Roux’s legacy: without the brothers, Britain would still eat soggy vegetables

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Without us you would still eat soggy vegetables: the Roux brothers explain how they taught Britain to eat well

By Nicole Lampert for the Daily Mail

When Michel Roux moved to London in the late 1960s, he had a withering opinion of the British food scene.

“It was the dark ages,” he said, shaking his head in disgust. “No one was serving decent food. I’m not even talking about good food. You would go to Lyons Corner House where they would give you white bread and waterlogged vegetables. It was inedible. You have no idea what it was.

Michel, who had been a chef at the Rothschild family’s Paris mansion, moved to Britain at the behest of his brother Albert, who believed the British needed to learn a thing or ten about how to eat.

Culinary geniuses: Michel (left), Albert (center) and Michel Roux Jr urged the British to care about food

The brothers dreamed of running a restaurant together, but they never imagined they would start anything less than a food revolution.

Today television is dominated by cooking shows, cookbooks top the bestseller lists, and supermarkets are full of fruits and vegetables that no one had even heard of back then.

“What a change of tone,” laughs Michel, 70, his voice still richly French.

“Back then, the British didn’t talk about sex or food. Now it’s gone the other way.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when some of society’s most seismic changes began. But when it comes to British food, the country’s top chefs all agree; without the Roux brothers we would be in a very different place.

“They were the Beatles of gastronomy,” says Heston Blumenthal, one of the many faithful. “They changed everything.

They first opened Le Gavroche in Chelsea in London in 1967. The restaurant, which is now in Mayfair, was the first in the UK to win one, then two, then three Michelin stars.

Then came the Waterside Inn at Bray in Berkshire (now one of the Queen’s favorite places to dine) and several breweries.

They worked with Marks & Spencer to create the first truly tasty ready meals, while in their restaurants and through a scholarship program, they trained a new generation of chefs, including Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing.

Taste test: Michel (left) and Albert in their restaurant, The Waterside, in 1988

Taste test: Michel (left) and Albert in their restaurant, The Waterside, in 1988

In the Michelin Guide today, more than half of the Michelin-starred British restaurants have chefs trained by them or by their protégés.

Then there is the family. Albert’s son, Michel Roux Jr, now runs Le Gavroche, with two Michelin stars, and has also made a name for himself as a pragmatic judge of MasterChef: The Professionals. His daughter Emily also has the ambition to be a chef.

Meanwhile, The Waterside Inn retains its three Michelin stars under the management of Michel Snr’s son, Alain. No wonder the Good Food channel has ordered a series called The Roux Legacy, a retrospective featuring the family’s celebrity chef friends and some of their favorite dishes, which will air for five nights starting next Sunday.

“Roux’s legacy is a life of hard work that transformed food in Britain,” says Michel Jr, 51. “We now have a food heritage that we can be proud of.

The legacy began in France above a meat store in Semur-en-Brionnais, Burgundy, where Albert and then Michel were born into a long line of butchers.

Albert, now 76, originally wanted to be a priest, but changed his tactics after being abused by a member of the clergy. “ He touched me three times until I got good and realized it wasn’t normal. So I switched to my second love, which was food.

The loss of the church was a gastronomic gain. He trained as a pastry chef for four years, before moving to the British Embassy in Paris. Then a godfather, who worked for Wallis Simpson, landed him a job as a cook in the UK with socialite and MP Nancy Astor, and he ended up cooking for the wealthy family of Major Peter Cazalet, who formed the Queen Mother. horses.

He loved the UK from the start. “I like the people, the way of life,” he says. “Democracy means something here. When I moved here, France was still very corrupt. There is corruption here but not at this level.

The big moment: Michel Roux Jr (right) with his colleague Masterchef the Professionals judge Greg Wallace (left) and series winner Ash Mair

The big moment: Michel Roux Jr (right) with his colleague Masterchef the Professionals judge Greg Wallace (left) and series winner Ash Mair

He and Michel had long dreamed of opening a restaurant together. Ever since their father had left the family home when Michel was 11, Albert had always been more of a father figure than just a big brother. “ There was no doubt in Michel’s mind that whatever I did, he would do it ”, Albert said.

“I think if I were a firefighter, he would have joined the firefighters.

They therefore took over an Italian restaurant on Lower Sloane Street and renamed it Le Gavroche (meaning sea urchin). Les Cazalets invited all their friends to the opening night and it was an instant success; it was the Queen Mother’s favorite restaurant.

Albert and Michel found themselves invited to fancy cocktails – but once there they were treated very differently from today’s superstar chefs. “People would ask: ‘What are you doing?’ And if you said: ‘I’m cooking’, they would leave,” recalls Michel. “Now when I go somewhere, everyone wants to talk to me and women want to sit on my lap.

More than the distinctions, the greatest joy for the brothers was to be able to work together. Their love for each other is tangible. On their new show, they cook together for the first time in 24 years and it’s a special moment.

“We love each other very much,” says Michel. “What we have accomplished is due to the hard work, dedication and love of family.”

“We love each other very much. What we have achieved is due to the hard work, dedication and love of family ‘

This does not mean that they always agree; indeed, there is often a real rivalry. “If you cook alongside someone who cooks well, it’s an invitation to do better,” says Albert of the competition that helped propel these boys to success.

The couple split the business in the late 1980s, with Albert taking Le Gavroche and Michel The Waterside Inn because they had very different ideas about the business.

Albert says of Michel: “He is not an entrepreneur. When I bought more restaurants, he voted against. My idea of ​​success is to be a winner. I’ve had losses, but for me, if you have six wins but lose four, that’s good.

Michel bristles when I tell him that. “My brother is a man of fantastic ideas but not a great businessman. He was never able to rationalize and that is why we went our separate ways. In the 20 years that I left Le Gavroche, my returns to Waterside Inn are more important than those of Gavroche. So who is the best businessman?

Despite their disagreements, they insist that they never really had a fight. “If he says something that I don’t like, I tell him, but we love each other so we never separate as good friends,” says Michel.

While family is clearly important to them, it was also something they didn’t enjoy when they were just starting out. “It’s always a regret that we didn’t spend more time with my kids,” says Albert. “ I worked hard and spent a lot of time making petticoats – I had countless mistresses. Seeing the way my son leads his life, I should have looked more like him.

He didn’t expect Michel Jr to start cooking because he was so good at school, but the youngest chef says he never considered another career. “ I was almost born in a kitchen – my mother’s contractions started while she was helping in the kitchens in Cazalet – and that’s where I feel at home, ” explains Michel Jr. “ C ‘ was a huge burden to shoulder Roux’s legacy, but you can not turn your back on him.

Famous chefs: Michel Roux Jr with Antony Worrell Thompson and Aldo Zilli in 2008

Famous chefs: Michel Roux Jr with Antony Worrell Thompson and Aldo Zilli in 2008

Likewise, Alain never thought of doing anything else. “He joined me at the Waterside Inn when I was 24 and he worked on all levels of the kitchen,” says Michel. “ At first when he took over the restaurant he was just following me, but now he’s really showing his colors. ”

The brothers were among the first television chiefs with a show on the BBC in the 1980s and have framed much of the current crop. Albert says he doesn’t recognize the rude Gordon Ramsay we see on television today. “Gordon doesn’t have any nasty bones in his body,” he insists. “It’s not the real him – he does this because he was told to do it.” He admires Jamie Oliver because “what he does is so simple it’s an invitation to do something.” But he denigrates Nigella – ‘she’s better known for that [he puts his hands in front of his chest] than for anything else.

But, surprisingly, he’s a fan of Delia Smith: “ A lot of my coworkers laugh at her, but there are a lot of people who are afraid to touch a pan – she encourages them to do so. ”

While all men admit to losing their temper in the kitchen sometimes, none revel in it. But all of them are perfectionists. Albert berates his son if he thinks a Gavroche sauce needs more seasoning, and Michel Snr also sometimes criticizes his son. They can get away with their love for each other – and the strength of that bond is, in a way, as admirable as any other part of their heritage.

“We all have this fantastic love, affection and admiration for each other,” says Michel Jnr. “We all think we’re not as good as our brother, cousin or uncle, and that keeps us from having a big head.

The Roux Legacy, Good Food, Sunday through Thursday at 8 p.m. starting January 29.

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