Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Night The Roux Brothers Had Bread Rolls Hurled At Them

It is a little known fact, but before the Roux brothers arrived in Britain, people were sitting around in puddles eating mud, completely unaware that ovens even existed, let alone the complexities of the sort of soufflé that would engender begrudging Gallic approval.

No one knew how to cook, animals were eaten raw, and the Government was so concerned about the nation’s eating habits, they flew in the two Frenchmen to save the British people before it was too late.

Or at least, that’s the impression you’d get if you read today’s Daily Mail interview with Michel and Albert Roux, who modestly claim they single-handedly transformed British cuisine, turning the UK into the celebrity chef-obsessed, great food Mecca it is today.

“It was the dark ages,” said Michel, 70, shaking his head in disgust at the memory of the British culinary scene when he moved to London in the late 1960s.

“Nobody was serving decent food. I'm not even talking about good food. You would go to the Lyons Corner House where they would give you bleached bread and vegetables saturated with water. It was inedible. You have no idea what it was like.”

But by first opening Le Gavroche in Chelsea in 1967, then The Waterside Inn at Bray in Berkshire, and several brasseries, the brothers changed all that and showed the British how to eat, apparently.

“The Roux legacy is a lifetime of hard work which transformed food in Britain. We now have a food heritage to be proud of,” boasts Albert's son Michel Roux Jr (pic below) in the interview to plug the Good Food Channel’s new series - called funnily enough The Roux Legacy, and featuring the family's celebrity chef chums and a whole lot of tedious back-slapping.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing. A friend of mine - who’s retired now after making a fortune running racecourse catering firms across the UK - remembers a disastrous night in 1985 when the Roux brothers were pioneering a very modern cooking system known as sous vide.

They catered for a special function at the Royal Albert Hall for 2,500 members of the advertising world using only vac-packed food cooked under pressure, so all they had to do was reheat it just before service, which they claimed would make it very easy in the kitchen.

My friend, who helped run the event, had voiced his concerns beforehand, saying he’d had problems in the past with sous vide, and the Roux brothers were restaurateurs not caterers and were used to knocking out grub for 200 people not 2,000.

But Michel Roux reassured him: “It will be a wonderful way of introducing this cooking system to a lot of people. We are opening a restaurant in the City which will only use sous vide and this dinner will be a showcase for us.”

But the evening couldn’t have gone worse.

Because of the complexities of the new system and all the equipment (no, not just scissors) that needed to be brought in to solve the logistical problems of getting food out at the same time to all seven tiers of the Albert Hall - a place that Albert Roux had half-joked was named after him - the main meal was so late, the guests had polished off most of the wine before it arrived.

“The highlight,” my friend recalls, “was Albert and Michel Roux on the stage at the Albert Hall being jeered and pelted with bread rolls by all the luminaries of the London advertising world.”

Wonder if that will appear in the programme?

MORE: Coq Au Van: In Defence of Gordon Ramsay

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Helen said...

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Alex Watts said...

Hi Helen,

Thanks for all your support - I really appreciate it. I'd love you to read the book.

It's probably easier to read it on a PC. There is a free download here which allows you to read Kindle books on your computer. Worked pretty well on mine.

All best,


Helen said...

Oh brilliant! Right...