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Getting stuffed with Albert Roux

As the top chef prepares to open a restaurant in the highlands, Tom Shields takes cookery lessons from the master

ALBERT Roux does not approve of the traditional force-feeding method of producing foie gras.

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Addressing his audience at a gourmet weekend in Inverness, the celebrated chef explains that he prefers a less intrusive process in which the goose is exposed to an ultrasound device which encourages appetite.

"The goose eats itself silly," says Roux. His audience may know how the goose feels, having been stuffed with a Friday evening of French country food, a Saturday lunchtime cookery demonstration with consumption of the results and a five-course gala dinner. Add two country house breakfasts and two afternoon sessions with sandwiches and fancies and you know you have had your tea.

Roux is in the Highland capital as a foretaste of what diners can expect when he takes over the kitchens at the Rocpool Reserve boutique hotel. Chez Roux, as the restaurant is now known, opens on Wednesday. If you are launching an upmarket eating establishment in the teeth of a recession, April 1 is as good a day as any to do so.

In a world of too many celebrity cooks, Albert Roux is the original.

Many of the others are in direct line of descent from him. Roux came to Britain from France as a teenager in the early 1950s, after serving an apprenticeship as a patissier, to work in the kitchens of various wealthy families, beginning with Nancy, Lady Astor.

He went into business, opening Le Gavroche in London, the first UK restaurant to be awarded three Michelin stars. His fame soared with TV appearances and books in collaboration with his younger brother Michel.

Albert's mastery of classic cuisine, allied to a keen business sense, has seen the Roux name develop into a brand which has endured and prospered over five decades. At the age of 73, he does not spend so much time in front of a hot stove, but through his Roux Consultancy he is still opening restaurants.

He has just finished creating a Chez Roux at La Torretta del Lago, an upscale lakeside resort in Houston, Texas, before putting the final touches to his Inverness project.

Roux is not in Scotland on a Michelin mission. "I want to recreate the kind of restaurant I remember from my home town, offering good and honest country cooking. The kind of place you can go to eat without ringing the bank for permission." His home town is Charolle in a region as famous for its beef as Scotland is for fresh produce. "Chez Roux will offer Scottish ingredients with a French twist."

Roux has in his London home a painting by David Donaldson, the late limner to HM the Queen. It is titled A Wee Delicacy and is a self portrait of the Glasgow artist eating a fish supper from a newspaper. It reflects Roux's simple tastes. "I prefer mussels to lobster."

His connection with Inverness and fish goes back nearly 50 years. "I was on an 'oliday of a lifetime, touring Scotland in my Morris Minor, you know the one with ze wooden frame. I remember fishing near Inverness with my son Michel. It was midnight but still daylight. We caught nothing until the guy next to us explained we were using the wrong gear. 'E gave us the right gear and we caught some lovely trout. That's Scottish, eez it not? Very amicable people."

Roux's appetite for all things British is boundless. Apart from a dislike of the national drink. "I 'ave never taken to the cup of tea. But I am only French by passport. I am a pure royalist. I love the Queen. I love the British democracy, the freedom of speech, the people talking at Hyde Park Corner, the bowler 'at, the court circular in The Times."

One of his many catering enterprises, a venture into sous-vide (a kind of posh boil-in-the-bag cuisine), was called Rouxl Britannia. This typifies both his Britophilia and his sense of fun.

Roux is a fan of the French Resistance TV comedy series 'Allo 'Allo. He sounds a bit like René, the amorous café owner of the sitcom. The similarity to René went beyond accent and into the realms of a busy love life. In a bachelor state, in between his two marriages, he had managed to accumulate seven girlfriends.

"When I met Cheryl now his wife I was anxious to continue to see her. Cheryl had made some inquiries and suggested I would have to get rid of some excess luggage first."

Roux is prolific in his relationships with restaurants. Through the Albert Roux Consultancy he runs two Brasserie Roux at the Sofitel St James in Mayfair and at Heathrow Terminal 5. Among his many other involvements are ventures in Jersey, Leeds, New York state, and Inverlochy Castle. You might ask if, with the latest Chez Roux, the great chef is spreading himself too thin.

To see him in the flesh and in action is to realise that Albert Roux does not do spreading thin. At his gourmet demonstration, Roux is expansive and entertaining. He is doing the talking while his "apprentice" is cooking the Coquilles Saint Jacques. "You know 'e is my apprentice by 'eez low wages." The apprentice is Glen Watson, former head chef at Gleneagles and now a partner in the consultancy and a part of the culinary double act.

"Put in more butter. I love butter but the butter does not love me," says Roux. Watson does not need to be told to add a generous glug of Drambuie to the apples in the Tarte Tatin. He knows the master chef's little ways.

Roux goes on to talk about the joy of stock: a seafood stock made from the squidgy digestive-tract bits of the scallops; stock from veal bones for the confit of duck main course. He tells how Canelle, his beloved Labrador, does not get many bones until they have been roasted or simmered for stock. "But do not worry, Canelle gets many tidbits."

The master chef is generous with tidbits about the many celebrity cooks who are alumni of the Roux university. The conversation is usually conducted with a glass of Krug champagne, or "pop" as Albert calls it in his very British way.

Gordon Ramsay is a softie at heart. Marco Pierre White is not such a nice person. Both have tremendous culinary capability. Martin Wishart has a special flair but was terribly homesick when away from of Scotland. Brian Maule has a special place in Albert Roux's heart. As a teenager in Ayrshire, he watched the Roux brothers cooking on television and was inspired to be a chef. He took himself to Lyons, the cradle of French cuisine to learn.

Maule moved to London and spent 14 years involved with Roux, eight years as head chef at Le Gavroche. "Never 'ave we had somebody who worked so hard and was so loveable," Roux says of Maule, who is now chef-patron of the Chardon d'Or in Glasgow.

For Maule, Albert Roux is simply the guv'nor, the most influential figure in the recent history of cuisine in Britain. "He is the top man, the way he brings flavours together, enhancing one another."

Maule and Roux keep in touch, mostly by telephone and in French. "He says I talk too fast," says Maule.

"My dear Brian, 'e 'as such a 'eavy Glaswegian accent but 'e speaks French like a native," says Roux. "Many talented chefs have gone back to Scotland but failed. Like Gordon Ramsay, who was ahead of his time. Brian has succeeded. In fact, at Chez Roux in Inverness our pricing and approach will be very similar to Brian's." So does Maule have any advice to Roux about opening in Scotland? "Yes, stay in London and charge London prices," he laughs. "Like us, Chez Roux will be making the most of the cheaper cuts of meat, the rillettes of pork, the lamb shanks."

Roux says: "My first thought was not to use the existing brigade at the Rocpool Reserve. I 'ad my own people to put in place. But 'aving cooked with Davey, I know 'e 'as the quality." Davey Aspen, chef in the restaurant's previous incarnation, has been down to Le Gavroche for a spot of Roux-ination.

"In Inverness, Davey will not cook Gavroche but the spirit will be there. Everything - an omelette, a slice of toast - 'as to be top, top, top."

Honest country food may be on the menu at Chez Roux but the Rocpool Reserve doesn't quite do rustic. Voted Scotland's best small luxury hotel of 2009, it's the kind of place where the staff have extra-sensory perception about what the guest needs next and the kind of place where the towels are so fluffy you can hardly get them into your suitcase.

Chez Roux Inverness will be more country classic than rustic. At the gourmet weekend, Invernesians were tucking with some gusto into the pork belly and puy lentils with Jerusalem artichokes. As Albert Roux says: "The Scottish, they like zomezing on zer plate."

"I think," says one local, "that we'll be getting our five a day with Mr Roux."

Chez Roux opens at Rocpool Reserve, Inverness, on Wednesday www.rocpool.com

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