangelo’s and Dante’s tombs in Santa Croce. As I was walking around there, the hairs were standing up in my arms, and I thought: our pub is older!”
In fact, the same architect that worked on the Green Man built Demoiselle Dubai. Perched on a corner in Meraas’ City Walk, Demoiselle stands it all its glory overlooking the main piazza, where you can “sit and watch the world go by”. As soon as the brothers saw the location – all sand and desert at the time – they knew that this was the very spot they needed to be. “We were attracted to it geographically, and we didn’t want to be in a faceless hotel” says Jeff.
Loyalty and a sense of family are core values that are deeply engrained within the Galvin philosophy. “I’ve always been taught to hire people who are better than you.” Says Chris “We’ve got beautiful ingredients, chefs, and front house people that have been with us for a long time – they’re family. We don’t open any restaurants unless we’ve got the right people. We get offered lots of projects that are exciting and we always say: do we have the chef, do we have the managers? If we don’t have that, we pass it up – we don’t do it. It’s not about us, it’s about the people who are going to live and breathe here day in and day out”.
With a location in place, great ingredients at their fingertips, and trusted people to run the show, choosing to launch Demoiselle was a very natural thing for the brothers to do. Spanning over two floors, Demoiselle has a beautiful feminine edge in its design that brings together elements of French aesthetic combined with British sensibility. It’s a place where you can grab a perfect cup of coffee with freshly baked viennoiserie, sit down to afternoon tea, or linger over a fabulous meal (think: the perfect steak tartare, beautifully smoked salmon the Galvin way, and a tarte Tatin that dreams are made of). I could tell you more, but I’ll keep my lips sealed until I engineer my way into their kitchen!
“I always think restaurants should reveal themselves bit by bit, and I think Demoiselle is like that.” Says Chris “You can come here ten, twenty times and see something different.”
As our conversation came to an end, one thing was clear – Michelin Stars and accolades do not define the Galvin brothers. It’s their relationship with food, with each other, and the people around them that’s combined with knowledge, passion, and a deep love of life that make theirs a world where everything is possible.
….and just like with Michelangelo’s David, it all started with one chip.
Photos by Tara Atkinson
Dress by Temperley London, Dubai Mall
Hair by Mustafa at Polished Salon