As two-time Michelin star winner Michel Roux Jr makes his Taste of Dubai debut, he says his food fundamentals are still real.
Are you brave enough to cook a dish for Michel Roux Jr? Find out when the chef makes his debut at Taste of Dubai
There’s an ingredient in Michel Roux Jr’s recipe for a good food festival that you may not expect: A pinch of hugs.
‘I love meeting fans and for the most part, they’re all really lovely,’ says the British chef, who makes his UAE debut at next weekend’s Taste of Dubai food festival. ‘I’m happy to autograph photos and cookbooks, and even the occasional hug! It doesn’t take much time at all but it can put a smile on someone’s face and that’s what it is all about.’
The restaurant scion – his father is Albert Roux, of the Roux brothers – is a fresh face on the Taste of Dubai stage in the event’s 10th year; coming back to join him are boisterous TV favourites Jenny Morris and Reza Mohammad, Dubai-based British food star Gary Rhodes, and UK MasterChef winner Tim Anderson.
Like Tim, Michel has a UK MasterChef connection – but rather than being a winner, he judged the professional contest for six seasons, lending a warm gravitas to the proceedings. There’s no doubt he was qualified to separate the wheat from the chaff: As chef patron of Le Gavroche, the restaurant his father founded 50 years ago, he’s held on to two Michelin stars since taking over in 1991. Fans of the show will remember the precision with which Michel would prepare a signature dish of classic French cookery, then watch as the contestants would attempt to recreate it – with entertainingly impressive or tragic results.
Expect that same French technique when he takes the stage at the Chef’s Theatre on March 9 (take your seat for 8.30pm) – although he promises a dish that we can all do at home (without the criticism of his sous-chef and protégé Monica Galetti, who famously terrorises contestants as a co-judge on the show).
His dish? Roast pigeon with peaches, turnips and sage. ‘It’s a delicious dish with big, bold flavours and original combinations, but it’s also an extremely easy recipe to follow if you want to prepare it at home,’ Michel says, in an interview conducted over email. ‘I love the contrast between the sweetness of the peaches with the delicate earthiness of the turnips – it accompanies the pigeon beautifully.’
But perhaps even more enticingly for fans of the show (which he departed in 2014, after he and the BBC could not come to terms with his commercial tie-up with a potato brand), Taste of Dubai offers a chance to cook for Michel, and have him judge your dish. Start melting your butter now, because you’re going to want to practise. (His cooking challenge sessions are on March 9 at 6.30pm, March 10 (5.30pm) and March 11 (4.30pm).
‘I’ll be cooking asparagus maltaise, which is simple yet elegant. Maltaise sauce is a zestier version of hollandaise sauce, using fresh orange juice, and brings a real depth of flavour to the asparagus.’
Lest you think he’s left MasterChef behind since being replaced by Marcus Wareing (a chef who was trained by Michel’s father, Albert) Michel says he looks back on the show fondly. ‘I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the show – finding and supporting culinary talent is something I’ve always strived to do in my career and MasterChef: The Professionals was a great platform to do that on. I’m still in contact with some of the contestants from the show, including [2009 winner] Steve Groves, who I appointed head chef at Roux at Parliament Square’, one of three restaurants
he has to his name. Michel didn’t stay out of the media, or headlines, for long, however: The latest TV show he’s tipped for? The Channel 4 reincarnation of The Great British Bake Off – having been spotted in London with host Paul Hollywood recently.
He also earned headlines at the end of last year when The Guardian revealed Le Gavroche was paying some staff less than the minimum wage – and that tips were not going directly to staff (Michel did not answer Friday’s questions about the issue; he has apologised in the UK press, and said dues will be paid and working hours reduced). He did open up, however, about chocolate (he’s a famous fan of the sweet stuff), Monica moving on, and mentorship. Read on… Say you went back on MasterChef –butasa contestant. What dish would you dread being set for the technical test in the early stages? What would you cook to dazzle? I’ve been in professional kitchens for most of my life, so I’d be a bit worried if there was a technical test I couldn’t do! I love chocolate – proper, quality chocolate with minimum 70 per cent cocoa solids – so maybe I’d cook something using chocolate, sweet or savoury. I think the key is to cook something really personal to you – I do think you need to put love into a dish. And always, always practise! If Monica was going to judge something you’ve cooked, what do you think she would say about you? She’d probably say it was horrible, just to be funny! She can be a real joker like that. In all seriousness, I would take whatever she said on board. Monica is an amazing chef, with incredible skill, technique and passion – it’s why I hired her – and I’ve always valued her advice. Speaking of Monica – she’s due to open her own restaurant, Mere, this month. How do you feel about her move? I’m thrilled for her – Monica has been a part of the family for a long time, and I wish her every success. I knew she wanted to open her own restaurant eventually and I’ve supported her every step of the way. I think for any teacher, seeing your ‘student’ realise their dreams is a wonderful feeling. How important is mentorship in the industry? Have you mentored staff – or people who are not on your payroll? It’s hugely important and like I say, supporting emerging culinary talent is something I’ve done personally, something I’ll continue to do. So many brilliant chefs have walked through my kitchen doors and I wear that as a badge of honour. I’m one of the co-chairs of the Roux Scholarship with my cousin Alain, and we provide the winner with a stage [internship] at any Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. Beyond that, every single winning scholar is supported and mentored by the Roux family and the other scholars for the rest of their careers – it’s essentially one big family. Who were your mentors? My father and my uncle [also called Michel] are probably the most obvious ones. Beyond that, I did my apprenticeship when I was 16 under Maître Pâtissier Hellegouarche, the finest pastry chef in France, before moving to Alain Chapel’s three-star restaurant near Lyon. I’ve worked with so many incredible chefs and each of them have taught me something I’ve kept with me. As a chef, you should never stop learning. What are the biggest challenges in the restaurant industry at the moment, and how do you overcome those? I think one of the biggest challenges is attracting more people to the catering and hospitality industries, particularly women. I think the fact that there are more and more famous female chefs is a brilliant thing – it’s dispelling the myth that it’s impossible to be a chef and have a family at the same time. It’s true that it’s maybe harder than some other industries, but it’s not impossible and if you’re passionate about cooking then it’s something you will absolutely love doing. It’s a very rewarding job – my daughter Emily is also a chef and she’s never looked back. Is there a genetic disposition to being a chef? Or is it a case of nurture over nature? Maybe, it certainly seems to be the case with
‘SUPPORTING emerging culinary talent is something I have done PERSONALLY, and something I will CONTINUE to do.’
the Roux family. Emily has always been around chefs and was brought up in kitchens, just like I was. She used to spend the school holidays with me and the team in the kitchen, so they have become her extended family too. I suppose when the time came, there wasn’t anything else she wanted to do. Her mother didn’t actually want her to become a chef! It’s a lot of hard work, and success can take years. But Emily really is a brilliant chef – even though her style of cooking is different to mine! I’m extremely proud of her, but just because someone else might not have had chefs for parents doesn’t mean they can’t be a fantastic chef. Anyone can learn and it’s all about hard work and passion. What sets a great restaurant apart from a good one? Passion, attention to detail, and great service. You absolutely have to love what you do and believe in the food that you serve. I also can’t emphasise the importance of quality service enough – you might be able to forgive forgettable food for great service, but bad service can ruin a good meal. Did you ever consider doing something else as a career? No, not really. My father encouraged me to take an accountancy course when I was younger, which I did (begrudgingly) and I realised I was not made for numbers or desks! It has helped me a lot with my restaurants though, I know how to read the books properly and manage the finances.
More female chefs – including his daughter, Emily (above), and his former sous-chef Monica Galetti – is a brilliant thing, says Michel