Michel Roux Jr on his father Albert Roux's posthumous memoir and his love of Scotland

While many of us don’t remember what we had for lunch, the iconic chef and restaurateur, Albert Roux OBE, had remarkable recall when it came to the details of his colourful life.

Inverlochy Castle
Inverlochy Castle

He began sharing his story in 2019, aged 83, but sadly died in 2021, before his autobiography was quite finished.

However, the memoir, My Life in Food, which has been extended with additional appreciations written by three friends and colleagues who worked closely with him, and a moving afterword by his son, Michel Roux Jr, has been released posthumously.

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The blurb features endorsements from just a few of his many protegees – Marcus Wareing, Monica Galetti and Gordon Ramsay, the latter of whom described Roux as “the man who installed gastronomy in Britain”.

Chefs Atul Kochhar, Albert Roux and Michel Roux Jr at of The Henley Festival in 2015 in Henley-on-Thames, England. (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)
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Among many other life events, the book details a wartime boyhood in rural France, Roux’s cooking roles in various private houses, working as a 14-year-old apprentice pâtissier in Paris, and the rise of his revolutionary restaurant, Le Gavroche, which he opened with his brother, Michel, in 1967.

It was the first in the UK to win three Michelin stars and hosted stars including Princess Diana, Charlie Chaplin and the Queen Mother.

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There is also details of his tempestuous, but loving relationship with his brother, who died in 2020, as well as his beloved children.

It’s written in an open, honest and relaxed style that you imagine captures his authentic voice.

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Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (L) after presenting Albert and Michel Roux with their honorary OBE medals at the Foreign Office in London 31 October 2002. The brothers received the honor for their services to cooking. Pic: ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

“He'd sit down diligently and he was recorded – the ghost writer would be writing away, but didn't want to change his way of speaking,” says Roux Jr, who is speaking to me before he heads to his job as chef patron at the family restaurant, Le Gavroche, in London’s Mayfair. “So the book is in his words, which is lovely, really nice”.

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The project was something of a labour of love.

“He really enjoyed sitting down and chatting about his childhood memories and further down the line, when he was an apprentice, working in various places and coming to London,” says Roux Jr. “Sadly, he only got to the opening of Le Gavroche, but there’s still a fair old bit of reading there.”

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Although there are plenty of happy recollections in the book and the author’s joie de vivre stands out, he didn’t always have things easy.

My Life in Food book jacket
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As revealed in My Life in Food, one of the dark times involved being abused as a child by a priest.

Before that incident, he had a boyhood ambition to go into the priesthood.

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“He took a long time to be vocal about the issue, but he reconciled that, he went back to church and he understood that that was an issue and was probably something he always had in the back of his mind,” says Roux Jr.

When he was 21-years-old, Roux was conscripted to fight in the Algerian Civil War, where he witnessed atrocities and friends were killed.

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Albert Roux

There seems little bitterness when writing about these traumatic events, though they must have affected him deeply.

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“As a child, I remember him having terrible nightmares and screaming and shouting and it was probably PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], but it was never diagnosed as that in those days, you just got on with it,” says Roux Jr. “Then it wasn’t even recognised as an issue, but I’m sure he did suffer from that.”

In the afterword, Roux Jr talks of his father’s love of Scotland, where he ran five Chez Roux restaurants, including venues in Dunblane and Inverness, as well as two dining rooms that were collaborations with his son and granddaughter, Emily, at Crossbasket Castle and Inverlochy Castle.

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According to this postscript, Roux loved Scottish people and our “attitude to life”, and he was drawn to the “wilderness, the country air, the produce”.

“He would travel up there very, very readily, approximately every six to eight weeks,” says Roux Jr, who has also been here five times this year and is returning in December. “He loved the cities as well, but especially the rural parts of Scotland – the wonderful colours in different shades of green and sometimes grey. When you get the sunshine, it’s the best place on earth. Dad was very passionate about Scotland.”

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Unfortunately, the author couldn’t cross the border during his final months, as lockdown restrictions wouldn’t allow it. He spent the last period of his life in his flat, being cared for by his wife, Maria.

“He really had a lot of bitterness towards this closing of all the restaurants and all the sanctions,” says Roux Jr. “We tried to explain to him it was for health reasons.

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“We used to pop in every now and then and stay a safe distance. He would say to me ‘come here, give me a hug’. I’d say ‘dad, I can't, I don’t want to risk it’. He’d ask ‘why not?’ It was very, very difficult for him. Prior to Covid, he had a routine. It made him think 'why am I here?' and it’s awful. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of people in the same situation”.

Roux died in January 2021, and the final chapter of his contribution to the memoir closes on a typically positive note.

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“As I said before, food is love,” it reads. “It is health and luck and life. And I have had more than my fair share of it all.”

My Life in Food: A Memoir by Albert Roux, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £22

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