I cooked for Rolling Stones as they made classic album

Chef recalls the heady experience of working for one of world's best-known bands when they recorded Exile on Main Street in south of France - from meeting some of the world's biggest stars to being driven to market in a Bentley or E-Type Jaguar

Published Last updated

One of the special guests at the recent Rolling Stones concert at the new U-Arena in Paris was a musician and chef from the Dordogne.

Gérard Mosiniak was invited by Keith Richards in recognition of the days he spent working as a chef for the band in 1971 at Nellcôte Villa in Villefranche-sur-Mer on the Côte d’Azur. He was a shy 23 year old and it was a heady experience, working with the legendary rock stars who were living the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll life.

The luxurious 19th-century villa was rented by Keith Richards when the Stones left the UK for tax purposes.

The other band members had their own villas, but they all met up at Nellcôte Villa when they decided to record Exile on Main Street in a damp, cobbled together studio in the basement. It was a place where the rich and the famous, music producers and sound engineers as well as drug-dealers and hanger-ons drifted in and out of this hippy palace by the Med.

Mr Mosiniak was a young chef at the time. He had trained in a Michelin-starred restaurant in the north of France where he tuned in to Radio Caroline whenever he could. When his mother told him that Keith Richards was about to hire a villa on the Med and was advertising for a cook, he jumped at the chance.

His interview was short and to the point: “I first saw Keith’s wife at the time, Anita Pallenberg, and spoke to her for around five minutes. Then I was introduced to Keith. “You want the job?”, he asked. “Yes”. “Okay, see you tomorrow.”

It was a chef’s job like no other: “At first it was just Keith and Anita and their two-year-old son Marlon,” he told Connexion, “but they always had friends over.

“Then when they decided to record Exile on Main Street it was non-stop. They recorded from about 11pm to 5am in the morning and so wanted food during the night. It could be for any number at any time and the same during the day. In the morning life was slow and people went to the beach, but I had to go to the market.

“I couldn’t drive then, so the chauffeur took me and I had an amazing choice of cars. Either Keith’s Bentley, or an E-Type Jaguar.”

The meals were basic: “It wasn’t as it is today when cooking and eating is fashionable. It was very homely, roast dinners, barbecues, that kind of thing.”

He says that he has good memories of those times. “Life wasn’t as intense and pressurised as it is today for rock stars.

“It was all very laid back, and hippy like and peace and love. They were on heroin. That was an issue, but it never got out of hand. I never took drugs, just wasn’t interested, but of course I got teased a lot for that.”

He met all the big stars: “There were the Stones of course , Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman. Then there was Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

“Yoko Ono used to like wandering around in the nude in the morning. She taught me how to make a Spacecake with cannabis. I made it, but I never ate it. It was an amazing experience for a shy 23 year old. I didn’t get much sleep. I wanted to be there while they were recording and I often spent time with the producer Glyn Johns seeing how he put it all together.”

Now he’d got a taste for rock’n’roll, Mr Mosiniak wanted to make music himself.

So he left his job as cook and got a job as a disc jockey in Cannes: “If you said you were working for the Rolling Stones that opened doors everywhere.”

He then went to London and formed a band which lasted five years. During that time he met Andy Mackay, from Roxy Music, and together they set up a restaurant La Grenouille, and Gérard Mosiniak went back to cooking. He went on to work for French hotel company Accor for 20 years. He even became somewhat of a star with a TV cooking show when he worked for them in South Korea.

He now lives in Sarlat, Dordogne and continues his two great passions for food and music.

His latest project is a new concept RocknFood where he creates menus appropriate to the music his friend and musician Eric Mouquet plays, so the audience enjoys both eating and music.

He said being a special guest of Keith Richards at one of their U Arena concerts was fantastic: “They are all in their seventies and still have so much energy. Charlie Watts looked pale by the end but drumming for more than two hours at his age has got to take it out of you.

“It was quite a scrum with thousands of people and I didn’t get to see Keith, but I did see his son Marlon who was just two when I last saw him at Nellcôte. Amazing.”

Rosie Bell remembers the young, shy chef. She was living with guitarist Mick Taylor and they had a young baby. Rosie’s memories of 1971 are not as fond as Mr Mosniak's. “I was 24. I moved to the south of France with a six-week-old baby, which was not a happy thing to do.

“I missed my mother and the sort of support I was getting. I had a succession of nannies, English ones, who just wanted to sleep with the Rolling Stones. They were always a problem. And then we had a wonderful French girl. She just walked around everywhere in a bikini with a Gitanes, the baby under her arm, a beer, a fantastic French book in her hand and she wasn’t the least bit impressed with anyone. Anne-Marie. She was great. We kept her for years.”

At first the couple lived in the mountains above Grasse. “Mick wanted me to drive him everywhere. We were living in the mountains in a beautiful house. It had belonged to Leo Tolstoy, it had his writing desk and his furniture.

“There were sheep and olive groves, it was lovely. But we had to move down to the coast because I was driving Mick down to the all night recording sessions. We got back early in the morning and I never saw the baby. It was charming and lovely in Grasse but we had to move down to the Cap d’Antibes after that.

She remembers a lot of hanging around. She and Mick Taylor would turn up for a recording session but either Mick Jagger or Keith Richards or both were not there: “Mick would have gone to Paris and Keith was not available because the train hadn’t arrived from Marseille.

“Mick (Taylor) was unhappy and depressed having to wait around all the time in order to play. I thought they were crazy, basically. I still think they are. But I loved the music, I thought it was great and I love being around people when they’re making music and now of course I do it myself.

Were the tales of orgies and drugs true? “Yes, they certainly were. There were guys who were procuring women from here, there and everywhere and bringing them along. Yes, it was dealers and groupies and hangers on as well as some lovely people. Gram Parsons was there, a lovely musician and some other famous people like John Lennon, falling down the stairs and it was mad.”

“We were there for the sessions in the basement which was a very strange and a very odd environment. There was no air conditioning. You’d have Bobby Keys, the saxophonist in the toilet and Mick in some other funny little room, all in the basement which was simply, acoustically not the place. An absolute nightmare in the summer in the South of France.

“Everyone was really uncomfortable down there. It was amazing anyone got any music done at all really. I think it was very creative. I think Mick played very well but I am hopelessly biased, though a lot of people say he added a lot to the music. With him it became more than just thrash rock and I think he is quite proud of his contribution, although he’d like a few more credits.”

She remembers Mr Mosniak and that there was a lot of cooking for him to do: “I remember it always being absolutely full of people and the meals just went on and on really. It would start around lunchtime when people sort of appeared and got up and then it would just go on through the day.

“There was a sort of a sense to there being an evening meal but I think more dictated by the children than anything else because there were Marlon and some other children there quite often so in a sense there was an evening meal somehow. But we would arrive after that and go long before breakfast.”

Ms Bell was not hooked on heroin at the time - that would come later when she was back in London with the Stones. Then, she and Mick drifted apart.

“I was left with a big habit and went down to 5½ stone and I was absolutely desperate. At that point I said if there is a God in heaven would you please come and help me.

“A lady arrived and prayed for me and I never took heroin again. My father who was a doctor said, 'it doesn’t happen like that, it is impossible. You have to have withdrawal symptoms', and I said, 'sorry, I’m absolutely free'.

“Now it’s really lovely to be here in France and we’re doing Christmas Carols. We’ve done a 17-track backing track for people to sing carols which we did in our studio. The people in the village love it.”

Ms Bell now lives in the Deux Sèvres with her new husband, Roly. They have their own studio where they produce original contemporary music for their Christian charity (www.millennium3music.com) and where they have recorded a new audio-visual teaching method for English beginners (www.bell-lingo.com), which they sell in their local supermarket and are marketing in schools and other organisations.

Stay informed:
Sign up to our free weekly e-newsletter
Subscribe to access all our online articles and receive our printed monthly newspaper The Connexion at your home. News analysis, features and practical help for English-speakers in France