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

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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

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