Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Junior, 51, is owner Le Gavroche in Mayfair. He also runs two of London’s other leading restaurants: Roux at Parliament Square and Roux at Langham Hotel. He is the son of Albert Roux and the nephew of Michel Roux – two of the world’s most celebrated chefs. Between service, he also finds time to present BBC’s Masterchef: The Professionals.
We sat down with Michel to discuss the evolution of food, his culinary pet hates, and his favourite London restaurant.
You’re one of the world’s leading chefs – was it always meant to be?
I always wanted to be a chef and I couldn’t imagine being anything else. I had one thing on my mind, and that was it.
What qualities are important to instil in young chefs?
Gosh – it’s rigour, drive, not shirking from hard work. It’s very much a work ethic.
Has food really evolved that much since you started out?
Even more so from the time my father and uncle started in London. I’ve certainly seen a change in products, the quality of the produce has got better and better, especially English produce. The offer and quality of restaurants in Britain has come on in leaps and bounds too.
How did you strike a balance between old and new when you took over Le Gavroche from your father?
It’s something I had to be very careful about. It’s a question of balance, like you say. It’s also a question of evolving the restaurant without a revolution. So, not changing the philosophy and the core beliefs of the family and the restaurant, but nonetheless tweaking it and adapting it for modern palates. Any restaurant that stagnates, that doesn’t evolve, will die.
Any food trends you’re happy to see the back of?
I suppose mousses and froths that taste of nothing. They seem to be on their way out, thankfully.
People are cooking at home more and eating out more – why?
I think that’s down to the media. The general public are not as afraid as they used to be. They will cook at home with less trepidation. It’s confidence – which can only be good.
What made you decide to take on more television?
Masterchef: The Professionals was really perfect for me. I jumped at it. As a family, we’re very keen to pass on our knowledge, to help young chefs achieve their dreams. Masterchef is very much a vehicle for that, because I am nurturing and tutoring young talent.
Have you seen an increase in the quality of the contestants?
The last one was unbelievable – the quality was astounding. Every Professionals winner has been amazing, and this year is no exception. It gets better because there’s a better calibre of chefs applying. They see it’s a very serious cooking programme and a very serious competition. The winner can go on to do great things.
What is key to running a successful restaurant?
Key factor number-one is making money. If you don’t make money, you no longer have a restaurant. A lot of gifted chefs don’t realise that – they fall flat on their faces. But there are so many different facets to it. You have to feed your customers properly. You have to make sure you’re at the right price level. Consistency is also vital. It’s a whole melting pot – pardon the pun – of different ingredients.
A couple of cliché questions now. First, what’s one thing you’ll never eat again?
Whale. I tried whale meat years ago, just before I was about to run the Midnight Sun Marathon in the Arctic Circle. The taste of it was with me for the whole 26 miles. God no, never again.
Second, what was your favourite dish growing up?
Oh, tough one. My mum’s shepherds pie. It was very good.
Any current projects we can pry on?
I am working with Global Knives to launch a very exclusive set of high-end knives. Working together with the designers, and with such a great company, is very interesting to say the least.
Aside from your own, of course, which restaurant would you recommend in London?
Gosh… Zuma, the Japanese restaurant. I think it’s got a great buzz to it, the service is good and the food is outstanding.