The Dish: Michel Roux Jr

The face of a culinary dynasty, Michel Roux Jr was born in Pembury, Kent, where his father Albert Roux worked as a private chef. Aged 7, his father Albert opened Gavroche in Mayfair with his brother Michel. Roux began his culinary training in Paris in the ‘70s, leaving school at the age of 16 to train under renowned pastry chef Henri Hellegouarche.  He later worked as a Commis de Cuisine at Alain Chapel’s signature restaurant at Mionnay near Lyon, while his military service was spent in the kitchens at the Elysée Palace at the time of Presidents Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and François Mitterrand. After a stint at the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong, Roux returned to London to work with Pierre Koffman at La Tante Claire, before joining the family business. He took over the running of the two-Michelin-starred Le Gavroche from Albert in 1991, where he continues to work, gradually changing the style of cooking to his own – “classic French with a lighter, modern twist”. In addition, he runs Roux at The Landau at The Langham hotel in Marylebone and Roux Parliament Square, as well as his most recent addition, gastropub The Wigmore, also at The Langham Hotel. Outside of his family’s restaurant empire, Roux Jr has made a name for himself as a TV chef, appearing on MasterChef: The Professionals and Food and Drink. A keen marathon runner, Roux Jr ran his nineteenth marathon in 2013, to raise funds for VICTA – a charity supporting visually impaired children. He lives in Clapham with his wife Giselle.

What/who influenced your decision to become a chef?

I grew up in the kitchen – in fact, I was pretty much born in the kitchen. So of course, my father Albert, and my uncle Michel, were my greatest influences. It was my entire upbringing!

Can you remember/describe your first shift in a kitchen?

My father told me to learn the art of pastry before anything else in the kitchen. It’s the best culinary foundation you can have. I worked as an apprentice pastry chef at the age of 16 in Paris. It was incredibly nerve-racking, and I was shaking in my clogs. I can still remember the wonderful smell of that pastry kitchen. My very first job was to clean about 200 baking trays followed by sweeping the floor until it shined.

What is your earliest wine memory?

We are French, so I was just an infant the first time I tasted wine. It was a very watered down red wine. When I was 12 I remember tasting a sip of a very special sweet wine. It was delicious.

What has been your most memorable meal?

I’ve been incredibly lucky to eat at the finest restaurants across the world. But for me, the best meals are always the ones shared with those you love, regardless of where or the cost.

How important is wine to a meal, from a chef’s point of view?

In my view, it is an integral part. I always think of the wine pairing when creating or cooking any dish.

What would be your ultimate food and wine pairing?

For me, you can’t beat the simple luxury of a glass of Chateau d’Yquem with Roquefort cheese.

Who is your inspiration in the winemaking and gastronomic world and why?

That’s a really tough one, there are so many to mention. However, I do admire Michel Chapoutier for all of his work and his unbridled passion. In the kitchen the sad loss of M.Paul Bocuse really inspired me to re-visit the great classics. He was a great man.

Biggest kitchen disaster?

Not telling!

If you could give your younger self advice starting out as a chef, what would it be?

Get a haircut, quit smoking and don’t burn the candle at both ends. Teenage years…

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?

I’d like to say a footballer but it would be something in the catering/hospitality industry for sure. It’s not a job, it’s a way of life for me.

Besides cooking, which talent would you most like to have?

Well, I love long distance running so would like to have been blessed with the stamina of Mo Farah.

What would be your best piece of culinary advice for an aspiring home cook?

Read the recipe, TWICE!

If you could only eat at one restaurant for the rest of your life, where would you choose?

For the last 30 years, I have eaten at Le Gavroche almost every day and it’s not too shabby!

What else would you like to achieve in life?

That’s the age-old question isn’t it? So much to do, so little time.

And finally, what is your life motto?

Write another book, do more charity work.

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