A tale of two brothers: bringing French cuisine to English tables
``We continually strive for perfection. We serve only the best to those that recognize only the best.'' So says Michel Roux, brother of Albert Roux. Together, the two Frenchmen have probably done more to change English restaurant food than any other two people in the United Kingdom. They offer French cuisine with the highest possible standards, albeit with high prices to match.
Because of these brothers, young British chefs are now learning in their own country from two master French chefs who are an inspiration, not only because of their techniques and ideas, but also because of their success in business.
Albert and Michel Roux apprenticed in France, but unlike many other restaurateurs, they have had experience in some of the great private houses of France and England, where time and money were of no concern.
Both also worked at the British Embassy in Paris. At one time, Albert was employed by Lady Nancy Astor in London, while Michel served as chef for Mlle. Cecile de Rothschild for six years. In 1967 they opened their first restaurant, La Gavroche, in London. Neither had run a restaurant or worked in business before.
But La Gavroche soon became the first English restaurant to receive the coveted three stars of the Michelin Guide.
Together Albert and Michel Roux have built a small culinary empire, including three other London restaurants -- Gavvers, Le Poulbot, and Le Gamin.
They are also in the hotel business with Forty-Seven Park Street, situated in the same Georgian building as Gavroche and known as one of London's most exclusive hotels.
They have a bakery and a charcuterie business to supply their restaurants, and their import-export business includes a refrigerated lorry sent each week to France to pick up fresh ingredients.
With their various establishments, the two brothers have accumulated an amazing number of awards and stars -- including numerous gold and silver medals won by Michel for both cuisine and patisserie and a citation from former President Giscard d'Estaing.
Today, La Gavroche is where you'll find Albert, the older of the two brothers -- a stocky man with dark hair and half glasses always sliding down his nose.
Michel, taller, with light hair, is usually at the Waterside Inn, a Michelin two-star restaurant in the village of Bray, half an hour outside London.
The secret of their great success, Michel explained on a recent visit to Boston, is determination and skill over the years and an attitude to clients that they are all VIPs.
Michel was in the United States to talk about a new cookbook the brothers have written and to attend the opening of a restaurant by a former member of their staff in Santa Barbara, Calif.
The new restaurant, Michael's Waterside Inn, is part of an arrangement called ``Joint Ventures,'' a program for members of the Roux staff who have developed culinary skills and want to own their own restaurant.
``We ask a lot from our staff and look for a special kind of person,'' Michel says. ``We regard it a pleasure but also a duty to help further the careers of promising young people. Contact with past members of our staff is one of our most satisfying pleasures.''
The brothers give financial and administrative advice and contacts to young people who might otherwise have to wait years before starting out on their own.
Michael's Waterside Inn, on the lagoon at Santa Barbara, is the fifth joint venture of the program. Michael Hutching, a former sous chef at Gavroche, is chef-owner.
During his visit, Michel also spoke of the food trends he sees here. ``It seems to me everything is heading towards fast food -- faster and faster fast food,'' he says.
``People want to stop by a shop and pick up a casserole ready to set on the table. Or perhaps the busiest of all people want to eat out all the time.
``This can only mean that eventually people will patronize only cheap restaurants serving fast food,'' he says. ``Snack bars and take-away caf'es will proliferate.
``I feel that in 20 years' time the quality of an haute cuisine meal, whether at home or in a restaurant, will be quite different from meals we eat today. The best restaurants will be family owned and run, seating about 40 people, so there will be personal service, with the chef totally in control.
``Organically grown and more natural foods will be more difficult to produce, rarer and harder to find,'' he continues. ``Such produce will be grown only for people who love good food.''
In the future, Michel says, ``Let us hope progress will not make each meal identical, and will not eliminate the pleasures of eating. Let us hope that in the year 2000 and beyond, dining will still be a pleasure rather than just a means of absorbing protein.''
While Michel and Albert's cookbook, ``The Roux Brothers' New Classic Cuisine'' (Macdonald, London), came out in England in 1983, an American version was not published until last fall (Barron's, $24.95). It will also be published in France this year by Nathan Fr`eres.
The book includes original recipes from the famous Gavroche and Waterside restaurants. Its 150 recipes are not exactly for the beginner, but they are based on the culinary skills that are the foundation of good French cooking.