Michel Roux jr., Chef Patron at Le Gavroche
When I moved to UK, the first lesson I’ve learnt was: “British cooking is divided between before and after the Roux family.” Even if history of British gastronomy is rich, the years which followed industrial revolution, did a lot of harm to British gastronomy which was thought of in Europe as dull. But only untill Albert and Michel Roux entered into the British culinary world bringing light, colours and flavours. The Roux family is still today one of the most prestigeous names on the British food scene and chef Michel Roux jr., is one of the most respected culinary masters.
When and how did you fall in love with cuisine and how did you decide to become a chef?
I was definitely born to be a chef. I was born into a great family of chefs, my father Albert, uncle Michel and cousin Alain are highly acclaimed chefs, and my daughter Emily is following in our footsteps. I decided to leave school at 16 and after leaving Emmanuel, the London school I attended, I wanted to go into the business. My father suggested I start my training in pastry, so in September 1976 I went to Paris to start my apprenticeship under Maitre Patissier Hellegouarche, who was one of the very best pastry chefs in Paris. In my opinion, he was the very best.
Is there any particular memory from your childhood related to food?
My father Albert was chef for the Cazalet family, and I was born and brought up by my parents at the Cazalets’ home. My earliest food memories are the smells of the Fairlawne kitchen – pastry, sugar caramelising and stews – where I played under the table while my father Albert and mother Monique prepared the meals.
What was the best professional lecture you’ve received during your learning?
When I was an apprentice, I learned how to make marzipan properly, it’s been very helpful ever since!
Who was your greatest teacher?
My father of course, has been my greatest teacher, and also the late Alain Chapel at Restaurant Mionnay near Lyon.
What was your greatest challenge ever?
It has to be taking part in the 100km ultra Marathon in Belves – I finished in 10hrs 56mins and it gave me a great feeling of achievement.
What was your most valuable experience?
Working with Alain Chapel – he definitely influenced me when I worked with him, his restaurant was the definitive three-star Michelin restaurant of the day, every young chef wanted to work there because of his philosophy and cooking style, which was new but nevertheless very classical. This is is something I have taken with me throughout my career and something I hope is evident in my dishes in Le Gavroche.
Do you have any special memory related to chocolate?
Eating my mother’s home-made chocolate truffles, she is very generous with the booze!
What is inspiring you today?
I’m passionate about classic simplicity in cooking. So I am usually inspired by classic flavour combinations, such a sweet and sour or tomato and basil. These partnerships are the cornerstones of the classics that feature in my restaurants or recipe books. I don’t think there is a simple answer as to how I come up with new ideas. Sometimes they just come to me as I’m cooking at home or in the restaurant but a strong French influence and emphasis on quality produce is always at the core.
I’m inspired on my travels too; or whilst on holiday. I love trying local, seasonal produce.
Which are your favourite flavours and why?
I love savoury flavours and also fresh herbs like tarragon and basil particularly when they’re used in sweets.
How would you describe your cuisine?
At Le Gavroche we have stayed very true to our origins and roots. We are French and we are classical and people flock to this restaurant because of that, but of course we evolve and adapt many of our favourite dishes to reflect modern tastes, so they have become lighter over the years.
What does chocolate as ingredient mean to you?
Chocolate is not just a delicious treat it’s a versatile ingredient with many facets, that can be used in savoury dishes as well as sweet. Bitter, fruity and tannic notes are there to be used by the chef.
You have created your own chocolate, can you tell us more about that experience?
I have been on a long search for the perfect chocolate to serve at Le Gavroche. I love chocolate and the BBC filmed my search to find the best chocolate in the world. In Paris I discovered chocolatiers, Cacao Barry and their Or Noir Lab.
With the help of Cacao Barry, I was able to create a unique concoction to my own specification: 71% dark chocolate with an intense bitter taste, cocoa flavour and an aroma with slightly fruity undertones, perfect for the kitchen of Le Gavroche.
The original blend derives from three of the best chocolate locations in the world; Cuba, Venezuela and, Santo Domingo which reflects Cacao Barry’s traditional expertise in Old World sourcing.
Cacao Barry has built a global reputation amongst top chefs for their specialist chocolates and their vast selection of terroirs, as the foundation for their chocolate creations.
From Cacao Barry’s Or Noir Lab to the kitchen of Le Gavroche, my perfectly tailored chocolate has become the signature chocolate for cooking and eating and is featured in the restaurant’s favourite chocolate dishes on the tasting menu and in the petit fours.
Which chocolate desserts are on your menu and which is your favourite and why?
Our menu changes regularly, but we always have one chocolate dessert on there, and I am a glutton for chocolate mousse. There is no simpler dessert to make but it is so damn good!
How do you like to enjoy chocolate?
I always like to finish a meal with a square or two of dark chocolate, it’s the perfect finale.
The best chocolate or chocolate dessert you have ever eaten?
My uncle’s (Michel Roux) chocolate soufflé cooked in a pancake, it’s amazing.
If you could chose any place in the world to go and try the cuisine or pastry or chocolate, where would you go and why?
I’ve never been to Peru or Mexico and they’re on my list – as chocolate was first enjoyed in these countries, they have to be pretty good at creating some wonderful dishes with it!
What is your greatest achievement?
I don’t know if I’ve reached it yet, but I am very proud of the work that we do to nurture the future talent of chefs through our Roux Scholarship scheme, and also in maintaining the high standards that have been associated with Le Gavroche over nearly five decades.
What is your ultimate dream?
To achieve perfection!
What would be your final message to our readers?
I’m proud of what I’ve achieved during my career and love that cooking still excites me after all these years in the kitchen. But of course, I still have dreams to fulfil and there are always new challenges that I want to take on.
Experience Michel’s cuisine at http://www.le-gavroche.co.uk