By Philippe Broad
- 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.
: 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?
: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
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?
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?
: 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.
: 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?
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
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.
lighter necessarilly have to mean tastier?
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.
: 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
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?
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?
Something unusual, something pleasant. A
lobster which is quite delicious, rapidly sautéed and
easy to prepare, and then as a meat dish, a
grilled fillet of veal with
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.
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.