Chef and restaurateur

Born: April 19, 1941;

Died: March 11, 2020.

MICHEL Roux, who has died aged 78, was a French chef and restaurateur who, alongside his elder brother Albert, revolutionised the field of fine dining in the UK with their expensive yet enormously influential restaurant, Le Gavroche, which was opened in London’s Lower Sloane Street in 1967.

Five years later they launched the Waterside Inn at Bray in Berkshire. Today, some half a century later, both establishments are still a byword for excellence.

In 1974, the first year in which the long-running Michelin travel guides of France awarded their dining stars in the UK, both Le Gavroche and the Waterside Inn were awarded coveted stars. A second star for each followed in 1977. In 1982, the year after it had relocated to Mayfair, Le Gavroche became the first British restaurant to receive a third star. The Waterside received its third one in 1985.

When Le Gavroche celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017, among the signature dishes from the past half-century which were on its menu were lobster mousse with caviar and champagne butter sauce, roast duck in liver sauce, and caramel meringues.

Although none of these flavours are unconventional now, in the 1960s they were like an earthquake being set off amid a staid and traditional British dining scene. Despite being unable to speak a word of English, Michel followed his elder brother to the UK in the 1960s. Albert had secured him a job at the British Embassy in Paris, before moving to England to work as a personal chef. Roux described Britain in the 1960s as “a land of culinary philistines” in which people ate peas and bread in the finest London cafes.

Immediately prior to opening Le Gavroche (which was named in honour of the street child from Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables), Michel and Albert had been working in the service of the Cazelet and Rothschild families, and the patronage of such high-society aristocracy allowed them both to finance the modest 50-seat establishment with money from the Cazelets and their friends, and to create a splash upon opening which reverberated.

Among the 400 specially invited guests at the opening night were Charlie Chaplin, Ava Gardner, Robert Redford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

In the years since, Le Gavroche has become known as much for the fame of those who have worked in its kitchen as the reliably famous clientele who grace its tables. Among those chefs who have served at La Gavroche were Marco Pierre White – who was Michel’s personal selection as the most gifted chef they ever worked with – Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing, Pierre Koffman, Monica Galetti and current executive chef, Rachel Humphrey.

In 1986 the brothers decided to go their separate ways in business; the amicable split involved Albert taking over full control of Le Gavroche while Michel became full patron of the Waterside. In 1991 Albert handed over the running of the former to his son Michel Roux Jr , while in 2002, Michel passed over the Waterside’s kitchen to his own son, Alain. Now entering its thirty-fifth year since the award, the Waterside retains its third star, by far the longest-running holder of the honour in the UK.

Michel and Albert established the Roux Scholarship in 1984, an annual initiative to find and nurture the finest young talent in cooking, which still continues under the eye of their sons. The first winner was the late Scot Andrew Fairlie, who earned a name for himself and two Michelin stars with his restaurant at the Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire.

Michel Roux received the French National Order of Merit in 1987, the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1990, the Legion of Honour in 2004, and an OBE in 2002.

In the 1980s he and Albert had a BBC cooking show named At Home With the Roux Brothers. And although he had spoken out in the past about populist cooking shows such as Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook, and abrasive celebrity chefs, Roux appeared on both Masterchef: The Professionals and Saturday Kitchen in his later years.

Michel Roux was born in 1941, in the eastern French region of ’Charolles, Saône-et-Loire, to a family of charcuterie merchants. Six years Albert’s junior, he credited his love of food to his mother, who taught him how to cook after their father left when he was ten and was never heard from again. By this point the family lived in Paris, and Michel followed Albert – not for the first time in his life – into a job as a pastry chef. Between 1960 and 1962 he fulfilled his national military service in Algeria, and was presented with a commemorative commendation.

Roux wrote a number of cookery books, both alone and with his brother, and published a memoir entitled Life is a Menu. He was married twice, with daughters Christine and Francine and son Alain from his first marriage.