He’s cooking royalty in the hospitality industry but Michel Roux Jr admits he still loves macaroni cheese. Savour editor Georga Spottiswood chats with the legend himself.
Michel Roux Jr is wafting his hand over his mouth. “Those chips are hot,” he says as we stand in The Vault, the UK’s first hotel and restaurant for young people with autism and learning difficulties. Formerly River’s Edge Hotel, the venue in Gateshead has been
transformed during the past year into a training facility for youngsters to get hands-on experience, equipping them with the skills needed to work in the hospitality industry.
“I’m not a food snob. I love a bit of macaroni cheese,” laughs the culinary genius, who looks relaxed in navy jeans, with the top button of his crisp, white shirt undone beneath his waistcoat.
When he’s not gracing our TV screens, Michel is chef patron at the iconic Le Gavroche in Mayfair, which celebrated 50 years of sensational dining service this year.
Today, however, he’s taken time out of his hectic schedule – free of charge– to officially open The Vault, set up by passionate businessman John Heron.
“It’s great to be here again in the North East – and wow, this place is amazing,” says Michel Roux Jr. “It’s perceptions, perceptions that people with disability don’t belong in society, but they do. I firmly believe that it’s not the disability, we should be looking to find the ability. “I believe that everybody has an ability and that we owe it, I say we – I mean those in the hospitality industry
– we owe it to them to help find them a job. The industry is huge, varied and vast and we’re crying out for people who want to work,” he adds.
Michel Roux Jr is the second generation of the royal family of cooking, the Roux dynasty, which has helped shape the way we eat in the UK.
Michel’s father, Michel Snr, and uncle Albert came to England in the 1960s and opened Le Gavroche. It became the first restaurant in Britain to gain three Michelin stars, back in 1982.
Through recessions, IRA bombing threats, the gentrification of Greater London, the introduction of online consumer reviews and blogs, and the rise of social media, there is very little the restaurant has not withstood on the road to its golden anniversary. Why?
“For two reasons,” says Michel. “Mainly because we are still true to our roots – French classical cooking – but we have also evolved. We are not stagnated but we still retain our identity.” Although passion resonates in his eyes, Michel is first to admit that he
“did not want to take over his father’s business”. “I always wanted to be a chef and work in the industry but I did not want to take over the business. I just grew into it”.
Names such as Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing, Pierre Koffmann and many more celeb chefs have earned their stripes at Le Gavroche. Does that make Michel proud?
“Yeah, it does but for every one chef that has had huge success and has become a household name, there are dozens more that have reached the pinnacle and are not household names,” says Michel humbly. “I got an email from an apprentice two weeks ago. Three years ago, he was at Le Gavroche and he said he’d just got his dream job as an executive chef in the Maldives. That’s special. It’s very heart warming.”
Rachel Humphrey is also among the industry elite to have risen up through the ranks at Le Gavroche – and is now the restaurant’s first female executive chef. Asked if he feels if there’s a shortage of women in the industry, Michel replies: “It’s definitely got a lot better. Cooking techniques, equipment is less heavy. You don’t need the strength of a male in the kitchen anymore. Chefs are a lot more civil, but still, there are a lot of dinosaurs in the kitchen that don’t think females should be there – which is beyond comprehension. It certainly does not exist in my restaurants.”
He talks about his own daughter, 26-year-old Emily – the youngest to join the Roux family dynasty – and her experiences. “She’s had odd experiences in the kitchen but those restaurants will remain nameless,” he says. “I’m very proud of her. She’s like me, when I was her age, she does not want to take over the family business. She wants to do her own thing, have her own restaurant. So watch this space.”
To find out more about Le Gavroche, visit www.le-gavroche.co.uk.
To find out more, visit @TheVaultRiversEdge on Facebook.