'Being true to your roots is one of the keys to success'

The  Staff Canteen

Keeping the culinary tradition in the Roux family isn't much of a burden for Alain and Michel Jr.

 

To say that hospitality runs through their blood is only a minor exaggeration - but be that as it may, there is a level of responsibility attached to the name.

Neither feel overwhelmed by this, however, because it is their reality - being part of the Roux dynasty comes naturally.

"We were born in a kitchen, practically," Michel Jr. said, in the sixth episode of The Staff Canteen's Keeping it in the Family podcast series. 

"It's just what we do, there's no falsehoods about it, it's just who we are."

"For us, it's very natural," Alain  added, "not only because of our grandmother's influence, but our fathers'."

"Yes, we admired them, because we realised at a young age what they were doing and the skill they had; but we looked around and admired other people as much as our family." 

Moving with the times

Both always knew that he wanted to become chefs, or at least work in hospitality.

Michel Jr. said: "I love it. It's not a job, it's part of my life. I enjoy it so much, and every aspect of the hospitality industry.

"I firmly believe that there's a job for anyone in our industry - anyone, anything, at any levels, which is fabulous. You can't say that about all crafts or all industries.

As for Alain, he joked that "school tried to get rid of me before sixteen, but they didn't manage." 

"I knew when I was about thirteen, fourteen years old that that was what I wanted to do. Being in a lab or in a kitchen. Cooking food, touching raw ingredients, preparing food."

As times have changed. they have put their stamp on Le Gavroche and The Waterside Inn and the Roux Scholarship, but they conserve their essence, because anything else wouldn't be fathomable.

Upon taking up the mantle, both were daunted, but, as Alain explained: "We were lucky to have our fathers and our name that made doors open. We had connections to start our career, and it's totally normal for us to want to do the same thing and share our knowledge and our passion and try and help people to recognise it - even for the general public, and other people in the trade, to recognise our scholars."

And it's easy to see why they are still so enthralled by The Roux Scholarship and what it has achieved, as the list of Roux Scholars is humbling to say the least.

"When I look at the names, their faces, and those people, my eyes sparkle," Alain said. "It makes me smile and shiver a bit, I get goosebumps. It's amazing."

"I'm not too keen on the word 'took over,'" he smiled, when asked about his leadership of the scholarship. 

"When you have a father like mine - I'm sure Albert was the same - there's only one chef in the family, and that was our father." 

But that's not to say that he wasn't encouraged to make his own mark on things. Since he joined the Waterside in 1992, he said, "I tried - when I could, and when I thought it was a useful move - to share my knowledge, share my point of view and try to bring things up.

"I don't think I was every very pushy," he added, "especially when you're young and when you know the trade, you've got so many things to learn from your peers and from what's happening in the kitchen," 

"In kitchens like The Waterside and Le Gavroche, things are settled but not settled in stone, they do change and evolve. Even working side by side with my father for 10 years, he used to change and adapt. That's the way to progress." 

Michel Jr.'s experience was similar, as, he explained, "there were few things that I changed but not wholesale changes because it's the style of the restaurant and it's the style that I enjoy cooking - and eating, more importantly." 

And whereas Emily Roux sometimes has to remind people that her and her husband Diego's restaurant, Caractere, isn't attached to anything or anyone but them, there is still a guiding line for Alain and Michel Roux Jr. to follow.

"People come to our restaurants because they enjoy that style of food," Michel Jr. said. "They want indulgence, they want French food." 

"We can evolve and we have evolved, the menus and the style have evolved," he continued, but whatever changes they have made, he said, "you can still find that Roux essence - at the Waterside and Le Gavroche, being true to their roots." 

"Being true to your roots is one of the keys to success."

As for their fathers, the transition was "about as smooth as an Emery board," Michel joked. 

"It's very difficult, because for them to let go, that's equally as tough. It's high pressure, of course.

"The restaurants were well established by then, so you want to do well by that.

However slight and thoughtful, some of their fathers' customers were disappointed by the changes - perhaps merely out of principle. 

Alain said that while this is an unfortunate reality, "a recipe is a recipe, and it depends who cooks it, so I can't disagree. But we can't win all the time."

Legacy

We don't need to tell anyone how hard the past year has been for hospitality, and its effects have been felt from the large chain franchises to the small independents and everything in between. 

At one point Michel even considered packing it all in; we were all surprised to hear him even say so, but he stresses that he was deadly serious. 

"I did say in an interview that I was close to giving it up, and that's true. 

"There are days where I think: 'why the hell am I still doing this.'" 

"But I think 2021 will be better, and we're going to work towards that and have one hell of a party when this is all over." 

Alain is as excited as can be to return to The Waterside, and can't picture himself anywhere else for the foreseeable future. 

In a word of warning to his chefs, he said that he will continue to work, even if his legs stop complying. 

"I still need to pay for my pension," he chuckled.

As long as he's "not too bad mentally," he said, "if I can still physically, even in a wheelchair, I will continue [to work] because it's what I love, it's my life. Sod it. 

"The team will have to cope - I won't be like father, threatening people with his stick - I just love it."

"I've got plenty to do and still plenty to learn. We always say in the family, 'if something is good, why change it?'" 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th February 2021

'Being true to your roots is one of the keys to success'