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The Answers With… Raphaelle Simmons, UK Managing Director, Petrossian UK

The trials and triumphs involved with bringing top-end caviar to UK shores.

Culinary Francophiles celebrated as one when Petrossian – a Paris-based purveyor of world-class caviars, as well as smoked salmon, blinis, truffle oils and sweet treats – opened an online store on this side of La Manche.

This year, the family-run outfit is celebrating its 100th anniversary: and is refusing, according to the culinary connoisseur running its UK operations, to let small matters such as a global crisis and profound changes to cross-channel trading get in the way of its quest to distribute fine French foods on our shores.

Do you have any tips, when it comes to enjoying caviar to the maximum?
Eating caviar should be a memorable experience to be shared, so set the scene. Invite your special someone(s), put the bubbly or vodka in the fridge, make sure you have all your serving accessories at hand – mother of pearl serving spoons, caviar display or a bowl of ice – as well as blinis and crème fraiche, and let everyone dig in and enjoy. The best way to enjoy it is to take a spoon full and let the grains roll or melt between your tongue and palate. Clean the palate with vodka, champagne or bubbly then repeat.

Tell us about the new Caviar Lab?
To counteract the logistical issues we’ve been facing since the introduction of import permits on caviar with Brexit, we’ve decided to build our own caviar lab, here in the UK. From last November, it has allowed us to import less often and in larger quantities, and to master caviar maturation in house. We’ll also develop customised selections for UK chefs and tins on demand. For the customers it means less delays, more choice – in terms of species, tin sizes and selections – and longer shelf life. For us, it means a better management of stock, easier forecasting, less wastage, cheaper production costs and greater sustainability.

What are the main challenges with sourcing fine foods sustainably, and how do you overcome them?
Since 2008, wild sturgeon fishing has been banned worldwide and sturgeons in the Caspian Sea are considered an endangered species. So all the caviars we sell now can only be legally sourced from farms. Therefore, there is no notion of ‘terroir’ as with wine. So we like to work with selected partners on a long term basis, because the raw material has a direct influence on the final product we make. We take time, up to two years, to select the partners we work with and vet them on many criteria such as density of their basins, food fed to the sturgeon, extraction processes, health and safety, recycling and packaging, ethics. Consistency is of paramount importance.

How is French cuisine distinctive from all other global cuisine?
French cuisine is an apologist for simplicity: for using beautiful raw ingredients and showcasing them at their best, whether as they are or transformed into something else very creatively. Clean flavours, legible dishes and most of all, taste and ‘gourmandise’.

How are you overcoming the hurdles of being a French establishment trading in London, given the dual factors of Brexit and Covid?
Following Brexit, importing has been very challenging as caviar is a protected species and therefore now subject to export/import permits. What once took us two days to order and deliver now takes four-six weeks. Therefore we have to anticipate a lot more when it comes to stock, and that’s tricky when you are dealing with delicate, expensive products with short shelf lives.

Import duty on most goods has increased our costs by up to 20 per cent, but things will become a lot simpler and cheaper at the end of the year as we are currently building our own caviar maturing chamber here in the UK so that we can import in bulk and finish the production here – and therefore be more flexible when it comes to meeting demand.

When Covid hit, our UK structure involved selling B2B only to the hospitality industry. We quickly reacted to this crisis by launching our business-to-consumer online store, which has proven very successful, especially at Christmas time.

How has the pandemic changed people’s appetite for fine foods?
For those who still have taste buds, there is definitely a trend towards “splashing out” on things they wouldn’t have before the pandemic. Customers are more adventurous in their choices, and really want to create mini celebrations to lift up their morale. Our products are perfect to add a touch of indulgence and exception to any occasion.

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On the B2B front, we’ve noticed that restaurants and hotels have reinvented themselves – they took this break as an opportunity to reflect on their menus, on how to ‘wow’ customers and differentiate themselves from the competition. We’ve noticed a significant increase in the number of restaurants now serving caviar.

 Where, and in what situations, do you get your strongest creative ideas?
I tend to think – and overthink – all day long, especially in the evening, and right before bed I just tell the universe: “I have done my bit, now show me the way.” There’s an eight-in-ten chance I’ll get an answer to a problem or a new fresh idea in the morning.

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 Who – dead or alive – is your greatest inspiration?
I have a few in mind, as each of them as each brings me inspiration on a different level. It can be Marylin Monroe for the feminine side and Richard Branson for the entrepreneurial side. I am inspired by people who are not afraid to think outside the box and really put in all the necessary effort to make things happen, to live their life to the fullest and to make the world a better place. In no particular order, this includes: Michael McIntyre, my mum, David Attenborough, people recovering from addiction…

Find out more about Petrossian’s home delivery offering in this video 

 

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