We catch up with Michel Roux Jr., the former Masterchef with a few Michelin stars under his apron, to talk about his upcoming appearance at Taste of Dublin, army training, and chocolate…
An assistant answers the kitchen phone. While we wait to talk to Michel Roux Jr., the renowned chef and television personality, we hear the clang of morning prep humming in the background of one of the world’s most in-demand restaurants, Le Gavroche of Mayfair. “We’re always busy,” Roux explains in the tone of a man who seems as far from ‘heated celebrity chef’ one can get. Roux tells us that he can be found in the internationally famous restaurant most days of the week, but not Sundays. Le Gavroche is booked months in advance and after a brief Bank Holiday repose Roux and his staff are in “a bit of a mad, crazy rush to get all the ingredients in on time and prepared for a busy lunch.”
Lunch can wait though. Roux is here to chat to us about his upcoming gaelic sojourn as he puts in an appearance at this month’s Taste of Dublin festival, which kicks off the weekend after next in Iveagh Gardens. It promises alfresco tasting tents from some of Dublin’s most loved and interesting restaurants with live cooking demonstrations from some of the best chefs in Ireland and Britain. For its ninth year, Roux Jr. is one of the biggest names gracing the Taste of Dublin programme with his just-finished stint on BBC’s Masterchef having garnered him even more devotees beyond the eternal fandom which surrounds his London restaurant. Amiable, a hearty chuckle sprinkles his conversation. “Gosh, I think the last time I was in Dublin was about maybe thirty years ago. I’m guessing it has changed a lot… I hope there’s good weather as well,” he laughs heartily. We decide not to tell him about the micro-climate of constant drizzle.
Roux Jr.’s cooking heritage is unparalleled. His father, Albert, and uncle, with whom he shares a name, established Le Gavroche in 1967, with the Waterside Inn following soon after. Cheffing was in Roux’s blood. No surprise then that his daughter Emily has followed the well-trodden family path. How does Roux feel about her venturing after him into the highly stressed world of the culinary arts? “It’s her decision and she absolutely loves what she’s doing. You can’t really ask more for your child than to end up doing something that they love and that they are passionate about. Ever since I can remember she’s always said that she wanted to be a chef.”
In the early eighties the half-French Roux found himself completing military service in France, a practice that no longer exists. “It was two months of proper formal military training so learning how to shoot a gun and such like. And then because I was a chef and because of who I knew, or who the family knew, I managed to pull a few strings and I ended up cooking in the Elysee Palace (the residency of the French President). I was cooking for the president, which meant it wasn’t a waste of twelve months. I was actually cooking and learning.”
After Paris he worked for a time in Hong Kong’s Mandarin Oriental, recalling his spell in that heady, buzzy city as “a wonderful experience.” Roles in the Waterside Inn and family catering business followed, with Roux returning to Le Gavroche in the early nineties. In 1993 he took over the restaurant upon his father’s retirement and has been the star of British cooking since with well-received books and sporadic appearances on television peppering all those Michelin star announcements. It was six series of BBC’s Masterchef however which brought him into the public eye on a larger scale. He recently ended his role with the show because of outside commercial interests involving his endorsement of a potato brand.
Regarding the explosion of celebrity chefs this past decade, Roux is positive. “It’s not a bad thing. I think it’s done good for our industry and it certainly encouraged a lot of youngsters to come into our industry. It makes people more knowledgeable and thirst for different food experiences.”
Roux’s favourite kind of food experience isn’t as grand as you would imagine. “I’ve been very fortunate. I have eaten in some of the most beautiful and luxurious places on the planet. But very often they don’t rank as the best ones. The best ones are sometimes the simplest ones and it’s a moment in time that you share with loved ones and the food doesn’t have to be elaborate. ”
Finally we get to talk to the chef about a mutual passion, chocolate. Roux will be presenting a BBC 4 documentary entitled Chocolat later this year. “It’s a one hour documentary on the history of chocolate and how chocolate is made. We shot it in Paris and Lyon.” Home of “the best chocolatiers,” he boasts. “I gorged myself on chocolate for weeks.” Does the gourmet ever feel the need to indulge in something a little less classy, drenched in emulsifiers and bought from a corner shop? “No!” he exclaims with mock incredulity. “My love of chocolate really is love and I don’t consider cheap confectionary chocolate. So I never ever eat cheap confectionary.” That’s us told.
Taste of Dublin runs June 12-15th For more information see here.
Jeanne Sutton @jeannedesutun