As Cuisson and POPdown, Paul Hannagen has been at the cutting edge of food and drink trends in London. But his new venture, he tells HotJoint, will truly be one-of-a-kind
What is your first food-loving memory?
Licking the bowl, my mum’s mixing bowl. Usually a classic kind of madeira cake mix or batter.
How did you get into cooking?
I was training as a rower for Ireland in the junior rowing squad. I took a year out to train fulltime, rowing in the morning and working as a waiter in a diner in the evening. I was invited to Lahinch, which is where people go to surf in Ireland, and went to eat in Mrs O’Briens (now Danny Macs). The day after I went back and got a job as a sous chef.
What attracted you to cooking?
I thought it was very cool. My life had been very regimented and so all this freedom was amazing. I didn’t know you could go to such heights with food. Even though we were just doing good fish and chips and good burgers.
And I found the French Laundry cook book, and it was at that point I decided to channel the rowing mentality to produce the best food I could and work in the best restaurants I could.
Which took you where?
I worked at Moy House [hotel in Lahinch] in the summers and when I finished college I moved to London and started at Maze, Gordon Ramsay. I was there for five months and then went to Maltings with Sam Harris before Zucca for two years.
One day Sam gave me a glass of wine that blew me away and I was like ‘wow I need to know more about this’ and enrolled in WSET [Wine and Spirits Education Trust qualification] and gave up cooking and got a job in Robeson wines in High Street Ken. I wanted to be a chef that knew a lot about wine and they had one of the best tasting programmes in the country run by Mark Andrew from Noble Rot.
So where did the supperclub stuff start?
I started bothering champagne houses to do a supperclub and Moet Hennessy helped me do an event and I did it as Cuisson.
Cuisson works very closely with new chefs, is that right?
We have a core base of employees. Probably eight at the moment. I love the idea of giving back; the chefs that work with us at POPdown learn about the business, about sales and marketing, things that I didn’t have and because of I lost a lot of money, which happens to entrepreneurs, there is an education process. But I don’t think it has to be so harsh. And we have a dialogue in work about learning to interact with clients, how to network, how to present. All key skills that are overlooked. This is why restaurants fail sometimes.
You’ve done the Ferrero Rocher pop-up in Covent Garden?
Yes, this is the way the company is going, communicating a food experience. So we looked at the Rocher product. The chocolate, wafer, ganache, praline, hazelnuts, and we divided these into five elements and we’ve showcased these separately in a pop-up restaurant in Covent Garden. It’s basically sweet canapés. (more details here)
What’s the future for Cuisson?
Well you’re getting a worldwide exclusive here! We’ve taken a significant space and we are putting in 10 kitchen points and they are completely moveable. On the back of that there’s 20 desk spaces for companies and we’re creating a hub for incubating serious startups.
It’s the first of its kind. Hospitality can be a very cold industry, very tough. I started Cuisson from my house and a lot of friends were in the same boat who are now very successful. I managed to get through, but imagine the number of people who have a stunning product but don’t get through, the pressure’s too much, it’s too isolating – it was playing on my mind.
I want to invest in companies. The best way to invest is now. And I want to build a culture of collaboration.
What would you have as your last meal on earth?
Pigeon, celeriac and black pudding to start; then beef rib: amazing sirloin, 50-day aged, roasted properly; and rhum baba. With a bottle of ’96 Krug.
What’s you favourite London restaurant at the moment?
Lyle’s or The Ledbury.