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I once met Anton Mosimann

Another 'once met' jot - this from tireless jotter RMR. He reminds me there was anthology of such meetings edited by Michael Ondaatje (with David Young and Russell Banks) called Brushes with Greatness (Toronto, 1989). Many of the contributions are Canadian but there are one or two superstars (John Lennon, Muhammad Ali, Dalai Lama, Jayne Mansfield). They solicited contributions for a second volume but so far it has not been published.

Anton Mosimann

It was just before Christmas 1998. The brilliant Swiss chef had recently opened a swanky new restaurant in the heart of Belgravia . I wanted to see this, but, I was more looking forward  to discussing with him the six thousand cookery books he had amassed —one of the finest collections in private hands—and most of which had recently installed into his Mosimann Academy in trendy Battersea. And there was always the chance of a free meal….

Some hope. There was no food on offer, but I did get a coffee, which was very, very good. I sat in the restaurant drinking it while waiting for Mosimann to turn up. While I sipped I gazed up at the framed menus from around Europe that adorned the walls from top to bottom. I waited, and waited…

Eventually, the great man arrived and he showed me into what looked like a board room. On the table were a dozen or so of his favourite books, which included one dated 1507,the oldest cookery book ever printed. The actual interview was less interesting. Before we began he made it known that he could give me only twenty minutes. Mosimann seemed less than happy talking in English and I had to lead him a little in his responses. There were too few nuggets to chew on, but two stuck in my mind. The first was his determination to try out many of the recipes from his antique books and manuscripts, including a 1737 recipe for cheesecake, which he revealed came from Germany, rather than America. The second was his conscious decision not to decorate his restaurant with pictures, but to frame his huge archive of menus, which had accumulated over many decades, and stick them on the walls instead. The latter I considered a stroke of genius.

The twenty minutes flew by. Looking back at what I had actually recorded, I knew that there wasn’t enough, so I turned to his autobiography and amplified some of his answers to my questions.

In fact, this interview was the shortest I’d ever done—some of the others have gone over the three hour mark. But I’m glad I did it. How often can one boast of having handled a cookery book printed in 1507?

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