The highways and trackways across Wiltshire have led to markets and hostelries for centuries – the old Leckford Hutt on the edge of today’s A30 is still playing host to travellers and those en route to market.
The Leckford Hutt is well known locally as the home of the French restaurant Clos du Marquis. It also accommodates the French Pantry and a small cookery school both of which are run by Mr Germain Marquis and his wife, Glanis.
Next to come is Duck Unlimited – the latest enterprise of the restless, charismatic chef.
“We have the idea of producing duck, cooking duck. Nobody really sells duck – everybody loves duck but nobody sells duck. Takeaways only serve burgers or pizzas – pork, or beef, or pizzas. We had the idea to produce duck instead.”
The factory to sell the duck products on to wholesalers has been built and will start production in January. Already samples have been tested in a handful of markets in Hampshire and London and the omens are encouraging. It may not be long before we see duck burgers, sausages, wraps and sandwiches flying around the country initially via small, franchised outlets before settling down as Duck Diners.
It feels appropriate that plans for Duck Unlimited should have hatched at the Hutt, once a stopping point for flocks of sheep and their drovers en route to similar markets.
I met Germain and Glanis Marquis in the cookery school’s gleaming kitchen just before Christmas. The room was filled with the aroma of a rich sauce bubbling in a pot on the stove between us.
Germain told me a little of his background. He left France at the age of 19 to study hotel management in Germany before taking his skills out to South Africa. Here he worked in hotels for ten years, gradually moving into management as his English improved.
It was only at the age of 32 that he decided that he wanted to learn to really cook and that the man to teach him was his old friend, accomplished Parisian chef Alain du Tournier. The intensive six months in Paris paid huge dividends.
Germain returned to Johannesburg and over the next two decades opened three restaurants, one after the other. It was the second of his restaurants, Les Marquis, which won the awards.
“Every year Business Day gave an award for the best restaurant and, in 1987, we were the best restaurant in Johannesburg. Then, at the same time which was amazing, we had American Express who started to have an award scheme throughout South Africa for restaurants and we were chosen as the best restaurant in the country.”
Why Johannesburg? “The money was in Johannesburg. It always has been. Cape Town in those days was extremely provincial. It has changed but that was the way it used to be. People in Cape Town had very short arms and long pockets. People in Natal when they opened their wallets moths came out because they were farmers and tended not to spend money. The money was only in Johannesburg – they were in mining. They didn’t care.”
Glanis, from a Natal farming family, admonishes Germain as he gallops on to descriptions of his own countrymen. There is no stopping him. Germain is man of passion and enthusiasms.
In the late 1990s, frustrated with the corruption that they felt was eating into South Africa, the couple moved to the Seychelles for a few years before returning to Africa – this time to Botswana and the Chobe Game Lodge.
Germain worked for two years as the General Manager at the Game Lodge. It was a time he said that taught him self-sufficiency and how to cater when food had to come over 1,300 kilometres via refrigerated truck.
A late night burglary at the Lodge nudged the pair back on to the road again – this time to England to learn the rules of hospitality in Hampshire.
Germain and his team learned fast – in 2006 Clos du Marquis was highly commended in the Test Valley New Business Awards and in 2010/11 they were winners of the Test Valley’s Tourism Business of the Year.
There is no doubt the success of the enterprises at the Leckford Hutt but neither is there any mistaking Germain’s love of Africa. “I love the bush and I miss it.” His eyes gleam as he describes meetings with elephants, robbers and ‘flat dogs’ (crocodiles).
The junior chef, now stirring the pot on the stove, grins. Germain gestures at him. “He is a very lucky young man because I am so soft now … I was tough and cruel.”
Germain Marquis might have mellowed but there is no sense that either he, or his elegant wife, plan to stand still.
Their next big chapter is Duck Unlimited and the first page has already been written.