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Chef Fred Berkmiller 'hands over keys to L'escargot blanc' after 18 years of business

Fred Berkmiller, chef proprietor of L'escargot blanc has given up the business in a milestone move.

Published: May 13, 2022

Posting on his social media, Berkmiller wrote: "Yesterday I handed the keys over of L’escargot blanc. 18 years of hard work topped with tons of happiness.

"Thank you all that ate or worked there and all that helped to make L’escargot blanc a very successful hospitality business.

"17 Queensferry street rocked me seriously. Bye my friend"

Followers were quick to respond with many thanking Fred and reminiscing about great times and meals enjoyed in the venue. One wrote: “My favourite piece of France in Edinburgh. Thank you for giving me some of the best times in my life there.” While another added: “I am so sorry Fred. I loved that place so much.”

Fred and his wife Betty opened Petit Paris in the Grassmarket in 1998 then a second west-end restaurant in 2004 which morphed into what is now L'escargot blanc and L'escargot bleu on Broughton Street.

The L’escargot restaurants offer a welcoming, authentic atmosphere. Regularly visiting the Highlands and Islands in search of the best produce, Chef Berkmiller creates French dishes with a Scottish twist.

In 2020 Berkmiller voiced concerns over the restrictions put in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic, including the social distancing guidelines. It was due to these lockdowns and restrictions that led to L’escargot blanc not reopening under Fred and Betty’s steerage.

Writing in his newsletter, Fred said: “The first lockdown led to more lockdowns with all sorts of issues as a result, meaning we never managed to get the door open again. So many people have enquired about l’escargot blanc.

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"So, in answer to all those who asked, sadly l’escargot blanc will not open again under my and Betty’s management. A painful decision, but the time has come to pass it on to someone else.

“I am quite happy, and relieved in a way. The feeling of failure will pass. It’s now time to let go and concentrate on other things.

"17 Queensferry Street will always be l’escargot blanc for me, and I shall miss it. Now l’escargot bleu and its garden will have my full attention.”

Speaking to the Scotsman in January 2020 Berkmiller spoke of his upbringing in Tours, France and how food was the heart of the family. He said: “I am one of five kids, where food was at the heart of the family, we were surrounded by foraging or neighbours swapping vegetables, yeah I guess a happy childhood.

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“My grandmother making jelly in autumn and holidays meant shellfish found on the beach; cockles and winkles.“I didn't get on at school, I was a bad boy, expelled three or four  times.”

Exasperated, his mum came up with a plan, that he should work instead. She found a chef who would take him on and dropped him off mid-week to collect him again on Sunday.

“I was 14, I hated it. There were four or five apprentices who slept in a room above the restaurant. The food was very traditional, and the boss was a bully. I washed up, peeled, chopped and cut up all sorts of vegetables, plus basic mise en place. It was one of toughest jobs I’ve ever had, but I recognise the value of it today. Now I would love it.”

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Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind writes for The Scotsman on all things food and drink related as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.

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