Michel Roux Jr. Interview
Michel Roux Jr. Interview
As he prepares to reopen his restaurants this spring, Tina Lofthouse talks to the top chef about what got him though the ‘hardest year of his life’, his delight at becoming a grandad and living in south west London…
Michel Roux Jr is understandably excited as he talks about his plans to reopen his restaurants. The last year has brought heartbreak for the chef, both professionally and personally, with the pandemic forcing the temporary closures of Le Gavroche and Roux at the Landau during the lockdowns, and the permanent closure of Roux Parliament Square. He was also left devastated by the loss of his uncle, Michel Roux, and his father Albert Roux.
It’s no wonder he says it has been the hardest year of his life.
But he is feeling upbeat: “I am very, very excited to see some light at the end of the tunnel with the restaurants reopening and we can’t wait to get back to what we love doing,” he says. “Plus, I’ve just had my jab so I’m sort of feeling a little bit elated as well – as if it’s one more step towards freedom.”
“We’ve been through two lockdowns already. And each time we were excited and waiting and ready to get going again, but this time I think it’s even more so because we genuinely feel that this is the last of the lockdowns, at least we hope so, and preparations are going well.”
There are no outside spaces at Le Gavroche so it will re-open from May 17 when indoor hospitality can resume. “We’re already looking at the menu that we’re going to be doing with the team and the service protocols. We’re assuming we will have the same guidelines as before, with the view that it will gradually get to a point where masks won’t be needed and more tables will be allowed. It will be a case of slowly but surely ramping it back up.”
The staff are excited to be returning, too. “We keep in contact and they’re always saying, ‘oh, we’re so bored, can you not just find a job to keep me going?’ so whenever I do a bit of filming or I’ve got something on, I’ll call them up and get them in.”
During the lockdowns, Le Gavroche has branched out in to some private home dining sessions with meal boxes delivered, online cookery lessons hosted by Michel, and an online store selling the likes of house Champagne, cooks’ knives and signed recipe books. “We’ve done some cook-alongs which are great fun and work really well. As the restaurant is empty we can make it Covid-safe and film there. But I think the one initiative that’s been the most rewarding has been our e-shop and we’ve been doing boxes for events such as Mother’s Day and International Women’s Day. So that has kept us busy.”
Roux at the Landau, located in the Langham Hotel, will also reopen in May. The adjoining tavern, The Wigmore, where Michel oversees the menu, has an outdoor terrace so can open from April 12. “I’ll be there pronto for a pint and a three-cheese toastie,” Michel laughs.
As to what he is most looking forward to serving at Le Gavroche… “The menu uses seasonal ingredients so for the opening in May, there will be wonderful English asparagus and spring truffles.”
Michel has worked at the two-Michelin starred Le Gavroche on and off since 1986. Set up by his father and his uncle in 1967, it went on to revolutionise fine dining in Britain. It has never had to shut, even through some of London’s toughest times. So it was a particular blow for Michel to have to close the doors during the three lockdowns.
Roux at Parliament Square closed for good in December. The restaurant, led by 2009 MasterChef: The Professionals winner Steve Groves, was one of the many casualties of the Covid crisis. Michel’s thought on the government’s support for the industry? “Sadly, there will be a lot of restaurants which won’t reopen. So to the government – thank you for what you’ve done so far but I really think you could do a little bit more. But it is what it is and we have to stay strong and believe that we will make it to the other side.”
The turbulent year, in which Michel turned 60, dealt him a huge blow with the death of two of his much-loved family members. His uncle passed away in March last year, aged 78, his father, this January, aged 85. What helped Michel through it all? His grandson. Michel’s daughter Emily Roux and her husband Diego Ferrari welcomed their son into the world in May. “Whenever I feel grumpy or sad or just that my head’s not right, I click on my phone and scroll through the pictures of such a lovely cheeky little boy and that makes me smile and makes me very happy.”
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Emily and Diego are also chefs and own the acclaimed Caractère in Notting Hill, which they opened in 2018. Michel is clearly impressed by what his daughter and son-in-law have achieved with the restaurant. “I’m very, very proud of her, and he’s an amazing guy. They can’t wait to reopen as well. It’s crazy times we’re living in but I think we’re almost there.”
Michel and his wife Giselle live in Clapham, with their daughter and son-in-law close by in Putney. During the lockdowns, Michel was out and about exercising locally. He’s a keen runner and has previously taken part in several marathons. He also loved walking around the area with Giselle. Says Michel: “You discover this amazing architecture that when you’re driving or on public transport you wouldn’t see, it’s quite something. Even just the churches here are truly amazing. When I get home, I sometimes read up a little bit on the history of them. It’s fascinating.”
When life returns to normal, what is Michel looking forward to doing the most? “Going to eat out. And I can’t wait to go to the theatre or a live concert and share that moment with the crowd. I think everybody does. It may take a while before people feel at ease again in crowded areas, and that’s normal. I think that’ll take time.
“But the atmosphere you get just watching a live performance or live sporting event is incredible. I’m a rugby fan and can’t wait to get back and see Harlequins at the stoop and sing at the top of my voice, ‘come on you ‘quins!’”
“You also get that shared elation when you go to eat out in a restaurant. Okay so people aren’t shouting ‘come on you chef’, but there’s a buzz in the atmosphere. I’m looking forward to that.”
READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH EMILY ROUX…