20 September 2018
Following in a parent’s footsteps is a curse that befalls many a child, but for Michel Roux Jr the pressure must have been more intense than most. The son of Michel Roux Snr and the nephew of Albert Roux, he grew up learning the restaurant ropes in the kitchens of his family’s Mayfair establishment, Le Gavroche. The first British restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star in 1974, the first to win a second in 1977, and the first to win the coveted third in 1982, Le Gavroche is revered by critics and chefs the world over. For Roux Jr, a career behind the stove was always on the cards.
“I was always in the kitchen as a child, watching my father and my mother, who is also an absolutely fantastic cook,” he recalls. “My father was always making me try a wine or cheese, so gastronomy is in my blood. I always knew it was what I wanted to do.”
Stints at Le Gavroche, Alain Chapel’s eponymous restaurant in Mionnay, France, and Pierre Koffman’s La Tante Claire followed, before he returned to the Roux empire to work at The Waterside Inn in Bray with his uncle and cousin, Alain. He rejoined his father at Le Gavroche in 1985, before taking over full time in 1993.
“Le Gavroche is, and always has been, a family restaurant and I think that’s a huge part of the reason for its success,” he says of the Roux flagship, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. “There are family values and ideals that you just can’t replicate elsewhere.”
Still, the Roux clan has done its best to educate the masses. Its kitchens have trained a tour de force of British chefs who have collaboratively changed the culinary landscape, from potty-mouthed behemoths Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White to Roux Jr’s former MasterChef: The Professionals colleague Monica Galetti and Marcus Wareing, who succeeded him as the face of the long-running television show.
Roux Jr, meanwhile, has brought fine dining to people’s front rooms with the aforementioned BBC programme, for which he was a guest judge for six years, before ending his tenure in 2014 following a disagreement about commercial commitments. He is still a regular feature on screen, including a guest spot presenting Saturday Kitchen following James Martin’s departure in 2016, and several gourmet series to his name. He combines his TV career with his unfailing commitment to upholding the reputation of Le Gavroche.
“I am looking to create a wonderful experience based on the delivery of fine food, wine and service,” he says. “This is what has made Le Gavroche so successful, and the delivery of excellence is something that I am determined to continue.”
It’s certainly a method that has worked thus far. Typically, a restaurant is considered a success if it lasts five years. Le Gavroche has achieved that 10 times over – and for more than half of this Roux Jr has been at the helm. How has the nation’s attitude to food changed since he started working in the industry?
“It’s changed massively, and in so many wonderful ways,” he says. “I think one of the best changes is that international cuisine can be brought locally to diners. I live and work in London, and there are so many fantastic culinary options to choose from: British, French, Italian, Spanish, Israeli, Lebanese, Ethiopian – pretty much anything goes. It’s making diners more adventurous, more discerning and it stimulates competition in the industry.”
Indeed, Roux Jr’s own daughter, Emily Roux, will be opening her debut French-cum-Italian restaurant in October with husband and former Le Gavroche head chef Diego Ferrari. Family ties aside, there must be a bit of Roux rivalry – who’s the best cook in the family?
“That’s impossible to answer! We all have very different styles of cooking,” he says, diplomatically. “Emily has a different style of cooking to me, in the same way that my style of cooking differed ever so slightly from my father’s and uncle’s. Hers is lighter and slightly more modern, but still recognisably ‘Roux’”.
From table service to train tracks, Roux Jr’s next venture will see him create a one-off dinner from the Belmond British Pullman’s bijou kitchen in September. His will be the third in a series of chef takeovers, with returning favourites Tom Kerridge and Raymond Blanc preceding him.
“The Belmond British Pullman is iconic in many ways, and the combination of adventure, luxury and glamour is a huge draw,” he says. “There’s a real sense of elegance and I think there’s a synergy between that and my cooking.”
He’s careful not to reveal too much about the menu, but hints at a venison loin and grouse pie, and something with dark chocolate – his guilty pleasure. Swapping the cavernous kitchens of Le Gavroche for the Belmond’s carriages will be something of a novelty, but he won’t be letting it interfere with his work.
“It’s a confined space so that will present its own challenges, as well as the fact that the train will be rolling,” he jokes. “I’ve designed the menu to suit the space, but at the same time I won’t be compromising on quality.” Michel, we would expect nothing less.
From £561 per person, 28 September, belmond.com