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Michel Roux Jr. Interview

January 9, 2015

LifestyleRestaurants & Bars | by Vicky Ilankovan

standing high-resCandid catches up with two-star Michelin chef, Michel Roux, at his restaurant Le Gavroche for a stunning meal (full review in Issue 9) followed by a discussion about his Chef’s Library and why he upholds a dress code.


Earlier this year there were some big renovations at Le Gavroche – particularly the new private dining room, the Chef’s Library. What inspired that?

I didn’t want to call it the Chef’s table because it’s not actually in the kitchen, and if I’m honest I don’t particularly like eating on a chef’s table myself as a customer, because after about half an hour or so the novelty wears off of watching a chef sweating over a hot stove, and then you go away at the end of the evening and your clothes smell of food, and as a customer I don’t particularly like it. But, I have got a direct TV link to the kitchen, so you can feel part of the atmosphere without really physically being in there. But what I do is I bring the kitchen into the Library, so the chefs come into the little private dining room and explain the menu and have a convivial time with the guests. So it’s a different atmosphere, and a different feeling to the main restaurant.


And there’s a special menu for the private dining room?

Absolutely. We have a bespoke menu that changes daily, and sometimes twice a day. It’s a tasting menu, and it also means that I can be slightly different to the Le Gavroche menu. Le Gavroche is unique, and it has to stay that way. It’s French, classical, with a few twists and turns, but in the Chef’s Library I can have a little freer reign; there’s lots of Asian influences.


Are you aware of the video feed when you’re in the kitchen?

(Laughs). The first week or so I had to remind the chefs that they were on show, but I suppose it’s a bit like Big Brother. You just forget it’s there after a while and you behave. There is the possibility of having an audio feed, but you’re probably better off without it. (Laughs).


You mentioned the Asian influence in the Chef’s Library, and there’s always been some of that in Le Gavroche’s food while you’ve been in charge. In what sense is Le Gavroche ‘French’ – what makes it French food rather than anything else?

Obviously, my father opened the restaurant in ‘67, and if you look back to those menus, they’re painfully French and classic. When I took over in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, I brought with me a little bit of Asian influence because I worked in Hong Kong, but also a new generation. It’s slightly lighter; it has evolved, but nonetheless still very French. Ninety percent of the menu items are steeped in French gastronomy, and that’s very important. I think that’s part of our success as well, that we have stood firm and stayed true to our roots.


In the past you’ve spoken about food wastage, and using the whole animal. Why is that important, and what does Le Gavroche do towards that?

Yeah, it’s very important. I think we should respect the animal from beginning to end, and by that I mean absolutely eat everything that is edible on the animal, and not turn our noses up – if you’ll pardon the pun, I suppose. One of my favourite parts of the pig is the snout. We shouldn’t turn our noses up to pigs’ tails, or pigs’ snouts, or intestines and suchlike. That’s important, and we do use a lot of innards and offal. In fact, we’ve got veal kidneys on the menu today. I think that’s part of the solution to feeding the world.


You’ve written a book in the past about wine and food. What do you feel is the relationship between the two?

I think it’s very important, and none more so being French. I think that being brought up in a French family as well, wine is an integral part of a dining experience, and that’s, I think, still missing in the vast majority of British chefs, that particular link. That comes from your family.


Where in London would you recommend to eat out? Other than your own restaurants, that is.

(Laughs). That’s a tough one to answer, because there are so many great places in London. We’re very fortunate to have so many fantastic places. One particular favourite of mine at the moment is The Dairy in Clapham. I live in Clapham, so that’s somewhere I would recommend at the moment.


Do you get any nervousness from restaurants when you turn up?

Yeah, sometimes. Sometimes you get a second look, ‘Oh my God, it’s him!’ But as long as they do what they normally do, they shouldn’t try and over-impress.


Dress codes are much less common than they used to be. Why does Le Gavroche maintain one?

Maybe it’s because of my age – then again I’m young, I’m 54. (Laughs). I think that coming to a restaurant such as Le Gavroche, gentlemen should wear a jacket. You no longer need to wear a tie, but wear a jacket. I think it’s out of respect. Not out of respect just for the restaurant, but also for the people that you’re dining with. I lament the fact now that you can go to the West End, to a show, and you can be sat next to somebody wearing shorts and a t-shirt. It’s about the theatre, about it all, about something special. It’s not about being elitist, it’s not about being, for me, out-dated; it’s just being special. And all restaurants have little quirky rules and regulations, and little things. Mine is that.


Dom Preston