Food: A Cooking Lesson from the Greatest; the Roux Brothers - Who This Week Received Honorary OBEs for Services to the Restaurant Industry - Are Widely Seen as Having Kicked off the Revolution Which Has Led to English Cookery at Last Being Able to Hold Its Head Up Alongside That of France and Italy. Andrew Davies Talks to Elder Statesman of Cooking, Michel Roux

The Birmingham Post (England), November 2, 2002 | Go to article overview

Food: A Cooking Lesson from the Greatest; the Roux Brothers - Who This Week Received Honorary OBEs for Services to the Restaurant Industry - Are Widely Seen as Having Kicked off the Revolution Which Has Led to English Cookery at Last Being Able to Hold Its Head Up Alongside That of France and Italy. Andrew Davies Talks to Elder Statesman of Cooking, Michel Roux


Byline: Andrew Davies

Michel Roux is about to fly off to France for the weekend with his brother Albert, to help his mother celebrate her 90th birthday.

'She is quite fragile now,' he explains. 'She doesn't want to go out. But who can blame her when she has two of the best chefs in the world to cook for her?'

A little lacking in modesty, perhaps, but then again, Michel Roux can justify this lack of modesty. And when you meet this charming elder statesman of cuisine, you cannot hold anything against him.

Nattily dressed in dark trousers, velvet waistcoat and tie featuring Asterix's mate Obelix, he is immaculately groomed. With neatly-parted salt-and-pepper hair and smelling of unmistakably-expensive aftershave, Roux is chatty and forthcoming, frank and opinionated, yet diplomatic.

It's now 35 years since the brothers arrived in Britain to set up Le Gavroche in London. And this year Roux celebrates the 30th anniversary of his restaurant The Waterside Inn at Bray, in Berkshire. Never one to rest on his laurels, however, he has just published his cooking manifesto Only the Best: The Art of Cooking With A Master Chef.

It's the latest phase in a career that began in the French town of Charolles, near Lyons in the Charolais region where the cows come from, just over 60 years ago.

Roux was born in a flat above the family business, to which he partly attributes the genesis of his and his brother's lifelong love of food.

'In some ways we were lucky not only to be born in France, and also in a family where mother cooked well, but also very lucky in the fact that we lived above my father's delicatessen orcharcuterie,' says Roux. 'In the back was the room where they made everything. So as we were growing up, the smells of sausages, pat and sauerkraut would waft up the stairs and through the window. It was an environment where food was everything, and it is a very important stimulant.'

Roux explains the brothers' decision to set up their first restaurant in Britain - Le Gavroche - as a case of supply and demand.

'The reason was simply because I came on holiday as a kid of 15 or 16 years-old and went out with my brother trying to find some decent food, and there was nothing comparable to what we had on the continent,' he says.

'We both thought it was a jolly good idea to start something. The standard of living in this country was very good compared to Germany, Italy and France and Spain after the war.

'The British still had all their dominions sending them their foods and goods - for nothing.

'It had everything to attract us: we didn't have very much money, and to set up a restaurant of a similar size to La Gavroche in a similar area of Paris would have cost us double.'

Financially, and as epicurean evangelists, London had everything going for it.

'It was the dark ages as far as food was concerned,' Roux admits. 'There were two subjects the British would never ever talk about: food and sex. Today these two things make and sell everything in this country.

'It's not the dark ages any more. If you'd left this country 30 years ago and come back today, you would just think it's not the same place. It has not been an evolution - it's a revolution. I would not say it is the best country for food in the world, but it has nothing to envy other countries for.'

The Roux brothers, followed by Raymond Blanc a few years later, are widely recognised by the industry as leading the revolution in British food.

And like Blanc, they see high-quality training as the reason Britain has started producing fine chefs of its own. There are now more than 900 chefs working in Britain and abroad who have served as apprentices in the Roux kitchens at Bray and London over the past 30 years or so, many of whom now have Michelin stars to their own names. …

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Food: A Cooking Lesson from the Greatest; the Roux Brothers - Who This Week Received Honorary OBEs for Services to the Restaurant Industry - Are Widely Seen as Having Kicked off the Revolution Which Has Led to English Cookery at Last Being Able to Hold Its Head Up Alongside That of France and Italy. Andrew Davies Talks to Elder Statesman of Cooking, Michel Roux
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