French chef Michel Roux on life after closing legendary restaurant Le Gavroche

​As the iconic London restaurant is set to shut its doors, Michel Roux reflects on how fine dining differs to French home cooking.
Michel Roux.  Photo: Cristian Barnett/PAMichel Roux.  Photo: Cristian Barnett/PA
Michel Roux. Photo: Cristian Barnett/PA

Known as one of the hardest-working people in food, chef Michel Roux has a well-earned break on the horizon.

London’s legendary French fine dining restaurant, Le Gavroche, established by Roux’s father and uncle (Albert and Michel Roux Snr) in 1967, is shutting its doors.

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Roux, 63, has been at the two-Michelin star restaurant since 1985, and he is committed to his role of chef patron.

Albert Roux and son Michel Roux with granddaughter Emily, in 2016.Albert Roux and son Michel Roux with granddaughter Emily, in 2016.
Albert Roux and son Michel Roux with granddaughter Emily, in 2016.

“Most people who have dined at Le Gavroche will know that I’m very hands-on – if Le Gavroche is open, then I try and be there every night,” he says.

“So to free up a little bit of extra time would be wonderful.”

With the building’s lease coming to an end, Roux felt like it was the “appropriate time to turn the page”.

Looking back at the restaurant’s legacy, Roux suggests it “massively” changed the culinary landscape in the UK.

“My father and uncle – when they opened it in ’67 it was a huge leap. It was the beginning of the culinary revolution in the UK, and I never take it for granted. It was something of a momentous moment and here we are, nearly 57 years on – we’re still going very, very strong.”

Roux mentions the chefs and front-of-house staff who have worked at Le Gavroche over the years – somewhat humbly refraining from naming any names. Alumni are a who’s who of the food industry, including chefs Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White, Marcus Wareing and Monica Galetti.

Despite the success, Roux accepts it’s “a tough industry” to be in.

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“It’s one where, to do it properly, you have to be 100 per cent committed,” he says – but that’s not to say Roux’s about to go on holiday.

He still has three restaurants in Scotland to run, consultancy work to do, TV shows to present (Five Star Kitchen: Britain’s Next Great Chef just wrapped up on Channel 4) and cookbooks to write – like his new offering, dedicated to French home cooking.

“I remember Mum cooking at home for us when we were kids and it was very similar to the stuff I’m putting in the book now and still cook,” he says.

French cuisine has something of a reputation for being fancy and complicated – the reserve of fine dining restaurants like Le Gavroche. And yet Roux argues this is very different to what French people actually cook at home.

“It’s genuinely wholesome, it’s not complicated, it’s not complex,” he notes. “It’s got complex flavours – definitely. But it’s not complex in the making.”

He describes the type of cooking he does at home as “convivial – it’s very much sharing dishes”. This is what he describes as “true French cooking”.

“By that I mean it’s not overly fanciful and fine dining. It’s real homely food that I truly believe everyone can achieve. It also gets rid of the myth that French food is complex, heavy, rich, and difficult to cook. It’s not. At its very essence, its very heart, French cuisine is quite simple, and it’s very similar to Italian cuisine.”

Pasta might be synonymous with Italian food, but it was a staple for Roux growing up.

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“If you go to the south of France, the whole Mediterranean basin, pasta was influenced by the Italians there,” he explains.

“And if you go to the north of France and the north-east, they have their own version of pasta as well – pasta is consumed immensely in France.”

Pasta dishes in the book include creamy onion tagliatelle and linguine with olives, artichokes, sundried tomatoes and herbs.

There’s also a big focus on seasonality in the book – something that Roux says is crucial to understanding the cuisine.

“Seasons play a very big part in French cooking, like Italian cooking,” he says. “When I’m in France, I very rarely go to the supermarket, other than for washing-up liquid and stuff like that every other week… [In my village in the south of France] every day we go to the market and we buy fresh food and we’re influenced by what we see.”

Roux comes from a long line of French cooks, and remembers how his father, Albert, “jumped for joy” when he said he would follow in his culinary footsteps – and his daughter, Emily, has done the same.

“Emily from a very young age said she wanted to be a chef, and my wife did try and dissuade her,” Roux remembers.

“She [his wife, Giselle] kept saying, ‘Look – Daddy comes home knackered, he’s grumpy and smells, and this, that and the other’. And she [Emily] said, ‘No, I definitely want to be a chef’, which is great.

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“I’m immensely proud of her and what she’s achieved – she’s a very, very talented chef, and so is her husband Diego [Ferrari, with whom she runs the Notting Hill restaurant Caractère]. They make a great team.”

Roux has announced that a series of “celebratory dinners”, starting in November, will be held until the restaurant’s closure.

“This is not the end of Le Gavroche – the restaurant may be closing, but the name will live on,” he said.

“I could not be more grateful for the restaurant team, who have loved the restaurant as if it were their own.

“The entire team both past and present, will forever have my gratitude, and will always be considered as part of the Roux family.”

Roux plans to spend more time with his “long-suffering wife”, his daughter and son-in-law, and his grandchildren in the near future.

One of the things he’s most looking forward to? Being fed for once – he plans to head to Caractère to “eat their wonderful food”.

Michel Roux At Home by Michel Roux is published by Seven Dials, priced £26. Photography by Cristian Barnett. Available now.

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