Has food always been in your family?
There is a famous saying in life: you are what you eat. I was born above the charcuterie shop, and my father and grandfather were charcutiere. There was the smell of food in our house, always. When you smell food, how can you not have that in your genes? When your father and your grandfather have been cooking these things, how can you not? It?s like my son now. Have I told him to be a cook? No. It?s in the genes. But I am a greedy little pig. I know when to stop, but I love food.
One of my favourite dishes is a soup. So simple, but I love it. A nice onion soup, or a nice mushroom. The fact is when it?s cooking it?s smelling all around. You can?t help it when your mouth waters. I couldn?t think of doing any other thing than to do with food. I have a sweet tooth so I love to make and eat a dessert. My brother too, but not as much as me.
When I used to go to school, I used to go into the shop where he was working and he used to give me a little cake. I ate those cakes in one mouthful! My mother used to give me a bit of dough to make a flan for dessert, and I used to stand on a chair ? because I was too small ? to help her. Even now I can?t help it. Whenever I go to a friend?s house for dinner and I walk in and smell what they?re cooking ? it could be a roast ? I know if they use red wine or white wine in the sauce, I know whether it?s beef or chicken? the five senses are working all the time.
What did you think about the food when you first came to England?
I came to join my brother in England because it was the dark ages for food here. In London there were no decent restaurants and the only good food was at big hotels like The Savoy. My brother went out on many occasions for lunch and for dinner and we soon realised there was nothing good to eat.
When you opened La Gavroche in 1967 what did you set out to achieve?
We did what we knew and what we thought was right to do. We had barely six or seven starters, six or seven main courses and five or so desserts. Nobody offered such little choice, but it was all food that was prepared from scratch from ingredients that were the best quality. We had small portions, with food that wasn?t overcooked. It was either going to be a quick success or a quick death!
Why did you start The Roux Scholarship?
When we telephoned and asked some of our chef friends on the continent to ask them if they would like to take one of our chefs for a couple of years, a lot of them did not believe they were British. They couldn?t believe there were chefs in the UK! So we started a competition to find the best of the best, so we could take him or her out to the continent. Once we chose one, they started to take notice. We not only helped to raise the standard in the UK but helped to make connections on the continent.
Do you still look for the same things in a chef?
We look for the same principles, but everyone changes over the years. I?m classic modern, and I could sometimes be classed as eclectic, but I?ve become much more modern in my approach than before. So we don?t judge in the same way now as we did, because we?ve changed. We?re much more open.
Can you tell us a little bit about the judges on The Roux Scholarship?
My brother has 50 years experience, I have have 40 years, and my son and nephew have about 30 years. That?s 170 years of experience between us. In the family we are different ? we all cook slightly differently.
Angela Hartnett has a different approach, Rick Stein has a different approach, Brian Turner has a different approach, Andrew Fairlie has a different approach? what you need are good people with different strengths in different areas. We don?t know who is coming, we have no names, or ideas of their backgrounds. We just judge on the food they produce and how they can cook. We want the smells, we want to know the ingredients, the colour and the type of the sauce. If we get an explosion in our mouths, we have a winner!
Did you enjoy the process of filming the series?
Yes, because all of us were involved at some stage. It?s not my show, not Albert?s show? it?s all of the judges show. They have been giving masterclasses, spending time with the finalists, giving tips and tricks to them. Then when we go into their restaurants we can see their strengths, their weaknesses? there?s never been a television show of this sort.
You must be so proud of what you?ve achieved with the Scholarship?
If anyone asks me what I?m proudest of, I?m left with one thing? the Roux Scholarship. Not just because of the competition, but because of the scholars that we already have ? they are so professional and they carry themselves with such dignity. We go around the world together every three years, and we go to markets and cocktail places and spice markets. The way they are together, they love each other. They share, and I learn so much from them, even today. You give and you take ? I?ve given a lot but, my God, I take too!
Do you and your brother and the rest of the family see each other often?
No, not really. Albert is in London, Michel is busy with Le Gavroche and Masterchef, and Alain is by himself in Bray. Me I?m in Switzerland, so we see each other once or twice a year.
When you do get together, what?s it like? Do you talk about cooking and dishes? Or do you bicker, like all families do?
We relax, we open a nice bottle of wine, we make a dish and put the pot on the table and we just eat. Sometimes there is silence ? sometimes less is more. And we just know things from looking at each other.
Finally, could you summarise your approach to food?
My approach is the less ingredients in a recipe, the best. Don?t confuse yourself and don?t confuse people. To get the best flavour you need to use the best ingredients. Use local produce if you can. At the end of the day simplicity is the key. If you?re good at something you can?t hide things. As you get older all you want is the best.