As he steps back from his club, Anton Mosiman reflects on six decades of success
By Corrie Bond-French
It definitely is not so-long, farewell, auf wiedersehen or goodbye, but the time has come for one of Belgravia’s beloved figures – Swiss-born Anton Mosimann OBE, DL no less, to ‘step back’ from the helm of his eponymous private dining club that has been a byword for excellence around the globe for 33 years and counting.
During his six-decade career as a chef, Anton has cooked for four generations of the royal family, eight Prime Ministers, seven US Presidents and a host of world leaders at events such as the Olympics and the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, whose palate impressed him at the tastings – he was thrilled to tweak a recipe at her suggestion.
A scholar and a gentleman with impeccable manners and generosity of spirit, his joie de vivre ensures he is on first name terms with everyone from local cabbies to street cleaners, and still enthuses about food to all and sundry.
“It’s about giving pleasure,” he tells Belgravia magazine. “I tell the young people, ‘you have chosen a profession which is a pleasure because of good food, good service and hospitality’. For me, to come here see 80 people smiling, it makes me happy because I’ve made them happy.”
Anton was the first chef to be awarded two Michelin stars at any hotel restaurant outside France after he was taken on as head chef at The Dorchester at just 28 years old – when he changed their ways from using frozen vegetables to sourcing fresh, seasonal produce. And there is no swearing machismo in Anton’s kitchens.
He can count many of the most famous people in the world among his diners and then there’s the matter of devising cuisine naturelle; his own genre of cookery that uses no cream, butter, fats or alcohol that was decades ahead of its time.
Starry tales abound in his illustrious career; being woken by late night telephone calls and cooking roast beef and mashed potato in the early hours for a peckish Elizabeth Taylor, and the Queen Mother was such a fan she would dine at The Dorchester and, on return to Clarence House, ask her personal chef to ask Anton for his recipes. Baroness Thatcher once phoned ahead requesting steak and chanterelles for the French president Francois Mitterrand. “Two years later I was invited to a dinner, and she was there. She said ‘Anton, that was a lovely meal you cooked for Francois Miterrand and myself, but very expensive!”.
“I always get a list of guests when I’m away so I can call and say I’m sorry I’m not there. One night, I was in Bermuda, I called and asked ‘can I speak to the King?’ and the reply was ‘which one? There were two kings here for dinner that night!”
Then there was a couple who wanted to celebrate a milestone birthday. “The wife phoned me and said ‘I don’t know what to give him as a present, but one thing I know he’d love is your risotto.’ So I flew all the way to Calcutta to cook risotto for 50 people. I couldn’t say no because they’re such lovely people.”
Anton shows me his gallery of guests spanning the decades; photographs with the likes of Barack Obama and Elton John. “They are people who travel so much, they eat in the best places, so some of them are very knowledgeable.” And he confesses to having been just a little “shy” when he met Mohammed Ali and The Beatles.
The son of restaurateur parents in Nidau, in the foothills of the Swiss Jura, it seems that Anton was born to it. “My mother always said I was born on the kitchen floor! I was brought up with food, markets, guests; a wonderful childhood from that point of view. There were other points which were not as happy, but I always loved food. It was a very local small restaurant and they did everything from scratch.”
Anton never doubted where his future lay. “Even when I was six years of age I said to my father and mother I want to be a cook, a chef. And they said, ‘oh, why not.?” I never looked back.”
After starting as an apprentice at 15, Anton worked in Japan, Italy and Canada before he was invited to meet famed Swiss gastronome Adelrich Furrer – the man who would refer Anton to The Dorchester and inspire his love for antique cookery books.
“When I came to the Dorchester, I had 132 chefs in the kitchen. I was 28 and they asked ‘why you and not me?’ I’ve been here 35 years, or 40 years! So, it was quite difficult. I said ‘I have to win these guys over’, so what I did was to shake hands with everyone every morning. It took me 45 minutes! But if I could see there was a problem, I would say to them let’s have a coffee, and we could talk about it. I drank a lot of coffee!”
The Michelin stars he was awarded during his tenure were the icing on the croquembouche, but after 13 years at the iconic hotel he was approached with job offers from across the world. Instead he planted his roots locally, when he saw what was then known as The Belfry, in West Halkin Street in 1987. “I saw this place and fell in love with it. I said to my wife ‘I’m going to buy this place ‘, the same night I came here for dinner. She said, ‘are you mad?’”
But Anton’s vision to open a private dining club left him in a quandary; as a private club, Michelin was unable to honour his stars. ”They said you can either open it to the public and take the stars with you, or you leave them behind. I had a few weeks of thinking and sleepless nights and eventually decided to keep it private and to leave the stars behind.”
As celebrated in Switzerland as he is in London, Anton’s treasured collection of 6,000 cookery books is currently housed at the museum dedicated to him in Zurich. And it isn’t all hedgehog quill soup or ‘first, catch your hare’ – Anton continues to be informed by the history of cookery, and recently served a 12-hour slow cooked mutton recipe from an 18th century cookbook for Prince Charles at an event for sheep farmers at St James’ Palace.
After 60 years in the business and aged 75, Anton and his wife Kathrin plan to divide their time between Belgravia and Switzerland as their two sons take the reins on the Mosimann empire from late December. But the ‘R’ word still hasn’t entered Anton’s lexicon. “I’m not retiring, I’m just stepping back from here. And now the two boys are waiting. I will miss it very much, but there’s still so much more I can do, and I can come in and lend a hand!”
“I will miss my members, guests and the Belgravia community. In my opinion, Belgravia is the best place to work in London. Thank you, Belgravia!'.”