Behind every great chef there is excellent food and practical equipment. Joanna Wood found out what Claude Bosi values in his kitchen
Corner a chef in conversation and there are usually only three topics of conversation. Two are job-related: food itself (in particular, ingredients or suppliers) and kitchen kit the third is not, but we won't go down that avenue.
It's understandable that chefs are obsessed with kitchen equipment as much as produce, because equipment can directly influence what they put on their menus, by helping to streamline, even innovate, culinary techniques. On the plate, this often means complexity and consistency in any given dish.
So, during our last chat, it was no surprise that Claude Bosi took me down the weird and wonderful path of kitchen equipment, waxing lyrical about the various tools of his trade that he has at his fingertips in Hibiscus's London kitchen.
As with all chefs, Bosi's pride and joy is the central stove. It was tailor-made for him by the relatively new company, Athenor, for the tidy sum of about £45,000.
Bosi says: "The stove was the first thing I chose when we were designing the kitchen with Chris Murray of Gratte Brothers. I wanted a Bonnet, but then found out about Athenor, which was set up by some ex-Bonnet people - and the price was a lot better."
Like many of his peers, Bosi is a convert to planchas. In Hibiscus's previous kitchen at Ludlow, he had one plancha the Athenor stove in London has six, rather than a traditional solid-top.
"I think planchas are great," says Bosi, "but I started out wanting a solid-top over a flame. Then I met Stephen Hobbs from Athenor, and he showed me that going with more planchas had more possibilities, more flexibility. We can cook on them use them like you would a solid‑top use them as an extra surface in the morning for mise en place, even."
The stove also has a water bath incorporated into its design - a must for all boundary-pushing chefs, these days - plus an electric bain-marie, two ceramic induction tops, two ovens, an electric chargrill and a salamander. "The water bath is in the middle," Bosi notes, "and we can use it either as a boiling pan or as a bath."
The Hibiscus kitchen is on the same floor as the restaurant's main dining room. At one stage, Bosi and his wife and co-owner, Claire, discussed siting it in the basement, but Bosi rejected the idea, sacrificing the possibility of more space for the practicality of being on the same level as his diners. "There's less travel for the food. The temperature stays up," he says.
The stove, while being the dominating and central piece of apparatus, is by no means the only bit of technical wizardry in the Hibiscus kitchen. To facilitate his adventurous style of cuisine, Bosi has also installed some vital pieces of smaller kit.
These include two Magrini-sourced bits of machinery: a Gastrovac and a PolyScience thermal circulator. There's also a Pacojet ice-cream machine and a larger Carpigiani ice-cream maker, the former for Bosi's more experimental dishes (including a trademark pre-dessert of hibiscus syrup, Parmesan sorbet, berries and aged balsamic vinegar, which he will cook at the Chef Conference dinner), the latter for use when the restaurant has greater quantities of more conventional ice-cream to produce.
It's tempting to think "boys and toys" when chefs begin to talk about kitchen gadgetry but, as Bosi is at pains to stress, the equipment serves a purpose rather than being an end in itself. "Everything is there for a reason in my kitchen, not just to say I've got the latest bit of kit," he says. "It's there to achieve a better level of consistency in the cooking, more precision."
Equipment aside, a key feature of the Hibiscus kitchen is its long pass, which, at four-and-a-half metres, is somewhat longer than your average plating area. The reason lies in the fact that Bosi wanted space on the pass to be able to dress all the food for Hibiscus's 18-seat private dining room alongside the main restaurant plates.
He has the ability to use half the pass as a hot plating area, half of it as a cold table top. And its length means that Bosi can pass 10 plates at a time, against the 6-8 he was able to OK in one go at Ludlow. "I can see everything that goes out during service," he says. "Nothing can leave the kitchen without going through the pass. It's not physically possible."
One of the dishes that will soon be under Bosi's scrutiny at the pass is his take on jellied eel - once a London staple. He won't reveal exactly how he's planning to transform this traditional English dish into a witty modern bite - "it'll be hot" - but there's no doubt that his kitchen kit will play its part in the cooking process.
And don't be surprised if the jellied eel joins another clever Bosi version of a different British dish - a sausage roll, which comes as a component of a "two service" pork plate - as one of Hibiscus's new signature dishes. Sometimes, it takes an outside eye to reinvent a national favourite.
• Claude Bosi will be cooking a dish at the 2008 Chef Conference dinner on 12 May at the InterContinental London Park Lane hotel alongside René Redzepi, Sat Bains, Jason Atherton and Claire Clark, with canapés by Theo Randall and petits fours by Damian Allsop.
For more information and to reserve your place at the 2008 Chef Conference, go to www.chefconference.co.uk.
The story so far
Last year Claude and Claire Bosi relocated their renowned Ludlow restaurant, Hibiscus, to London's Maddox Street, relaunching on 24 October after frustrating building delays.
Trade has been good from the start, remaining steady even in the traditionally slow post-Christmas period, although, because of the late opening, the restaurant has had an up-and-down reception from the press and some of the guidebooks.
The Bosis and their team have taken such criticism on the chin, and worked hard at honing their skills, determined to let the food and service at Hibiscus do the talking for the rest of 2008.