Kate Whiting talks to super chef Michel Roux Jr about the importance of families dining together.
Michel Roux Jr may run a two Michelin-starred restaurant and critique young chefs on TV, but that doesn’t mean his recipes are out of reach for amateur cooks.
In fact, as the lean, bearded chef prepares to judge a new series of Masterchef: The Professionals, he’s compiled a book of “very doable” recipes.
Cooking With The Masterchef: Food For Family & Friends is a culinary compendium of his previous four books – including Le Gavroche Cookbook, based on his Michelin-starred restaurant – but simplified to make them “more approachable for anybody who’s got an interest in cooking”.
“There are no mad ingredients that you can’t find,” adds the 50-year-old, smiling that famous grin.
Family and cooking are deeply intertwined for Roux. His French father Albert and uncle Michel opened Le Gavroche in 1967, which became the first restaurant in Britain to gain a Michelin star.
His childhood was spent split between France, where he learnt to love good food, and his family home in Kent.
“My mother was also a fantastic cook and because we were brought up in the countryside, we had beautiful produce. My father used to rear his own rabbits and pigeons for the table and we grew our own vegetables.”
His new book not only makes his food more accessible for the average cook, but it also encourages families to eat together – something that’s crucial for the Roux clan.
“For me, a very important part of life is eating with family and friends,” he says.
“It’s a great social activity – switch the television off, sit down around the table, with or without a glass of wine or two,” he chuckles, “And most importantly, some great food. It doesn’t have to be complicated – just a big wedge of the best cheddar possible, a few leaves of salad, a nice chutney and a piece of crusty bread, and then you let the conversation flow and enjoy it.”
Roux believes that many of our social problems would be solved if we spent more time chatting – and eating – around the dinner table.
“Obesity is a big thing – I was just hearing on the news that more and more people are reverting to operations like gastric bands, which is a crying shame. If you eat healthily and walk to work or just get off your backside, then we wouldn’t have that issue.”
Roux need never worry about being obese – he’s an obsessive runner, who runs everyday after the lunch service is finished at Le Gavroche, and has completed 16 marathons.
“It’s a great way to relieve stress,” he admits. “I know what I’m like if I don’t go for a run and I remember what I was like before I took up running seriously, which was not nice. The great thing is it makes you hungry, so you can eat more.”
For Roux, there was “no question” of doing anything else but follow in his father and uncle’s footsteps and now his daughter, Emily, is learning to cook in France. For all the hardships of being a chef, he’s delighted with her choice.
“I was in Paris yesterday to see her and she looked like a typical chef, absolutely knackered, as white as a ghost, burns and cuts all over her arms, but she’s absolutely loving it.”
When the Roux clan are all together in London, and when Roux Jr has a day off, they’ll often go out for dinner – or just gather for a bite to eat: “We’ve got our favourite restaurants. But if we’re eating at home, it’ll be something very simple - and a good glass of wine.”
RECIPE: LAMB TAJINE (Serves 4-6)
* 1 boned lamb shoulder
* 2tbsp olive oil
* 2 garlic cloves, chopped
* 3 onions, chopped
* 2tsp turmeric
* 2tsp coriander seeds, crushed
* 2tsp cumin seeds
* 1 lemon, cut into 8 wedges
* 1tbsp honey
* 300ml chicken or vegetable stock
* 50g whole blanched almonds, toasted
Preheat the oven to 140C/Gas 1. Cut the lamb into 3cm chunks. Heat the olive oil in a cast iron casserole dish and pan-fry the lamb until golden. Add the garlic, onions and spices to the dish and continue to cook and stir over a medium heat for about 10-15 minutes.
Add the lemon, honey and stock to the dish and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook in the oven for 1 hour.
Stir in the toasted almonds and serve in traditional tajine dishes if you have them.
* Cooking With The Masterchef: Food For Your Family & Friends by Michel Roux Jr is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, priced £25