Special Feature: Michel Roux
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n thirty years, Michel Roux and his brother, Albert, have attained legendary fame. From the start, the British considered their restaurants, Le Gavroche in London's Mayfair district and The Waterside Inn by the Thames near Windsor, two of the finest tables in the realm and Roux recipe books have delighted cooks worldwide. Meanwhile, in their native France, where their success in the land of "l'ennemi héréditaire" was envied or ignored, recognition was slower in coming. On a recent visit to the British Embassy in Paris where he began his career, Michel Roux talked to Cyberchef about some of the changes in cuisine in the last three decades.

By Philippe Broad
Paris - 12 May 1997

Philippe Broad : Your career started here in the kitchens of the British Embassy in Paris. That's an interesting start for a chef who was to lead such a successful career in the United Kingdom.

Michel Roux : That was in 1957 and 1958. It was my début in a kitchen. I had studied pastry for three years as an apprentice at the Pâtisserie Loyal in Paris, and I started here as a trainee pastry cook.

BROAD : If you were looking for a post to observe the difference in French and British attitudes towards the pleasures of eating, you could hardly find better. What was your next move?

ROUX :After my two years here, I moved a few doors along the Faubourg Saint Honoré to become trainee cook to Miss Cécile de Rothschild. Then I had to do my Military Service, first of all as chef in the officers' mess at Versailles, and after that in Algeria.

BROAD : A chance, no doubt, to discover the secrets of oriental pastry making, but the cuisine of the Maghreb must have been a big change from that of the Faubourg Saint Honoré.

ROUX : Indeed it was. I made pastries, couscous, just about everything. I was in the Sahara with an Arab cook to help me. We just got on with it. When that was over, I came back to Paris and worked for the Bismarck family, and then as private chef to the Schneiders, the steel magnates. They had a private house on the rue des Belles Feuilles, but this has now disappeared, along with the steel mills! Immediately after that I went back to Cécile de Rothschild, but this time as chef.

BROAD : At twenty two, that was a fantastic break. She was known the world over as a hostess. What was that like?

ROUX : Very stimulating. Miss Cécile wanted only the best for herself or her guests, and expense was no problem, but it had to be good. I had carte blanche to do whatever I wanted. I stayed there close on 6 years, until I was twenty seven. Then I left for England to open Le Gavroche in April 1967. So my career in France was very short, and always in a maison bourgeoise or Embassy.

BROAD : How did the British take to Le Gavroche when it opened?

ROUX : Le Gavroche was an immediate success. We had an excellent clientèle. The restaurant was full from the start, and still is. After that we opened the Waterside Inn by the Thames near Windsor, which I run now and which has 3 stars in the Michelin guide. After that, we opened several restaurants.... Le Poulbot, Le Gamin, and others. For a while we had up to 450 salaried staff.

BROAD : Gavroche, Poulbot, Gamin... You seem to have stuck to a certain style of names for your restaurants, except the Waterside Inn. Weren't these all projects you developped together with your brother?

ROUX : You're quite right. There are two of us. If my brother hadn't lived in England I would probably never have gone there myself. He was working there and liked it. I went over to pay a visit and have been there ever since.

BROAD : Thirty years is a fair while. Over that period you'll have witnessed a staggering change in the tastes of the British, as well as what is available in the shops in the terms of food.

ROUX : Everything has changed. Consumers are much more receptive and much more knowledgeable. The supplies situation has evolved a lot, not only in the supermarkets but in the small shops too. Lets say, in terms of basic raw materials you now have a real choice.

BROAD :I hear you can find fresh basil just about anywhere throughout the year. That was unheard of a few years ago.

ROUX : Fresh, potted, almost any way you want it! But you can also buy fresh chives and tarragon as well as those delightful salads you find in the Midi in France, like mesclun and roquette. Not only has there been a shift in supplies, we put a broom through the catering business as well.

BROAD : With things so different when you opened Le Gavroche, what did you serve your clients in the early days?

ROUX : We served a range of dishes which in fact were the same as I used to serve the Rothschilds in France, or my brother in England. As chef to the Queen Mother's horse trainer he often had the Royals as patrons. He therefore had a range of "house" dishes, just as I had my maison bourgeoise dishes from the Rothschilds. Et puis voilà ! We built our menu from there. We served roast duck from the Challans region in France, flambéed bass with fennel, lobster with escargots - béarnaise sauce, "pot au feu" - Albert sauce, and many more. For example there was the Soufflé Suissesse. This is a cheese soufflé which is taken from its mould when half-cooked to be finished in cream and topped with a blend of gruyère and cheddar. That's a quite a hop from your traditional cheese soufflé! It's as popular as ever at my brother's restaurant, Le Gavroche.

BROAD :What are the significant changes you have seen since then?

ROUX : Things have lightened up considerably. We no longer cook a lot of foods in the same manner. They might now be steamed or grilled. We have "nages" where we might have had a Champagne sauce before, and so on. But this is an evolution which we have carried out on our own, rather than by popular request, at least at our end of the scale. It's what we wanted, too. Personally, I cook what I want to eat.

BROAD : In other words, it's a lot lighter?

ROUX :Much lighter, of course. It's tastier, therefore much lighter. Above all, it's a lot less fussy.

BROAD :Does lighter necessarilly have to mean tastier?

ROUX : As a general rule I think so, unless you're getting into winter dishes which are more traditional, such as a daube of beef à la beaujolaise, or an ox-tail. There are some dishes which you just can't replace. A navarin of spring lamb, for example, is simply delicious and can be wonderfully light. It doesn't have to be a "stew" so long as the sauce is delicate.

BROAD : What precisely have you bannished from your recipes? Sauces brunes, and white sauces, for example?

ROUX :Not even. They are simply no longer thickened as before. Let's say, there are no more sauces brunes, only sauces blondes. For example, there are blonds de veau (light veal stocks). Speaking of that, my latest book is devoted to sauces . It contains some 200 sauce recipes, both sweet and savoury. There are sauces for salads, sauces for pasta, sauces for desserts, sauces for everything!

BROAD :Were has it been published?

ROUX :It came out in the U.K. about six months ago, and was published simultaneously in the U.S. and Canada. It was such a success that the Germans wanted it, followed by Sweden, Holland, Finland and Spain. I have just signed the contract for France and Belgium. The book will come out in French in October. I have already sold 100,000 copies. This is my sixth book. Over the last fourteen years my six books will have sold a total of 750,000 copies, which is not a bad score at all!

BROAD :Apart from this last one, which languages were your books published in? English? French?

ROUX :On average, about 40% of sales have been in the U.K. and the remaining 60% elsewhere. Four of my books are on sale in France, however.

BROAD : We shall publish a review of the book shortly. In the meantime, perhaps you would let us publish a recipe which Cyberchef readers could try at home until they can make it to the Waterside Inn for lunch or dinner? What would you suggest?

ROUX : Something unusual, something pleasant. A "cassolette" of lobster which is quite delicious, rapidly sautéed and easy to prepare, and then as a meat dish, a grilled fillet of veal with redcurrant pearls.

BROAD : Wonderful! As a parting question, what stage have the Roux brothers reached in their enterprises in 1997?

ROUX : We currently have two restaurants. My brother Albert runs Le Gavroche in town and I the Waterside Inn in the country. Le Poulbot, Le Gamin and all that is over. We closed certain restaurants, and sold others to buy off our underwriters. Our total workforce has come down from 450 to a mere 120 - which is amply enough - and our two flagship restaurants are now the sole property of the Roux brothers. I like it that way!

Nestling under a willow on the banks of the Thames, The Waterside Inn is a traditional inn located in the heart of royal England, just a stone's throw from Eton College, Ascot, Windsor Castle, and the regatta towns of Henley and Marlow. This is a "must" in any tour of the great tables, or simply to celebrate a special occasion. The dining room looks onto the river where swans and ducks abound in the hope of picking up the odd left-over from a cocktail party. Savour oeufs en feuilleté aux aspèrges, homard poêlé au Porto, aiguillettes de caneton aux clous de girofle, and pêché mignon selon "Michel". Excellent wine cellar. Drinks and coffee can be served on the terrace when the weather is fine.

Menus range from £29,50 to £67,50 and à la carte main-course dishes are in the region of £25 to £35. Sound advice; leave room for a dessert, where Roux, who won the much-envied title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France - Pâtisserie 1976, excells. 6 contemporary and comfortable rooms are available for those who wish to relax and enjoy their meal without the obligation to drive home afterwards, and a private suite can be organised for business meetings or private parties.

The Waterside Inn
Ferry Road BRAY, Berkshire SL6 2AT
Tel : (44) (01628) 20691
Fax : (44) (01628) 78710
Internet : waterinn@aol.com
*** Michelin Guide

London 45km / Oxford 60 km / Heathrow airport 20 mins.

Credit Cards : Visa, Diners, Eurocard-Mastercard, Amex

Weekly closing :
Hotel : Mondays
Restaurant : Monday, Tuesday noon, Sunday evening in winter

Annual closing :
Hotel : from December 22 to January 31
Restaurant : from December 26 to January 31

Pets not allowed.

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