Bon appetit

Two Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Jr talks fast food and offal with Jane Pikett

It’s probably not something a two Michelin-starred chef should be admitting, but Michel Roux Jr has been known to slip off the fine food wagon.
Ask the 57-year-old what he likes to eat and he says: “Good food – and occasionally a hot dog, but don’t tell anyone!”

Further questioning reveals his food lapses haven’t just stopped at hot dogs. Whisper it quietly, but he has eaten a McDonald’s and allowed KFC to pass his lips.

It says a lot about the man at the helm of London’s famous Le Gavroche restaurant, however, that he can remember when he ate both of these.

“Ooh, the last time I had a McDonalds was in either October 1989 or 1990. I can’t quite remember the year, but I know the month. I had been in the North, was driving back to London, it was late, and I was starving.

“I stopped at Watford Gap and there was a McDonald’s drive thru. It was a case of needs must.”

His brush with KFC goes back to 1975. “I was at Scouts,” the celebrated chef recalls. “The Scout leader said, ‘I’m going to treat you. There’s this new restaurant that’s just opened. How would you all like fried chicken?’ I thought that sounded good.

“It’s interesting he used the term ‘restaurant’ for what was, I think, KFC’s first place in the UK, and says a lot about our relationship with food and dining out at that time. Anyway, I didn’t much care for the fried chicken when it arrived.”

It is no surprise Michel had such precocious food tastes at so young an age.

His father is the legendary French-born restaurateur and chef, Albert Roux, and his uncle the equally well-known culinary genius, Michel Roux Snr. It was 50 years ago that the Roux brothers founded Le Gavroche (in French, The Urchin), and helped start a new food culture in Britain.

In 1974 it became the first UK restaurant to win a coveted Michelin star, a second in 1977, and a third in 1982. Michel Jr took over in 1993 and Michelin awarded two stars. It has remained a two-star establishment ever since.

It hasn’t made Le Gavroche – the training ground for some of the world’s most talented and best-known chefs including Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsey, Bryn Williams and Monica Galetti among them – any less popular.

Training is an area Michel is passionate about, and why he is sitting in the unlikely surroundings of an American diner in Gateshead.

He has been tempted North to launch The Vault, a £2m training facility for young people with autism and learning difficulties where they can gain real on the job experience in a hotel and restaurant, with a view to equipping them to work in the hospitality sector.

Michel is renowned for encouraging people to work in the industry, and very publicly mentored youngsters on TV in The Chef’s Protégé and Kitchen Impossible, where he helped a group of youths with learning difficulties find jobs.

The Vault is run by the St Camillus Care Group. Working in partnership with a number of colleges around the region, it is offering real and valuable experience of every aspect of the hospitality trade.

Michel says more places like it are needed. “It’s not about looking at people’s disabilities, it’s about focusing on their abilities and giving them options,” he says.

The American-style diner is a long way from Le Gavroche and the classic French dishes it has always specialised in – even if the food is now lighter and the portions smaller than in Albert and Michel Snr’s days, reflecting changing tastes.

But it is to the culinary past that Michel Jr is next turning his attention with the publication of his new book, Les Abats, which translates simply as ‘offal’.

Many of the greatest French dishes contain offal, and Michel is on a mission to take the fear out of eating it.

He accepts it is likely to be a niche book, but says: “I love offal. If it’s cooked badly, then it’s like anything, it will be terrible. But done well, it is delicious. If we put kidneys on the menu at Le Gavroche, they fly out the door. But offal is more than just kidneys.”

Michel can’t understand why the British view eating offal with such distaste.

It may be due to older people’s childhood memories of being force-fed boiled tripe, with its pungent smell and chewy, slimy texture.

But Michel hopes Les Abats will show that offal can be turned into enticing, delicious and relatively cheap meals.

The book contains both Roux family recipes, such as the simple sweetbreads his mother fed him as a child, and more adventurous dishes served at Le Gavroche.

As he says, if we are prepared to take the life of an animal, then the least we can do is ensure we eat all of it – not just the choice cuts.
Les Abats is published by Seven Dials at £25

Boiled egg with smoked salmon, asparagus tips and caviar

Chicken Liver gratin

Kale pesto
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