World-renowned chef Michel Roux Jr. reveals to The Luxury Channel the secret ingredient for the perfect restaurant….
Was it inevitable that you would end up in the kitchen, or did you entertain the idea of a different profession?
No, I’ve always wanted to be a chef. For as long as I can remember!
How big an influence are your father and uncle?
A big influence! I mean, they were a big influence when I was growing up and they still are. Absolutely.
Growing up, was there ever any competition between you and your cousin Alain?
No, never. Never any competition. We’ve always been cousins with never a bad word.
Didn’t you both spent your military service in the kitchens at the Elysee Palace? What was that like?
Brilliant, an absolutely amazing experience cooking for two presidents – Giscard d’Estaing and Francois Mitterrand – an honour and a privilege and one that will always stay with me.
What brought you back to London after working in Hong Kong? How different was the cuisine you were cooking at the Mandarin Hotel compared to what was being done in London at the time?
Ah, the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong was amazing, and still is. It’s an iconic venue in Hong Kong. Gosh, the time I spent there, I worked in every food outlet, from the coffee shop to the grill (which was stunning) to the fine dining room. I even worked in the Chinese restaurant there. So it was just a revelation. It was unbelievable to work in a 5 star luxury hotel, to work behind the scenes and to see how it runs. It was a great experience.
How hard was it to break out from under your father’s shadow when you first took over the reins at Le Gavroche?
I suppose I still am! He started the business with my uncle. But I think I have made my own reputation now. But they will always be there and they will always have their legacy as well.
How have dining habits changed over the years, and how hard is it to embrace the kind of innovation needed to continue to corner the market?
I think dining habits have changed quite a bit. I think they’ve changed in terms of sharing plates are now in and tapas is in but there will always be a place for the formal restaurant, I think. We all have birthdays and anniversaries and we all want to have that luxurious, pampered feel, so they will always exist.
We all know that things don’t always go quite to plan in the kitchen. Can you recall any memorable disasters you’ve had?
There are disasters, and disasters will always happen, but it’s how you get out of them that’s most important. Being the sort of person I am, I don’t dwell on them, I always move on. To coin a modern phrase, I’ve pressed the delete button!
Your daughter Emily is a chef. Was that something you wanted for her, or a career path she chose for herself?
Again, she’s always wanted to be a chef – she’s never thought of being anything other than a chef. That’s the way it is, I suppose. It’s in the genes.
Do you think more needs to be done to inspire women to become chefs?
That’s a very difficult question because if you take my kitchen for example, the head chef and the two sous chefs are female, so maybe I am not the norm. I think other than those three main positions, we’ve got another four females in the kitchen so we’ve got a lot. I’ve never, ever been discriminatory in that way. I think if you’re good enough, it doesn’t matter if you’re male, female, black or white. If you’re good enough, you deserve your position.
What advice would you give to a young chef starting out?
Don’t be late! That’s one of the things I learnt as an apprentice – don’t be late!
What is the key to a good restaurant?
The key to a good restaurant is actually more than just good food. The key to a good restaurant is the whole experience. So the front of house, the service and the buzz. The buzz is very important. A good atmosphere. You can’t buy buzz; it’s not an ingredient. You only get the buzz from happy people dining in your restaurant.
What’s your signature dish?
No signature dish as such, but one of the favourite best-sellers is the cheese soufflé so that’s been on the menu since 1967 and is still on.
Cooking is a challenging profession. What’s the most difficult dish you’ve ever had to prepare?
Well, soufflés are pretty tricky, but I’ve had a few years’ experience in it!
To what extent is social media a new tool in the chef’s kitchen?
Social media is good, but I think some chefs do it a little too much. But it’s a great tool for any business now, really.
You’re very successful, but looking to the future, do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?
Yes, of course. The beauty of our industry is that every day is different. So the ambition is making sure that every plate of food is as good as it possibly can be and to make sure every diner is as happy as they can be.
What’s your favourite luxury?
I do have many, but actually, the biggest luxury is not something you can buy, and that is time. So when I can afford to take just a little time off and chill out a bit, that’s a huge luxury.
The Luxury Channel spoke to Michel via Interview Hub. For more information about Le Gavroche, click here. Michel will be appearing at the BBC Good Food Show Winter which takes place at Birmingham NEC from 27-30 November.