Interview: Michel Roux Jr

Interview: Michel Roux Jr

Monsieur Roux (Jr) is someone who literally requires no introduction, so don’t worry, I won’t bore you with a mini biography filled with info you already know. Even if one hasn’t had the pleasure of trying one of his dishes, Roux Jr has certainly helped in cementing the family name, both through his culinary prowess and television work.

Being such an esteemed name, recognisable face and so damn charming, Roux Jr has been a trusted ambassador for many a brand, including French bakery experts Bridor. People generally tend to go big for seminal birthdays and Bridor’s 30th was no different – a masterclass from a Michelin starred-chef and esteemed baker Frédéric Lalos was certainly one way to go all out.

After watching Roux Jr rustle up tartines with ease, the assembled group were then tasked with recreating the recipes – all while he and Lalos watched. Needless to say, none of our creations looked quite as appetising as the ones Roux Jr had made earlier. While I got to work in a couple of non-bread-related questions, we caught up with Roux Jr after the workshop to learn more from the master chef…

So, Michel, did you hear of Frédéric first or Bridor?

I knew of Frédéric’s bakeries in Paris before I even met him; I used to go and queue up like all the other Parisians. I’d queue for half an hour, thinking why the hell am I queuing up? Then you’d get the baguette and go ‘OK, now I understand’. Frédéric is not only a wonderful baker, he’s also a great guy and he’s passionate about his bread. And I do genuinely love his bread; I have queued up for it and now I don’t have to any more!
The Roux family have been connected to Bridor loosely through their association with La Maison Lenôtre – I went to Lenôtre school, I’ve sent numerous members of my staff there; the name is a sign of quality. So I always had that association and that respect for the brand, and Frédéric came into the fold in a similar way because he also knows that there’s quality behind that name.

Do you stick fairly rigidly to traditional French recipes at The Langham? Have you found that you’ve had to adapt any for British tastes?

While the menu is inspired by traditional French cuisine, we definitely don’t have a rigid approach. Instead, Nicolas Pasquier – head chef at Roux at The Landau at The Langham, London – and I work with the wider team reinterpreting recipes dependent on the ingredients we source. Ingredients are frequently the starting point for recipe development; often we’ll go from there to identify which recipes and garnishes can really highlight and complement them.
I think the British, and particularly London,
restaurant-goer is both much more sophisticated and adventurous than in previous decades. There is no real need to adapt things for our clientele, which is a mix of local diners and international guests who join us from The Langham.

What do you think about the boom in alternative hotel afternoon teas?

The Langham was the first hotel to serve afternoon tea and that tradition is very much alive. Our afternoon tea is served in Palm Court and while it’s rooted in tradition, the team continually innovates.

For example, we’ve just launched SeasonaliTea at Palm Court, which highlights the importance of using the best ingredients at the right time of year in an afternoon tea context. There has been so much focus on the artistry of afternoon tea and not enough on the flavour, so while the new patisserie is chic and attractive, it also tastes utterly delicious!

Is there an entirely different process to creating the menus for The Wigmore and Roux at The Landau?

All of the menus we work on at The Langham take advantage of the best seasonal ingredients and, where possible, we’ll source our products from the UK.
The Wigmore has a few stalwarts on its menu that have become so popular that we keep them there: our XXL Stovetop three cheese and mustard toastie and our masala-spiced scotch egg with ‘dahl’ relish, for example. But the head chef at The Wigmore, James Hawley, changes the menu weekly to keep things interesting, seasonal and delicious. It astounds me sometimes that some chefs don’t understand seasons and put stuff on their menus that’s completely out of season.

Do your menus differ very much, from site to site?

Yes, absolutely – the Le Gavroche menu is totally different to the Langham or Parliament Square or any of the hotel restaurants. Gavroche will never be replicated, it’s got its own style; the other restaurants are definitely Roux restaurants, you can see the trait going through.

Why is that?

Well, firstly, I don’t think that you can roll out Le Gavroche, it’s not that style and I think it has to remain unique; secondly, the chefs that I employ in the other restaurants are artists and they want to express themselves through their food and on their plate. So, if you clip their wings and impose recipes on them too much, they’re not expressing themselves. They’re not happy and a grumpy, unhappy chef doesn’t cook good food! So, it’s finding that balance of imposing a certain style but not so rigid that the chef is not enjoying themselves.

For the menus, we sit together, we taste different dishes and, nine times out of 10, I approve their dishes straightaway because Steve Groves at Parliament Square and Chris King at the Langham, for example, are unbelievable masters of their craft. They know what I like and the style that I like, but it still means that they have an enormous input in the menu and that’s so important – and that’s why they stay. I mean, Steve has been with us for nine years now, Chris has been with me 15 years, and chef Rachel Humphrey at Gavroche 20-plus years. Gosh, we’re getting old!

Is a theme important when creating a menu – why, why not?

I’m not sure I like the word ‘theme’. It smacks of gimmickry, which by its very nature can quickly fall from favour. More important is to have a clear thought process, a rationale. At Roux at The Landau, it’s quite simple: we serve delicious, contemporary dishes, inspired by classic French cuisine, using the very best seasonal ingredients from the UK and beyond.

Do you think casual dining is beginning to influence hotel restaurants? Have you found this at Roux at the Landau?

Absolutely! While consumers are more discerning and interested in food than they have ever been, they also prefer a more relaxed approach to eating out. We’ve seen how our diners are reacting really positively to the new menu and the new set-up at Roux at The Landau. That doesn’t mean that customers have lost their taste for indulgence – far from it, instead they’ve come to appreciate a more accessible version of luxury and dining.

Have you noticed a change in guest demographic?

Yes, since our relaunch at Roux at The Landau we’ve seen a subtle change to our guest profile. As the menu is more flexible – offering everything from snacks at the counter to tasting menus with paired wines – we’re seeing slightly younger diners. Also, guests now visit us just for a quick lunch or early supper, rather than a more leisurely dining experience. The counter also seems to be a comfortable home for the solo diner because, alongside being a talented bunch, our chefs are also very sociable and make the lone diner feel very welcome.

How important is it to offer a high-quality F&B concept?

It’s fundamental – having an array of excellent drinking and dining options at a hotel enhances the guest experience, and of course helps the hotel commercially, too. The culinary offering at The Langham, overseen by executive chef Chris King, allows us to engage with the local audience, which I think is really important too. Travellers today increasingly prefer accommodation that is strongly connected to its location and the culinary offering helps a hotel to achieve this. For example, The Wigmore, with its menu of locally sourced beers, with its traditional punch and its fabulous bar snacks, could only exist in London – and guests love it!

Are there any spectacular locally sourced ingredients or products that are stocked or used in cooking?

We love working with La Latteria – a north London-based producer of the most delicious fresh Italian cheeses – burrata, ricotta, scamorza – that they produce for us overnight and deliver to us fresh and still warm in the morning.

What’s an ingredient that you believe is wildly underrated?

Lemons; in fact, most citrus fruit. I love them – just a squeeze of juice or some zest can transform the freshness and layers of flavour in a dish.