Moving On went to super-posh London restaurant Le Gavroche, to quiz its owner, top TV chef Michel Roux Jr about his personal passion for training young chefs who’d like to follow in his food-loving footsteps…
On a drizzly autumn morning we were seriously grateful to be welcomed into the warm, red and gold interior of Le Gavroche – the renowned Michelin-starred restaurant in Mayfair, London owned and run by TV chef, Michel Roux Jr, presenter of MasterChef: the Professionals and the BBC’s Food and Drink programme. Perched on comfy sofas, we were served coffee while some of his young employees quietly bustled around, setting up the restaurant for lunch.
Michel appeared from the restaurant kitchen wearing his chef’s whites, greeting us with a warm smile and a firm handshake before plonking his own coffee, in a Manchester United mug, down on the table.
Jacob Slaughter, a third year catering student and guest interviewer for Moving On, got stuck in with the questions straight away, asking M. Roux how much the food and drinks industry had changed since he’d started working in kitchens as a 16 year old.
“The food scene has changed enormously since I started in the business – a far wider variety of ingredients are readily available now. Due to the demands of inventive chefs and their and innovative menus – you have to move with times and keep up with the trends.”
Michel began his own career as an apprentice for Maitre Patissier, Hellegouarche in Paris. He also worked as Commis de Cuisine for chef Alain Chapel at his restaurant in Lyon and revealed that it was Alain who had had the greatest influence on his own development as a chef.
Michel took time out as a young man to travel – something he still advocates for all aspiring chefs. He ended up in Hong Kong where he worked at the five-star Mandarin Hotel. He gained experience in the coffee shop, grill room and in the Chinese and fine dining restaurants within the hotel.
He travelled abroad to experience the cuisine of a different culture and to learn about Asian cooking methods and ingredients – in sharp contrast to the traditional French way of cooking he’d grown up learning from his father Albert – one half of the famous Roux Brothers .”A casual kitchen worker can gain valuable experience through travel and can draw from it later on in their career.” Michel said.
On the choices in careers and job satisfaction in the catering industry today, Michel said,” The level of commitment needed to work in a place like this is incredibly high – the hours are long and the work is hard but my staff never look at their watches. The pressure is incredible and of course, some young people find it hard to cope.
There are charities which help chefs who have developed drink and drug problems as a result of working in such a pressurised environment. There is a great temptation to have too many energy drinks to stay awake and then use alcohol or drugs to wind down – a habit which could easily put a swift end to your career.
It happens a lot but I’m glad there is some help out there for young chefs who may find themselves spiralling down that path because of the intense pressure they experience”
Photography by Mollie Dawe
On a more positive note, Michel talked about the vast number of jobs now available in the catering industry and added, “They’re not all high-end, high-pressure jobs. You can do a regular eight hour day, cook for kids in a school or try your hand at mass catering or banqueting and still get as much satisfaction doing those things as I do from working long hours here. If you do your job well, it brings great rewards and there’s something out there to suit anyone considering working in this amazing industry.”
Michel Roux Jr’s passion and enthusiasm for his trade is obvious. The success and enjoyment he has gained from his own career are something he is deeply committed to sharing with all budding chefs.
Jacob asked him about the apprenticeships he offers to young people at Le Gavroche.
“We run two apprenticeships here – at the moment we have a boy who is coming to the end of his two year apprenticeship and a girl who has just started. We run it in conjunction with Westminster Kingsway College where apprentices go on day-release courses which are combined with working here in the kitchen.”
Competition for places on his restaurant’s apprenticeship scheme is intense but Michel is very proud of all his graduates and is genuinely committed to playing his part in training up and passing on his invaluable experience to talented, young chefs.
Jacob also asked Michel about his thoughts on the huge popularity of TV chefs and whether they had any bearing on the number of young people wanting to go into catering and the food and drink industries.
“I believe that viewers should learn from and be inspired by chefs on television. Cookery programmes shouldn’t be on telly purely for entertainment’s sake. I think TV chefs should make people think really hard about how they shop, eat and think about food. Television is a great medium to get this message across to everyone and for getting young people interested in choosing to go for a career in the food industry.”
Asked for a good piece of advice for aspiring chefs, Michel answered, “Get as much work experience as you can and take notes on everything you learn in the kitchen! I still have all my notebooks from when I first started out and I still look at them for inspiration now!”
As we prepared to leave Michel Roux Jr’s cosy restaurant to brave the damp, autumn weather, our editor Kate sneaked in one final question, “What’s your favourite comfort food on a day like this?” Michel Roux Jr smiled and said, “A slow-cooked stew, a bowl of soup, a simple, crunchy apple. I take comfort in the moment, not just from the food…”
We left Le Gavroche – tummies rumbling slightly – impressed and inspired by Michel Roux Jr’s thoughtful, passionate and philanthropic views on catering, the British food industry and his dedication to nurturing the next generation of cooks and chefs.
For further information about a career as a chef, go to: https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/advice/planning/jobprofiles/pages/Chef.aspx
If you think you got what it takes check out: http://www.westking.ac.uk/subject/hospitality-culinary-arts/