Surely one of the most iconic brands in the hospitality industry has been generated by the Roux family: Michel, Albert and his son Michel Jr. At the top of his game, yet with his feet still firmly on the ground, Michel Roux Jr remains as passionate about the industry today as he was when he first set foot in a kitchen many years ago. EC visited Chef Michel’s latest venture on Parliament Square, London and is very happy to confirm that the great man is as delightful in real life as he appears on TV
Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Jr is a man of boundless energy. Not only does he run the world-renowned Le Gavroche restaurant as well as Roux at the Landau at the Langham Hotel and Roux at Parliament Square, but he is also a judge on the BBC One show MasterChef: the Professionals and presented Michel Roux’s Service on BBC Two last year. In addition, Chef Michel has been a food consultant to the Walbrook club since 2003, he consults for the fine dining providers Restaurant Associates, he has written several books including Le Gavroche Cookbook, The Marathon Chef and Matching Food and Wine; and he has run the London marathon 17 times to raise funds for the children’s charity Visually Impaired Children Taking Action (VICTA).
Starting his professional career somewhat in the shadow of his father and uncle, today Michel still shares blood and name, but he stands fairly and squarely at the zenith of the industry on his own merit. What’s more, the qualities that got him there remain the same as ever.
Nothing but the best
“Anyone who knows me will tell you how passionate I am about this industry and how I am always striving to improve everything I do; after all, there’s always room for improvement,” says the indefatigable Michel. “I still wake up before the alarm goes off as I love what I do. I live and breathe food and the hospitality business.”
Reflecting this man’s extraordinary drive is the fact that in the last two years alone Michel has launched Roux at Parliament Square in conjunction with Restaurant Associates; Roux at the Landau with his father Albert; and Roux at the Pembury – a wonderfully comfortable bar, also at Parliament Square, offering snacks, light dishes (including a three course set lunch menu for £25) and cocktails to die for.
Roux at the Pembury
“Chef Michel is a lovely, sincere man,” says Roux at the Pembury’s bar manager Abdulai Kpekawa, urging us to try the very latest seasonal cocktail that got the thumbs up from customer Albert Roux only the day before and is yet to be added to the menu. “You also know that anything he turns his hand to will be quality, quality, quality. In the kitchen, for example, our menus are very much season led – using only fantastic ingredients of course – and are changed weekly. Here at the bar we have the same attitude with our ingredients – pushing them to the limit to ensure we offer the very best in line with the seasons.”
Head chef Toby Stuart is also full of praise for his boss. “The man has a great temperament, incredible energy and extraordinary knowledge about food and drink,” enthuses Toby, who clearly shares the same commitment as everyone else involved in the Roux brand, namely doing everything to the very best of their ability.
“Whatever I do, I attack with gusto,” states Michel matter of factly. When asked how he has time to juggle his media appearances with all his other responsibilities, the answer is simple. “We only film 30 days a year and even then it’s only for about eight to ten hours a day – and that’s not even a full catering day,” replies Michel, who will leave the TV set after a full day’s filming, head over to Le Gavroche and put his all into the evening’s service.
So why does he shoehorn these TV roles into a schedule that is already pushed to the limit to accommodate his other activities? “It’s all about meeting and helping these young chefs,” explains Michel. “There is the most extraordinary talent out there and these programmes give people a break when they might not otherwise get it. It’s wonderful being able to help them, tell them where they’re going wrong and encourage them to carry on.”
Talking to Chef Michel, it becomes apparent very quickly that while he is now feted not only as a Michelin-starred chef, but also a man of the media, it is his fundamental love of food and not the glitz that drives him. So what advice would he offer others in the industry?
“Put yourself in your customers’ shoes, no matter what kind of business you run,” Michel replies without hesitation. By this he’s not advising you to imagine what it’s like to be one of your customers, he is telling you actually to be a customer; for until you experience what your customers experience, you will not really know what is going on from their perspective.
“It’s a real eye opener,” admits Michel, who practises what he preaches and regularly dines at his various establishments. “That’s when you see where the problems are and you realise what needs attention.”
“The most important tool a chef has is not a knife or his favourite pastry dish, it’s his business,” insists Michel unequivocally. “Whether you run a pub, bar, café, hotel or restaurant, if your business is not making a profit you’ll go bust and you’ll be out of a job.” Michel Roux Jr trained as an accountant. He knows how to read a profit and loss sheet and he knows how to keep his customers happy so they keep returning to keep his business running.
“It’s all about the customers,” concludes Michel. “After all, there is nothing better than coming out of the kitchen at the end of service to see people who have eaten well, are happy and smiling because of what you have done for them. I know of no other industry that requires such commitment and hard work, but then the huge personal satisfaction we get in return makes it all worth while.”
Roux at the Pembury
Named in recognition of Michel Roux Jr’s birthplace, Pembury in Kent, Roux at the Pembury is a gem worth discovering when in London. Situated in the stunning Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors building on Parliament Square, here customers can enjoy the excellence that is synonymous with brand Roux, but at a considerably more accessible price point than its sibling Le Gavroche.