As family dynasties go, the Roux family are probably the most well-known and respected in the culinary world. The family has transformed classic French cookery with modern techniques and innovations, creating world-leading dishes of haute cuisine in the world famous restaurant Le Gavroche. Editor Sally Thomson was lucky enough to catch up with Michel Roux Jr, Chef Patron of Le Gavroche, to talk about his book French kitchen which explores his history with French cuisine.
Michel is known to many for his more recent work in TV, such as his role as a judge on MasterChef the Professionals and his masterclass shows. But importantly, his role in the kitchen at Le Gavroche is still central to his working life, and I caught up with him before a busy service which he insists is ‘what keeps him out of trouble’!
Last time I spoke with Michel was back in 2011, when Ash had just won the most recent series of MasterChef; this time I’m calling to discuss his beautiful new cookery book French Kitchen. A wonderfully illustrated book, filled with French classics, it has become my bedtime reading book as I sit with a growling stomach at the turn of each page. Michel can’t help but be proud of it “I’m very pleased with it – it’s hitting the right notes really. The illustrations set the right tone and the recipes are doable and it’s an interesting read.” What was his motivation behind creating this book?
“Well it was looking at the classics, but making them attainable and to just showcase some of the great French recipes, like a beef bourguignon or a bouillabaisse, they roll off the tongue! They are the dishes I was brought up on that my mum used to cook. Classics but simply done.”
Michel was brought up by the kitchen table, but I wonder what books inspired his own parents in their cookery? “Well, much of what they cooked was classic French food, those dishes that form the core of French cuisine. That has changed now really – with convenience food the French are struggling with obesity too. They just don’t have those lovely dishes made for them and that knowledge is being lost between the generations.” I was speaking recently to a friend of Michel’s, fellow chef Brian Turner, who is a firm advocate of bringing food back into the school curriculum, is that a possible way forward? “I think it’s great – there are a couple of generations who have lost out on the basics.”
The Roux Scholarship was set up to help creative young people enter the culinary world, but it too is an education trust and relies on donations “we work in partnership with the Savoy Educational Trust and rely on donations, and these two things together facilitate the running of the scholarship.” That tutelage and passing on of skills and knowledge is obviously very important to Michel, as we saw in his series ‘Michel Roux Service’ where he mentored young cooks from catering college – he must have grown close to these young people?
“Oh yes you do miss some of them in a way as they go and forge their own paths – I think my wife was worried that I would try and adopt them! Some of them were hard work, but it was amazing watching them change. It wasn’t just giving them a skill, it was teaching them life skills and giving them confidence. That’s what working does for you – it opens you up and gives you some self worth. They had been brought up on handouts and negativity and it was bad for their psyche.”
Michel won’t be appearing in MasterChef anymore, but does he have any other plans in the pipeline? “I do have some work coming up with other channels but it’s nothing I can divulge as yet. The thing is, if all the TV worked stopped tomorrow I wouldn’t mind – I enjoy TV work but I don’t chase it. I like to do it on my terms. I enjoyed making MasterChef the Professionals and Service because I felt like I was making a difference. I wouldn’t be a part of something I didn’t enjoy – I think the viewer would see through that.”
With Christmas on the horizon, what are Michel’s plans this year? “I’ll be at my home in the South of France with my family. I think my mother will be in Normandy and I’m not sure where my father will be but my wife’s family will be there and I think my daughter too!” We are sure that whichever members of the Roux family are present at the Christmas, the food will certainly be quite spectacular. In the meantime we can all lick our chops as we peruse another fabulous book from the Master of French cookery.
The book is available from good stockists or online here.