I was born in a tiny little city called Troyes in the Champagne region in north-eastern France. When I turned 11 we moved to an even smaller town, a little village of 365 people.
I’ve always been very family-oriented because of my background. There’s actually very little French in me. On my father’s side it’s half Ukrainian, half Polish. And on my mother’s side it’s half French, half Italian.
So there is only a quarter French there. All those backgrounds are very involved in food and family and parties, so that’s probably why I’m always creating things.
My mother was a small-time vaudeville actress and my father had a Russian dance troupe. We used to tour about three months of the year doing the summer season. And when my Mum needed a young child in one of the plays, she always chose me.
So basically I’ve been treading the boards since the age of six. I danced with the troupe from the age of six to the age of 15, when I left home.
I’d had pretty basic schooling and even though I was pretty good at school I never felt like I wanted an intellectual career. I wanted a career in entertainment and I also loved food.
Someone offered me a job as an apprentice in one of the best restaurants in Troyes. Amazingly enough all my training was in the dining room -“ I was trained to be a ma?e d’. I’ve never done any formal training in the kitchen.
When I finished the apprenticeship I decided to join the army. At that time in France it was compulsory to do a stint in the army, usually in your early 20s.
I knew I was gay from very early on. I had my first affair with my father’s business partner when I was 14 -“ it was just flirting really. He got caught and got fired.
My first sexual experience was at 16 and again with someone very close to the family. So I knew what I wanted.
Most of my mother’s friends were gay so it was never really much of a problem. But the Ukrainian side of the family was a bit more macho so I felt maybe I needed to put a bit of macho in my life.
I thought being gay was maybe just a phase I was going through and that the army would toughen me up.
I was around 18 at the time and I became a professional soldier -“ I’ve never had more sex in my life. I could choose where I wanted to go and I went to New Caledonia. It was literally like Club Med -“ lots of beautiful boys, hardly any work. It was really fabulous.
That was in the late 1970s, and New Caledonia was also a place where many Australians went on holiday. I met lots of Australians and they always told me to visit them at home.
On my way home in 1980 I came to visit some friends in Sydney. I could hardly speak English, I knew hardly anyone, I’d never been anywhere but the airport. and yet I knew this was the place I would be living forever.
Within a day I had a job as a waiter in a French restaurant. Not speaking English meant it didn’t work too well, which is how I got to work in the kitchen. Within two weeks I was the head chef.
I learned English watching Number 96 on television. I then moved to the Blue Mountains to work with a Frenchwoman who was running a restaurant in Katoomba.
Later I opened my own restaurant in Willoughby with my partner at the time -“ first time, last time.
At the beginning it was fabulous, but when you work together 24 hours a day and live together -¦ within a year we had relationship problems that were reflecting on the restaurant.
He thought the way to get rid of me would be to dob me in to Immigration. It was my fault -“ I had overstayed my visa because I loved it so much here. But I was paying taxes and everything. They came and arrested me and were going to put me on the plane the morning after. That was around 1982 or 1983.
What he didn’t know was that I had already made residency inquiries through a lawyer, and the application was in progress. So they didn’t throw me out. I got residency and I then left the Willoughby restaurant. I realised I was a better artist than businessperson.
I then worked in other restaurants in Sydney. In the 1990s I started doing a few TV cooking segments, after clients suggested I do a few spots.
I started doing cooking segments on The Midday Show with Kerri-Anne Kennerley in 1997. One day Kerri-Anne said we should do a dress-up day and suggested I do drag. That’s when Claire de Lune came alive. I did 27 weeks of cooking with Kerri-Anne as Claire, and then Claire took on a life of her own.
I started to really mix in the gay community. I wasn’t a performer at that stage really, but slowly I learned the trade. I did shows with Verushka Darling and lots of charity work, and Claire evolved from that.
I’ve now moved my Dinners With Claire nights -“ which I also hold at my apartment -“ to Slide on Oxford Street. Marc is running the restaurant as ma?e d’ from Wednesday to Saturday and Claire is performing on Sundays. And once a month we’re doing Dinner With Claire there.
I had always wanted to perform and act but I found because of my very strong French accent it was very restrictive and hard to get parts here. By creating my own character with the French accent as a very strong part of it, I’ve created my own acting career.
Interview by Ian Gould