Michel Roux Jnr really does bound into Le Gavroche’s new Chef’s Library grinning, his wiry energy instantly apparent. He doesn’t stand on ceremony. He’s refreshingly direct and very charming.
He’s immensely proud of the new private dining room (seating up to eight at a squeeze). It is decorated with his own historic collection of French menus, Cezanne-like arrangements of autumnal squashes and plenty of books.
They’re mostly culinary but include a biography of Alex Ferguson, presented to him by the ex-Manchester United boss when he dined recently. Roux is a fanatically committed fan of the club.
He’s very proud of the room, completed at the same time as an incredible state-of-the-art kitchen. He thinks it’s preferable to the fashion for having customers dining in the kitchen.
There is, though, a small, discreet TV screen showing what is going in the kitchen. With the speakers on some of the banter can be heard, including a somewhat surprising shout of “way hey” when sous-chef Monica Galetti announces that dishes are ready at the pass.
Unlike other well-known chefs who seem to spend more time on our TV screens than in their kitchens, most of his time is still spent at Le Gavroche.
“I simply love being here and miss it whenever I am away. It’s a combination of meeting and talking to customers and creating and tasting new dishes,” he says.
He also spends about 15 days a year at Cactus Kitchens cookery school near his home in Clapham, where he teaches intimate, hands-on masterclasses, including lunch, in a kitchen which gets booked up a year in advance.
Michel, son of Albert and nephew of Michel, mostly trained outside the family business in France, including cooking at Elysee during military training for President Gistaing and in London at Pierre Koffmann’s La Tante Claire.
His wife Giselle worked in the restaurant trade and so understands its huge demands. Much to their delight and surprise, their daughter Emily, 24, has also chosen to become a chef.
Roux explains with evident admiration: “I put absolutely no pressure on Emily, but she’s always been adamant that is her calling and hasn’t ever considered doing anything else.
“She’s as much a perfectionist and as highly driven as I am and already forging her own culinary style and career.”
Currently, Emily works at Akrame, a new two Michelin star restaurant in Paris and has previously worked at Alain Ducasse’s flagship Louis XV in Monaco. Like her father, she is gaining experience at restaurants of the highest echelons before coming into the family business.
Turning 50 in 2010 wasn’t too much of a milestone for Michel: “I’ve never really counted the years and didn’t have any major celebrations. I am not into big parties, I prefer small family gatherings.”
And physically? He laughs. “I do notice a few changes,” he says. “More creaks and aches that I can’t brush off so easily.”
However, Michel prides himself on being ultra-fit: he’s run 12 London marathons and has a weekly regime including an hour-and-a-half run as well as two or three sessions at the gym.
“I don’t believe in following any set eating regime,” says the enviably svelte Roux. “I just believe in eating well yet in moderation. I’d never touch a fizzy drink or convenience food, it has to be good food.
“I don’t say no to cheese, I adore it, especially when it is properly made and pungent with plenty of umami like the five-year-old Cheddar from Davidstow (served with sloe and crab apple jelly and fruit and nut bread as a cheese course at Le Gavroche).
“I eat desserts too, but not too often and only if they are incredibly tempting. I vividly remember having the best strawberry tart ever at Michel Guerard’s Eugene Les Bains: Gariguette fraise de bois of wonderful perfumed intensity and the pastry was superlative.”
Roux barely drinks wine except at the weekend, when he prefers to drink “a little and very well”. He is especially partial to fine Burgundies and Krug champagne, and almost never touches spirits.
“I don’t really have any new goals in my fifties, though having such an incredible team at Le Gavroche means I am able to spend more time with my family and travelling, so those are my priorities at present.”
Provence is a second home for Michel and he has a house there. He’s keen to spend time travelling further afield, especially in Asia and South America. However, his next holiday with Giselle is to the States: Boston and Vegas.
“Keeping up with culinary trends on a world scale has never been more important. I always like to be inspired by new ideas and ingredients, so I never fully switch off culinarily. It’s my life and an all-consuming pleasure.”
A certain amount of controversy surrounded Michel’s surprise departure from (superbly) hosting BBC2’s MasterChef The Professionals (Marcus Wareing is taking over) and Food & Drink (Tom Kerridge of Hand and Flowers is moving into the hot seat).
Roux is pragmatic about the conflict between the BBC and his commercial activity. “We couldn’t reach agreement over my brand ambassadorship to Bartlett potatoes. I’d been doing MasterChef for six or seven years and had really built the brand and it was probably time to move on.”
He insists that being a TV chef or celebrity has never been a driving force: “Being a chef and restaurateur of Le Gavroche is what drives me and TV is simply a by-product of what I do.” He adds that he has some potential projects up his sleeve with other TV channels.
Game, coming into its peak season right now, is one of Michel’s absolute passions.
“I simply adore game and insist it is cooked in a traditional manner. I refuse to cook it off the bone and it is a crime to cook it sous-vide, it kills much of the flavour and de-skills the kitchen.
“It needs to be sizzled in plenty of butter and served relatively rare, as my father did, and as Escoffier advises too. There’s no point in modernising when older ways are best.”
Otherwise, he simply adores eating as seasonally as possible: “Coming into autumn, salsify is appearing again. Simply roasted in butter with a sprinkling of toasted, salted almonds it tastes incredible.
“And for dessert something seasonal too, such as pear tarte tatin.” Bon appetit!