I’m suddenly aware that a stranger’s hands are in between my legs and, letting out an embarrassed laugh, I glance down to make sure my honour is still intact.
“Don’t worry, I’m very professional,” someone says to me, adjusting my dress, as they strap me in to what, by all accounts, appears to be a chair taken straight from a theme park ride.
Despite what it looks like, I’m actually not at Thorpe Park, but am in the middle of chatting to Michelin Star chef, Club Gascon’s Pascal Aussignac, about his two day takeover of London in the Sky, a culinary feast on a table suspended from a crane 100 feet above Canary Wharf.
Still firmly on the ground, I’m sitting on a chair suspended from a round-table with a galley kitchen cut into the middle, a tiny platform with just room for one oven and — front and centre — Chef Aussignac, animatedly speaking to be heard over the party, trance music track.
Warm, witty and, as playful as his food, the award winning chef opens up about his menu, why he isn’t that fussed about Michelin stars, and that time he cooked for Michael Jackson.
“I like to play, not only with gastronomic food, but other things as well, because otherwise, it gets boring,” says the Toulouse-born chef who specialises in imaginative, French cuisine.
In addition to his air fare—sorry, had to do it—Aussignac has also crafted aphrodisiac menus for singles events with Match.com and in a few months time will single-handedly crusade to revive the squirrel as part of a ‘Forgotten Food’ theme at Taste of London Winter.
“I know I will never get three Michelin Stars. It’s not my aim. The best target would be to get two stars in my life, but no more than that,” he says matter-of-factly.
Cooking on a platform in the sky takes it to a whole new level entirely, but it’s only a mild 5 on the crazy scale, says Aussignac, who counts cooking for Michael Jackson at the unveiling of his waxwork at Paris’ Grevin Wax Museum in the ‘80s as a personal, bizarre highlight.
“I was his chef, but he wouldn’t touch my food,” says Aussignac, laughing about his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to cook for the king of pop, who—it turns out—conscientiously or unconscientiously objected to eating the “real duck” in the hoisin shredded duck wraps.
Suddenly, a member of staff is fiddling with my seat, jolting it back into a full reclining position. Saying something about an ejector button, they laugh and snap my chair upright.
Shame I missed that safety briefing, I thought retrospectively, but at this point it was too late and before I had time to really panic, the crane lifts and we’re up in the air.
Pascal Aussignac, his sous chef and assistant, are all strapped into the galley kitchen with harnesses. Save the clear tarpaulin above the construction, we’re open to all the elements.
A small foot rest under my chair is the only thing between me and the ground, which hovers 100 feet below me. Trying not to focus on the exact place where I could drop to my death, I look up. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Looking out over the docklands, with its ugly, characterless skyscrapers, 02 arena and heavily polluted stretch of Thames isn’t exactly magical.
But what WAS magical was the contagious energy, the company and—as I was soon to discover—the flavours. Between some serious club tunes, mixed with Aussignac’s dinner theatre of singing and dancing in his harness, it was like being on a party bus in the air.
The meal began with a Club Gascon favourite, crackling duck egg, poached, rich and sweeter than the chicken variety, served atop velvety smooth autumn truffle and cress.
The main, in line with the seriously hefty price tag of the experience, was a unique fish only served in two restaurants in the UK, Club Gascon being one of them: the legine, or white gold, a carnivorous fish from the Îles Kerguelen, in the Indian Ocean near the Antarctic.
Unlike any white fish you’ve ever tasted, unless you’ve had black cod apparently, it is famed for its firm, meaty texture, and was perfectly garnished with caviar, almond and verbena.
Lastly, for desert, Pascal’s take on the millionaire cake, with an unexpected savoury twist. Inside the melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cake is black olive and lemon, served with thyme ice cream, artfully glazed across the plate, a surprising combo that actually worked.
Before I know it, our magical hour in the air is over, and we’re abruptly brought back down to earth. The mood altering power from feasting at a height will stay with me longer.
There are plans to add future dates to Events in the Sky’s pop-up Dinner in the Sky. Keep an eye on eventsinthesky.co.uk for details.
Until then, try Pascal Aussignac’s menu from the ground at his flagship, Michelin star restaurant, Club Garcon. See http://www.clubgascon.com.
You can also catch his crusade to resurrect squirrels on the menu at Taste of London Winter 2014 from 20-23 November at Tobacco Dock London. See www.london.tastefestivals.com.