‘If you really want to fall in love with food, go to a French market’
I’m British by birth, but a Frenchman at heart. I was brought up in rural Kent, but really it was as a French child in the English countryside. This was made most apparent through food. My father, Albert Roux OBE, was working as a private chef on the Fairlawne Estate, and he was always rearing animals for the table, like squab pigeons and rabbits. Later, when my father and his brother opened Le Gavroche in 1967, my mother would head off to Paris and bring back all kinds of spectacular ingredients for us to eat.
At least once or twice a week, my mother would hop into her big Peugeot estate to make the journey from London to Paris, and she’d return with it packed full of spices and ingredients. She always had to bring back our favourite butter – Beurre D’Isigny – for the table.
Looking back, I was surrounded by French ingredients and culture, even without living there. Whenever we had family come to visit, they’d deliver us all kinds of wonderful ingredients – stinky Camembert, “There are variations of this great French classic. Cuttlefish is delicious and good value. In most French markets it is sold as slabs of pure, white meat or whole with skin and tentacles. If you buy the latter then a bit of work needs to be done. However it is well worth the effort.”
Heat the remaining oil in the pan and gently cook the onions until tender. Add the tomato paste and cook for three or four minutes, then add the wine, saffron, bouquet garni, chopped tomatoes and the olives. Simmer for another five minutes.
Add the cuttlefish and pour in enough water to cover. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to a very gentle simmer, cover the pan and cook for 60 to 80 minutes or until the cuttlefish is tender.
Just before serving fold in the aioli. Serve with red Camargue rice. charcuterie, spices, all kinds of foods that weren’t readily available in England at the time. I suppose that really was my first taste of France – my earliest food memories of my parents and aunties, uncles, and grandmothers bringing these curious goodies over and delving in.
My childhood holidays were always to France – when they were working during the school holidays, my parents would send me and my sister off to visit my grand-mère Jacqueline and grand-père Emille in Paris. My grandmother was a really fantastic cook. She used to make this dish, braised rabbit with loads of fennel and pastis (an aniseedflavoured spirit), and my, was it good. I used to love it when she made that. When we’d visit my father’s side, my grandmother Germaine didn’t actually cook that much, but the one thing I do remember is that every afternoon she would sit down with a small tumbler of red wine, throw in some little chunks of stale bread, and mix it all up with a spoonful of sugar and turn it into a paste. She would eat it like that, straight from the tumbler, and she swore by it – she said it was the secret to good health and longevity.
Often, we would drive out of Paris and hire a little cottage for the summer in Sologne (in north central France) or the Loire. I remember long, hazy days in the countryside, in the lush forests and watching the sunset over the ponds.
Every day, my first job of the morning would be to grind coffee in a hand-grinder for my grandparents. After, we would go fishing and eat the fish we caught. For the most part, we ate at home, cooking with ingredients we’d found that day, but for a little treat we would travel to the nearby villages, mostly made up of those charming brick-built houses that gave the area so much character. We’d stop in the bustling markets, or in a local patisserie to try homemade pastries and cakes.
There’s a town called LamotteBeuvron, not too far from where we stayed, which was the birthplace of the tarte tatin and I don’t think I’ve
Guests enjoy typical French fare at Chez Sylvie in Lyon