Published on June 27th, 2012 | by ladyparker1
A Roux Awakening: Haut Cuisine in the United Kingdom
Gentlemen, a jacket please. And for goodness sake unearth and dust off your designer suedes or your patent leather cobbler creations… it’s a night of the utmost special occasion. Suited and booted, take the love of your life on your arm, looking ravishing as she would naturally be, considering the proposition of taking her to experience quite possibly the most famous restaurant on Earth… the Rolls-Royce of gastronomy.
Yes, chivalry is alive and well at Le Gavroche. This iconic entity resting in Upper Brook Street, Mayfair, London amongst such illustrious venues as Claridge’s, The Connaught and The Dorchester, has a decorated past. It symbolises a generational love affair with food and is synonymous with perhaps the most celebrated name in the entire cuisine realm.
Brothers Albert and Michel Roux are regarded as the godfathers of modern restaurant cuisine. They are the seminal figures of food theatre, having revolutionised the profile of the United Kingdom’s restaurants through their Michelin-starred establishments, catering business, cookbooks, TV shows, and prodigy. They’ve been dubbed “the Beatles of gastronomy” for their infectious attitude toward food appreciation and cookery perfectionism, which is inculcated throughout their businesses and future legacies. It’s a fascinating story, a lead in to what will be a featured series of Roux-related reviews.
Born into a charcuterie family in the small commune of Semur-en-Brionnais in Southern Burgundy, the Roux boys were not only indoctrinated with Christian faith but also a love of food. Albert was originally going to take a life-long pledge to God as a priest. However several instances of abuse by a clergy member meant he instantly revised his long-term ambition to pursue his other idolization, cuisine. As Albert and Michel’s father had walked out on the family when Michel was 11 years old, it was natural that the eldest, Albert, adopted a paternal role. An unfathomable brotherly love was developing between the two young men, as they worked together cooking at the British Embassy in Paris, garnering an idea about what cuisine in Britain entailed.
Their time here obviously triggered something, for they both made the bold move to the United Kingdom in the late 1960s upon Albert’s insistence. Albert was able to utilise his patisserie training to cook brilliantly for wealthy families such as Peter Cazalet’s estate in Kent, and Michel served up exemplary dishes for the Rothschilds. They grounded themselves in a scene that at this time was really quite rudimentary. As it is quite possible to imagine, the era crystallised with it that conservative British society which endured insouciance about epicurean exploration, and induced crimson cheeks if an ounce of the subject of sex was uttered publicly.
Perhaps it was their foreign accents and demeanour, and their cheeky jest, which assisted the Roux brothers to evince an awareness of the joys, skill and fascination that could be had with cookery and knowledge of food. Their dream, to set up and operate a restaurant together became a reality with Le Gavroche – ‘the Urchin’, which they opened through a pooling of their life-savings in 1967. The inaugural year was a raving success, the restaurant was frequented by conspicuous names including the Cazalet family (an advantageous connection) and none less than the Queen Mother, who, with time proclaimed Le Gavroche her favourite place to dine.
Its popularity was not ephemeral; the radically new style of cuisine coming out of this kitchen in Chelsea was wildly extolled all over the nation and it earned steadily one and two Michelin-stars (1974 and 1977 respectively), until the decisive day in 1982 when Le Gavroche became the first restaurant in the UK to hold three of the most coveted symbols in the restaurant world. The brothers had achieved phenomenal things in this time. They had moved their leading restaurant to Upper Brook Street in Mayfair and opened another restaurant, The Waterside Inn, in the small village of Bray which went on to attain 3-Michelin stars in 1985. Today The Waterside Inn is the only restaurant outside of France to retain its 3-stars for 25 consecutive years. The Roux brother’s had also trained the future of celebrity chefs, a new breed of media savvy, brilliantly creative food heroes. Such illustrious names as Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing, and Rowley Leigh all worked under the aegis of empire Roux.
Prodigal sons had also been ticked off the list. Both Michel Jr (Albert’s son) and Alain (Michel’s son) learnt by osmosis the spirit of what it means to cook like a Roux. Veal stock, foie gras, puff pastry, soufflés, crème brulee, the finest of ingredients were mastered by the graduates of Le Gavroche and The Waterside Inn and every gastronomic technique was performed with precision.
Not necessarily seeing eye-to-eye on business ideology, Albert and Michel split up the two Michelin-starred paragons of cuisine in the late 1980s, and the operations have successively been entrusted to the Roux sons. Albert took Le Gavroche, now headlining chef Michel Roux Jr, while The Waterside Inn bore Michel’s name and now thrives under Alain Roux.
With a fortunate glimpse on Food TV of the Roux brother’s new series The Roux Legacy, I was able to witness Albert and Michel cook together – the first time they had been reunited in the kitchen for 24 years. These few minutes of footage demonstrated the unconditional love they have for each other and for cooking, despite discernable contrasts. The whole Roux family has evidently absorbed this love, and it is obvious that the future of this gastronomic dynasty is very bright.