Taking a well-earned break while indulging in some of La Maison du Chocolat’s delicious chocolate ganache, Michel Roux Jr and his daughter Emily Roux, talk to KERRY SPENCER about their favourite restaurants, the Roux Legacy, French heritage and love of British Stilton.
Following in her father, grandfather and great-uncle’s footsteps, Emily Roux, Michel’s 20-year-old daughter, has embarked on her own culinary journey. Having just started a six-month placement in Monaco after completing a course at the famous Paul Bocuse Institute in Lyon, Emily enjoys a brief spell at home with her family before the real hard work begins.
While Emily is just starting her career in the kitchen, Michel is as busy as ever. With three successful restaurants, a role as a judge on MasterChef: The Professionals and championing homegrown produce in The Great British Food Revival, he also has a new television show which is set to broadcast in early 2012, The Roux Legacy, charting the journey of the Roux family from when they first landed in Britain.
HOW DO YOU PLAN TO SPEND THE HOLIDAY SEASON?
EMILY: Not together! I go back to work on the 26th [December] this year, so I’ll go back to Monaco the day before.
MICHEL: When I was her age, I was a pastry apprentice and worked Christmas Day! We’ll celebrate Christmas just before and probably have a big goose or turkey.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY COOKING OVER CHRISTMAS?
E: It changes every year.
M: I’ll be in my house in France for about 10 days and we’ll work our way through a very big menu, or several menus! We usually have goose, turkey, pheasant and a leg of pork. It’s gluttony and we’re usually glad to go back to work afterwards.
WHAT’S A TYPICAL ROUX FAMILY CHRISTMAS LIKE?
M: Very traditional. We exchange gifts the night before, which is a French thing. We tend to have a late dinner and then open presents at midnight on Christmas Eve, which means we can have a lie in on Christmas Day.
WHO COOKS IN THE ROUX HOUSEHOLD?
M: Well, it’s usually a joint effort. My dear wife is allowed in the kitchen but not to do much cooking!
E: She sets the table and makes everything look very pretty, though.
DO YOU FOLLOW BRITISH OR FRENCH TRADITIONS OVER THE HOLIDAYS?
E: It’s more British, really. We always have a Christmas pudding at the end of our dinner, which is definitely British.
M: We have cheese before dessert, which is a French thing. I even take some British cheese with me to France – a British Stilton! The whole family loves Stilton and we always manage to demolish it in 10 days. It’s unbelievable how much cheese we eat.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO MOST ABOUT THE HOLIDAYS?
BOTH: Being together.
M: And raising a glass! The religious side of Christmas has somewhat been eroded, but it is definitely a time for us to spend with family. My wife will still go to midnight mass with her mum and a few of the family. I tend to spend that time doing the cooking and getting everything ready. Christmas is very much a time to reflect and to be with close ones and family.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE FOR YOU TO GROW UP AS PART OF THE ROUX FAMILY?
We always ate very well, that’s for sure! I’ve always been very conscientious about what I’m eating, how I’m eating it and where food is from; there’s always been an education on that. I’ve been very lucky because I’ve had the chance to experience lots of different restaurants, too.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’VE BEEN GIVEN BY A MEMBER OF YOUR FAMILY?
Work hard! It’s a very tough industry, which demands a lot of time and work so it’s always been, “Keep your head down and get on with it.”
WHO INSPIRES YOU IN THE INDUSTRY?
Other than my father, the chefs at Nobu [inspire me] because I love that kind of food. I’ve always wanted to go to Asia to see what it’s like over there as I’m sure they have a very different work ethic to us.
YOU COMPLETED YOUR TRAINING AT THE PRESTIGIOUS PAUL BOCUSE INSTITUTE IN LYON. HOW DID YOU FIND IT THERE?
The Paul Bocuse Institute was the best place to train for what I wanted to do; which is to be in the kitchen. I love Lyon, it’s a great city and the people are great.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS NOW YOU’VE LEFT LYON?
I’ve just started a placement at Alain Ducasse’s restaurant, Louis XV, in Monaco, which is very exciting. I’ll be doing work experience with the pastry team for six months.
YOU RECENTLY SPENT TIME IN PARIS, WHAT WERE YOU DOING THERE?
I spent four months at the Hôtel Lancaster, which has one Michelin star. The executive chef is Michel Troisgros, a very famous chef in France.
HOW DID YOU FIND WORKING IN PARIS?
Working for such a top hotel, we would receive crazy demands from guests. Particularly during Fashion Week, we had the most bizarre requests. We had one request for just a cucumber, and we were like, “You’ve come to a one-star restaurant in Paris and you’re asking for a cucumber?” I think I’d like to work in Paris again, but I’m not all that fond of Paris in itself – too many people and tourists rushing around, it’s a crazy city.
WHICH OTHER CITIES WOULD YOU LIKE TO EXPERIENCE WORKING IN?
Definitely some Asian cities and one day I’d like to go back to Chicago. Much further down the line I’d also like to experience South America. Charlie Trotter’s is one of the restaurants we ate at on a trip to Chicago and it really stuck in my mind. The chef was really nice and we actually ate at the chef’s table in the kitchen. It was a great meal and it seemed like such a great place to work.
[Michel interjects, “The food was sensational!”]
WHAT IS IT ABOUT FRANCE AND ITS FOOD THAT IS SO SPECIAL TO YOU?
They’re just crazy about food; cheese, meat – anything food related, they just get so happy and excited about it!
WHAT ARE YOUR ULTIMATE GOALS AS A CHEF?
To have my own successful restaurant would make me happy. If TV opportunities present themselves, then why not, but it’s not a goal in life to be on TV.
WHO IS THE BETTER COOK IN THE FAMILY?
My father! He has experience over me.
MICHEL ROUX JR
WHAT TV SHOWS DO YOU HAVE COMING UP FOR 2012?
The Roux Legacy is coming up soon. It’s a documentary about the Roux’s from the moment we arrived in Britain up until the present day. It’s going to be an amazing show with all of us cooking, including Emily.
HOW DO YOU THINK THE 2011 SERIES OF MASTERCHEF: THE PROFESSIONALS WENT?
We had an excellent quality of chefs on MasterChef: The Professionals and by the time we’d reached the quarterfinals, any of them could have won it.
THE GREAT BRITISH FOOD REVIVAL AIRED RECENTLY. WHAT IS IT ABOUT PEARS, THE PRODUCE YOU WERE CHAMPIONING, THAT ATTRACTED YOU?
Well the pears are from Kent, very close to where I grew up so there was the connection there, but the important thing is to buy British to keep our producers in business and to keep British produce alive.
HOW HAS THE ROUTE YOU TOOK INTO THE KITCHEN DIFFERED FROM EMILY’S?
I went straight into an apprenticeship after my O-Levels at 16. I went to Paris for two years at the end of which I had a pastry qualification, whereas Emily went to a catering college for three years, during which she did very valuable placements too.
WHO IS THE MOST CRITICAL MEMBER OF THE ROUX FAMILY?
My mum! But then we’re all critical. If we sit down in front of a plate of food, we analyse it first.
DO YOU HAVE YOUR EYE ON ANY UP-AND-COMING CHEFS AT THE MOMENT?
Other than the two young chefs who are running my other restaurants at The Landau and Parliament Square, Chris and Toby (respectively), the three finalists of this series of MasterChef: The Professionals are definitely ones to look out for. They’re phenomenal.