Chef Name: Michel Roux Jr
Title: Chef Patron, Le Gavroche
Two Michelin Stars
Honours awarded to the restaurant span from inclusion in various World’s 50 Best lists to the Laurent Perrier Award of Excellence, The Cateys, Tatler Restaurant Awards – Most Consistently Excellent Restaurant, and a Lifetime Achievement Award for its Chef Patron, Michel Roux Jr.
How old were you when you started cooking professionally?
I left school at 16 for the first of several challenging apprenticeships at Maître Patissier, Hellegouarche in Paris from 1976 to 1979. I was then Commis de Cuisine at Alain Chapel’s signature restaurant at Mionay near Lyon. He was my biggest influence. My military service was spent in the kitchens at the Elysée Palace at the time of Presidents Giscard d’Estaing and François Mitterrand. I also spent time at Boucherie Lamartine and Charcuterie Mothu in Paris, and the Gavvers Restaurant in London.
After a stint at the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong I returned to London and worked at La Tante Claire before joining the family business at Le Gavroche. I took over running Le Gavroche in 1991, gradually changing the style of cooking to my own – classic French with a lighter, modern twist.
What’s your earliest and fondest first memory of food?
I was brought up watching my parents cook. My earliest food memories are the smells of the Fairlawne kitchen where my father was the private chef to the Cazelet family. Pastry, caramelising sugar and stews are the strongest memories. And I distinctly remember making ice cream with Dad (Albert Roux) when I was five or six, churning it by hand in a pail over ice.
Which chefs inspire you most and why?
It has to be my father Albert Roux and my uncle Michel Roux Sr. Both of them, very sadly, passed away over the past year. During their lifetimes in the kitchen they trained so many people who have gone on to become really great chefs and restaurateurs all over the world. Mentoring was at the heart of everything that was important to them, and they were both so proud of setting up the Roux Scholarship, which has been described as the ultimate competition for young professional chefs, and which my cousin Alain and myself continue to run.
What are your two favourite cookbooks and why?
Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire is the mother work for all restaurant chefs. First published in 1903, it contains over 3,000 recipes. It’s a great classic and still relevant for inspiration.
Without Georges Auguste Escoffier, the restaurant as we understand it today wouldn’t exist. He rose through the ranks of 19th-century Parisian society and became the world’s most celebrated chef. He revolutionised the professional kitchen and brought glamour and drama into the dining room. He turned eating into dining. Young chefs now think of Escoffier as being complex and complicated but his motto was ‘simplify your food, simplify your cooking’.
Hospitality Action’s Chefs at Home is my second cookbook choice. It’s a collection of lockdown recipes from 54 of the UK’s most-loved chefs, including Jamie Oliver, Tom Kerridge, Raymond Blanc, Angela Hartnett and myself! It’s a unique compilation of the dishes that the chefs prepared at home with their own families when there were limited ingredients on the shelves and queues at supermarkets. It was published last month to mark a year of lockdown and 100% of all royalties will be donated to Hospitality Action, which is a charity supporting members of the hospitality industry.
Which two ingredients could you not live without?
Butter, because it’s definitely a very important ingredient in French cooking and I love the taste! It’s interesting how we seem to have switched back to butter from oil in our cooking, and it’s said that in moderation it’s good for you. It’s a natural product and we need some fats in our diet. But I’m not a fan of whipped butter, it’s good old-fashioned farmhouse or churned butter for me.
Lemon would be the second. It livens up any dish with just a squeeze, and any drink – including whisky! It can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes, and you can use the whole fruit: zest, peel, juice, flesh, everything can be used, so it’s the ultimate zero waste ingredient!
What is your favourite comfort food to cook at home?
Cheese souffle. I make a huge one for sharing – it needs to be shared if its comfort food. I like to bring the whole dish to the table. I use up any cheese I’ve got in the fridge, I don’t throw away the rinds as I hate waste. You can grate the rinds for souffles and sauces, even use cheese that’s past its best if you pare away any bits that look unappetising. And a souffle is a great way of using up leftover egg whites too. I never throw these away, as you can freeze them and then defrost as needed.
If you could eat at any Michelin star restaurant in the world today, where would it be and why?
There are so many, but I would probably go to Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV in Monaco. It’s a real blow out, and costs an arm and a leg, but nowhere else comes close to it. I’ve had so many wonderful meals there in the past with my family, and Monaco is special – although I’d avoid the busiest times of the year. My daughter Emily worked there for a year, and my sister also lives fairly close in Nice, which is one of my favourite parts of France to visit.
And who would you take as your guest?
That’s an easy one. My wife, daughter, son-in-law and grandson.
What do you look for in a good chef?
Determination and curiosity, you never stop learning.
What advice would you give to chefs starting their career paths now?
Go the traditional route, go to a catering college and take a course which includes work experience. Learn the classics first, to give you a good foundation – you need the building blocks in order to create your own ideas, whichever direction you want to go.
How has the pandemic affected your restaurant? And how did you adapt and evolve throughout?
As with everyone else in the industry, the effect has been terrible, both financially and in terms of the wellbeing of our staff. We’ve all had to learn to adapt, for example I gave virtual home cookery lessons through Learning with Experts, and we expanded our Le Gavroche e-shop to include some great wines from our cellars, beautiful gifts for the home kitchen, and some delicious food to enjoy at home, such as smoked salmon. Even out of the darkest moments we’ve all learned something positive.
Can you share any wisdom from the experience so far with others? Have you changed? Has your cooking changed?
Out of the bad, there’s always something good that you can take away. I haven’t changed what I’m cooking, and I’ve got very good at packing parcels for the e-shop! Once we reopen our restaurants, the menus will be a little simpler, not as complex, and that is a trend within the industry in general. There will be fewer elements on a plate, less gimmicks, more pure ingredients and more traditional cooking methods. We’ll be streamlining the offering like a lot of restaurants, reducing the number of dishes on the menu, so quality is better, but the favourites associated with Le Gavroche will stay.
Chef Michel Roux is Chef/Patron of Restaurant Le Gavroche
Address: 43, Upper Brook Street, London
Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7408 0881
Photo Credit: @jodihindsphotographer