Interviews

Albert Roux remembered

This week we lost another of our legendary culinary luminaries. Albert Roux OBE, who has died at the age of 85, was responsible for inspiring and training many of the UK's most revered chefs. Along with his brother Michel who passed away last year, he leaves a legacy to be enjoyed across the nation's restaurants for years to come. Below is an interview with him, originally published in Waitrose & Partners Food in 2016

Describe your kitchen at home.
I have a small kitchen, which is very tidy, and I like to think that if I go blind I’ll still be able to cook – my chopping board is next to the oven, my salt is here, my knife is there. I get very annoyed if someone moves them.

What do you listen to when cooking?
Pavarotti. And loud! Canalou – she is a dog, but I call her ‘my little girl  – seems to like listening to him, too.

What childhood meal do you crave?
There are two dishes: my mother’s risotto made with chicken’s offal, gizzards, feet, neck and wing; and braised heart with carrots – I can still smell and taste it.

What don’t you like?
Pumpkin doesn’t excite me and I can’t bear coriander – makes me want to retch.

What drives you on?
Wanting to train and help people. I get such happiness from training chefs, ‘making a racehorse out of a donkey,’ as I say. I never give up on people.

Share one cooking tip. 
Spend time selecting your ingredients. Don’t choose a carrot just because it looks like a carrot. Touch it. Is it nice and firm, or has it been on the shelves for a couple of weeks?

If you became a minister for food for the day, what would you change?
I’d stamp out wastage, and make sure we can sell things like crooked carrots. And there’s nothing wrong with a misshapen pear or a small apple. I’d also get rid of dustbins in the kitchen. Everything can be recycled. I can’t bear to see dustbin-happy chefs throw away peelings. The peel of the carrot or potatoes, if cooked well with a little wine and cream, makes a lovely meal.

Is there anything in restaurants you’d like to ban?
Gels. I don’t want to pick at a plate with little dots of different colours, unless it’s on a dessert, perhaps. Oh, and I don’t like six or seven different types of garnish. How many hands have touched that food? Give me a piece of meat with no more than two or three garnishes.

Where do you like to eat out?
I like Italian food so I go to Giorgio Locatelli’s place [Locanda Locatelli in Marylebone]. And I’m a life member of Harry’s Bar [Mayfair].

Favourite kitchen gadgets?
I am happy with my saucepan, frying pan and a nice, sharp knife.

What advice do you give to your grandchildren?
I have a granddaughter, Emily, in the trade, and a grandson, Louis, who is at the Ritz doing an apprenticeship in pastry. I say, ‘Don’t do the job if it really doesn’t give you a buzz. If you need an alarm clock to get up in the morning, you’re in the wrong job.’ I have never used an alarm clock. I wake up at five, regardless of what time I go to bed.

Favourite junk food?
A Big Mac. I find it non-greasy and am never surprised.

What’s your favourite cake?
I am very partial to a home-made victoria sponge with raspberry filling
that includes the seeds.

Describe your perfect feast.
I’d start with a poached egg with green asparagus and hollandaise sauce. Oh, heavens! Then I’d have bavette steak – the taste to me is very special – with a good béarnaise and chips. For dessert, rhubarb tart or crumble would satisfy me nicely. And then raspberries from Scotland – pure delight.

All about Albert
• Born in 1935 in Semur-en-Brionnais, in southern Burgundy, Albert’s career began aged 14 with an apprenticeship in patisserie.
• He later worked at the French Embassy in London and the British Embassy in Paris. In 1967, he and his brother Michel opened Le Gavroche in London’s Chelsea. It marked the birth of great French gastronomy in the UK.
• The brothers went on to launch another three-star winner, The Waterside Inn in Bray, Berkshire. Their restaurants have now been in The Good Food Guide for 47 and 44 years respectively. And in 1984, Albert and Michel founded the esteemed Roux Scholarship.
• Albert was a food consultant to establishments across the UK. His son, Michel Roux Jr, was his business partner and heads up Le Gavroche, while his nephew Alain is chef-patron at the Waterside Inn.  

Interview by James Steen.

Published January 2021