Michel Roux OBE: a lasting legacy

Michel Roux OBE: a lasting legacy

by Great British Chefs 12 March 2020

The inimitable, legendary chef Michel Roux passed away peacefully on 11 March at home, surrounded by family. We take a look at the unstoppable trajectory of this hugely influential chef, and how he changed French cookery – and the British food scene as a whole – forever.

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Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

There simply isn’t a more famous culinary family than the Rouxs. When brothers Michel and Albert – two hardworking pastry chefs from the Saône-et-Loire region of France – decided to leave their home country to work in England, eventually opening Le Gavroche and then The Waterside Inn, the idea of eating out in the UK was changed forever. It’s hard to emphasise just how influential both they and their sons (Alain Roux and Michel Roux Jr) have been on the British food scene, sharing not only the incredible culinary delights of classical French cuisine with a UK audience, but improving the state of restaurants as a whole too. That, combined with the establishing of The Roux Scholarship in 1984 – which has been responsible for kickstarting the careers of everyone from Sat Bains and Andrew Fairlie to Mark Birchall and Simon Hulstone – makes them the godfathers of modern fine dining.

Michel passed away on 11 March at his family home aged seventy-nine in Bray, Berkshire, surrounded by family after a long battle with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. He was a father to Alain, Francine and Christine; a husband to Robyn (who passed away in 2017); a brother to Albert; an uncle to Michel Roux Jr and a grandfather to Paul and Louise.

Born in Burgundy in 1941, Michel lived above his grandfather’s charcuterie before moving to Paris and deciding to become a pastry chef at age fourteen, following in the footsteps of his older brother Albert. Before moving to England he worked at the British Embassy in Paris, before becoming a private chef for Cecile de Rothschild.

As an accomplished French chef, many questioned Michel’s decision to move to England in the 1960s – a period when food in the country was questionable, to say the least. However, when he opened Le Gavroche with brother Albert in 1967, it almost instantly became one of the best restaurants in the UK, with many of the time’s most famous celebrities clamouring for a table there.

In 1972, Michel and Albert opened The Waterside Inn in Bray, Berkshire, which along with Le Gavroche would become one of the world’s best restaurants. Both establishments were awarded with three Michelin stars by 1985 – an accolade The Waterside Inn continues to hold to this day.

With two world-class restaurants under their belts, the brothers then decided to launch The Roux Scholarship in the 1980s, an annual competition for chefs of the highest calibre. All the winners of this competition have gone on to have successful careers in the kitchen, and a huge number of the Michelin-starred chefs working in the UK today have either worked for or been heavily influenced by the Roux brothers. Heavyweights of the 1990s food scene such as Pierre Koffmann, Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White were all trained in the Roux kitchen.

In later years, Michel focused on The Waterside Inn, with his brother Albert concentrating on Le Gavroche. Michel’s son Alain took over the running of the restaurant as chef-patron in 2002, but Michel was always close at hand and involved in all aspects of the Roux family’s many endeavours. These include a string of other restaurants, catering consultancies and even a range of dog treats, inspired by Michel’s love of his dog Henri.

Michel’s passing will send ripples throughout the hospitality industry both in the UK and beyond, with many chefs citing him as an inspiration and influence in everything they do. It’s clear Michel’s legacy will last for many, many years to come.