Interview with Michel Roux JR
Top chef and TV personality MICHEL ROUX JR runs Le Gavroche, Britain’s first Michelin-starred restaurant. He talks to Eve Middleton about his life as part of the famous Roux dynasty and his French roots...
Where were you brought up? Well I was born in Pembury in Kent, and my first language - regardless of the fact that I was born in England - was French. I was cocooned in a microclimate of French people; my family were constantly coming over to see us, and my mother and father at the time spoke very little English. It was a very French upbringing in the middle of rural Kent.
Do you consider yourself French or English? You mean what team do I support? Well yes, because I was born and went to school in England I do feel very English, but nonetheless my upbringing with my parents meant that I was very French in origin. It's very difficult for me to say. I have dual nationality.
How much time do you spend in France? Not enough really. I have a lovely house in the Ard�che (pictured below) and I really do appreciate the time that I get there. I would say I visit about four times a year, and then I go to other places such as Lyon. I travel as much as I can to France but it's not enough, put it that way.
What do you notice most about the differences between France and England when it comes to food? Food is a different culture, isn't it? In France it's a cultural thing, there are so many different facets to a meal. It's not just fuel, it's not just food – it's a way of life. I am very much that way inclined. And in Britain it certainly isn't, although there has been a huge change. There is now, I would say, the beginning of a food culture in this country; a food culture, but not food heritage.
What do you think about Jo�l Robuchon's comments that French restaurants are better in the UK than in France? I thought that was very brave of Jo�l to say that, but he can, he has restaurants all over the world! I think what he was alluding to was everything encompassing the restaurant scene. If we take London's food scene it's very vibrant, and I genuinely think that it is better than most cities in France. A very interesting point is the matter of service. We all think of France's upper echelons of service when it comes to dedication and knowledge. However, restaurants outside of France have a more relaxed attitude to service which makes it more convivial, and I think it's that to which Jo�l was referring.
The Michelin Guide recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, and received a mixed reaction. What's your view? In Britain we have a habit of putting people up on a pedestal only to shoot them down and I think part of the media reaction is that way of thinking. For me, the Michelin Guide will always remain the Michelin Guide. It was criticised for being too French, that it was too stiff. But it has evolved and I still believe in it.
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Are there any French personalities that you look up to? The biggest one who I think is a genius, an absolute genius, is Eric Cantona. He is sadly missed from the UK! As a footballing talent he was brilliant. I'm a Manchester United fan, so I've seen him play live many a time, and have had the good fortune of shaking his hand once. He had an aura about him on the pitch.
Would you ever consider opening a restaurant in France? No. I know too many restaurateurs who are struggling to make ends meet. It's not down to competition, it's due to the tax system, and the enormous amount of red tape that needs to be done in order to open up a restaurant in France, not just for restaurants but for business in general. The French government and the unions are choking small businesses – I'm 100 per cent for any initiative that is given to help small businesses.
What would you have for your last meal? Ooh l� l�! It would be a roasted lobster with garlic butter. You can't get much more French than garlic butter, can you?
And for dessert? I'd have to go British for that one – sticky toffee pudding, home-made of course!