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Tributes paid to 'British gastronomy’s greatest modern champion' Michel Roux

12 March 2020 by
Tributes paid to 'British gastronomy’s greatest modern champion' Michel Roux

Tributes have been paid to Michel Roux “gastronomy’s greatest modern champion” Michel Roux, following his death at the age of 78.

Roux changed the face of hospitality in the UK when he and brother Albert opened Le Gavroche in London's Lower Sloane Street in 1967. It became the first three Michelin-starred restaurant in Britain in 1982 and a beacon of excellence. In 1972 the pair acquired the Waterside Inn in Bray, Berkshire, which was awarded three Michelin stars in 1985. It has held the accolade ever since.

Michel’s son Alain and daughters, Francine and Christine, on behalf of the family said: "We are grateful to have shared our lives with this extraordinary man and we’re so proud of all he’s achieved. A humble genius, legendary chef, popular author and charismatic teacher, Michel leaves the world reeling in his wake. For many, he was a father figure inspiring all with his insatiable appetite for life and irresistible enthusiasm. But above all, we will miss his mischievous sense of fun, his huge, bottomless heart and generosity and kindness that knew no bounds. Michel’s star will shine forever lighting the way for a generation of chefs to follow."

Brian Turner, chef and president of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, was among the first to pay tribute to his friend: “Gastronomy and cooking in the UK have lost their greatest modern champion. An adopted son of Great Britain, Michel Roux was a much-loved chef with a mischievous sense of humour.

“I was privileged to have been called a friend of Michel and attended most celebrations where he and the Waterside Inn were rightfully recognised for what they have done for the reputation of Britain in the area of fine dining and haute cuisine in the modern era.

“By creating and developing the Roux Scholarship many young cooks in this country have profited by the passion of the Roux family and the leadership and dedication of Michel and will constantly be aware how this has changed the lives of so many of the top chefs in this country.

“Only last week we spent a quiet 15 minutes, holding hands together, discussing how best to take the scholarship forwards whilst giggling and laughing - a wonderful memory of a wonderful friend, I will miss him so much.”

Michel Roux
Michel Roux

Sara Jayne Stanes, chief executive of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, said: "Michel Roux OBE was not only one of our most celebrated chefs, restaurateurs and authors, he was also one of France and Britain’s greatest patissiers, having won the coveted Meilleur Ouvrier de France in 1976, of which he was hugely proud. He had a legion of followers, both personally and professionally from across the world. Together with his brother Albert, he became legend in his own lifetime and a hero to many. He changed the way chefs cook, the way most of us think about and eat food and the vital importance of the front of house. He was Mr Hospitality. He was a perfectionist to his core, super generous with an insatiable sense of fun. In addition to his OBE and Legion d’Honneur, his industry awards would fill a book.

"In the early 1980s. Michel was instrumental in establishing the Academie Culinaire de France (UK) (now the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts) and, fired by his own success as an MOF, he championed the Meilleur Ouvrier de Grande Bretagne (now the Master of Culinary Arts) which would not have happened without his perseverance, knowledge and contacts and now happens every four years. He was a huge supporter of Adopt a School back in the early 1990s often welcoming primary schoolchildren into the hallowed grounds of the Waterside encouraging them to think about food and eating in a healthy way and how food affects the mind and body. Even during recent years he took a keen interest in the progress of the RACA and Adopt a School, together with Alain, opening the doors of the Waterside Inn last September to host a fabulous fund raising dinner which raised record profits as well as boundless goodwill.

"On a personal note, I first met Michel Roux in 1984 at a demonstration hosted by La Petite Cuisine in Richmond. One of his dishes was a chocolate truffe gateau, divine does not do it service. Up to this point I was naïve enough to believe that chocolate meant chocolate confectionery. This amazing piece of work changed my life and my journey into the world of chocolate – and ultimately the RACA - began. Thanks to him and his brilliant pastry chef Ian Ironside, I learnt all I know about working with the finest couvertures – and making chocolates – which I did for 25 years - with the inevitable book Chocolate The Definitive Guide (history of chocolate form the Olmecs to the present day). Michel was my chocolate mentor and friend, even introducing me to Richard who became my husband with our wedding celebrated at the Waterside (of course!). Michel was enthusiastic about my efforts to start the Academy of Chocolate in 2004 and became its Patron. Since then we have run numerous events for chocolate lovers about ‘proper’ chocolate and awards. In 2005 we had 20 entries. This year we had over 1600 entries from 40 countries.

"Michel Roux was, and always will be, a hospitality champion. His presence and influence will outlive us all. Like hundreds if not thousands of others, I am going to miss him."

Sat Bains, who won the Roux Scholarship in 1999, said: "What a life. I was very fortunate to have known Michel very well, and I thought the world of him. I think if we can all lead 10% of his life, of his successes and achievements, then I think we will have lived a full life. I think this is what we have to take from this. Michel had so much energy, so much boundless love for the industry and all the scholars, he showed us the world. I will always feel grateful, privileged and humbled to have known him so well.

"Through the Roux Scholarship study trips, Michel exposed us to such world-class restaurants, which ultimately gave us a greater knowledge of gastronomy across the globe and that only enriches your palate. Michel was a big believer in travelling, travel makes you more knowledgeable, it gives you a greater understanding of cultures and that’s what he gave us.

"We would spend 8-12 days on these trips and, travelling with Michel, you would see the respect that he got from every single restaurant and country that he went to. The way he was received by chefs from all around the world was jaw-dropping, it was a privilege to watch.

"And the way he carried himself... he was so debonair, so charming, he made everyone feel special – men and women – everyone who crossed his path. A brilliant, brilliant guy. I was very fortunate to have met him.

"On the day I won the scholarship, he was the first chef to give me a hug, and I remember throwing my chef’s hat on the floor and he said 'I’m going to keep this, can you sign it for me?' I said 'what for?' And he said, 'because one day I know it’s going to be worth a lot of money.' I can remember thinking this guy is the next level.

"We connected immediately. He had a glint in his eye - a spark - and we had an instant connection. And I loved him as father figure. My heart goes out to Alain, Albert, Michel Jnr and the whole family."

Celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson fondly remembered Roux encouraging him to enter the Academy of Culinary Arts' Meilleur Ouvrier de Grande Bretagne and training him for the competition, which he won in 1987.

“He had me down at the Waterside about four or five times to show me what classic chefs do – not what cowboys do… I owe an awful lot to him.

“He was a wonderful man… he knew his craft so well and to maintain those three Michelin stars for so many years was an incredible achievement.

"In a way we’ve lost our Paul Bocuse of England. He was French but he adopted our country. Everyone strived to be like the Roux brothers. They changed the face of British dining, because we were considered to be a joke… Anyone who wanted to be a Michelin chef would have always looked up to the Roux brothers, there’s no doubt about that.”

Michel with son Alain
Michel with son Alain

Diego Masciaga was formerly general manager of the Waterside Inn, and worked at the restaurant for 30 years. He said: "Michel was an inspiration to many. He and his brother Albert revolutionised hospitality in the UK. His legacy will continue within those he has mentored and the many others who looked up to him. A very sad day for the industry.”

Mark Birchall, 2011 Roux scholar and chef patron of the two-Michelin-starred Moor Hall in West Lancashire, said: "The Roux brothers made the UK restaurant scene what it is today. An inspiration to me and many others. Michel was like a father figure for myself and the other scholars - his guidance helped me be the chef I am today. His legacy will live on.
Chef you will be sorely missed. RIP."

Chef Marco Pierre White said: "Michel Roux Snr like the great Anthony Bourdain created a movement, not a following. With respect and admiration, Marco Pierre White."

Michel and Albert with Andrew Fairlie, the first Roux Scholar
Michel and Albert with Andrew Fairlie, the first Roux Scholar

André Garrett, 2002 Roux Scholarship winner and executive chef at the Corinthia Hotel London, said: "What an impact Michel had on our trade and our lives, I am truly blessed to have known him and shared some special moments that I will cherish forever, through the Roux Scholarship, his energy and passion were amazing and his legacy will live on for ever, my thoughts are with the whole Roux family at this time. Thank you Michel for so much, god bless."

Hrishikesh Desai, 2009 Roux scholar and executive chef, at one-Michelin-star Gilpin hotel in the Lake District, said: "Michel Roux Snr was not only a legendary chef but to many he was a father, grandfather, teacher, friend, mentor and inspiration. His philosophy, 'it's all about the flavour' is still ringing in my ears and probably many chefs have taken his philosophy on board. "Sharing one's success is the best success and Michel Roux Snr proved this by creating a scholarship which had changed the British culinary map. I am so proud to be a Roux Scholar. Chef Michel you will be thoroughly missed."

Adam Smith, 2012 Roux scholar and executive chef of Coworth Park, said: "I was terribly saddened to hear of the passing of chef Michel, an inspirational leader of our industry who was a true gentleman and a mentor to many, including myself.

"Winning the Roux scholarship changed my career and from that day chef Michel was always there, whenever I need professional or personal advice, guidance and support. I feel so lucky and grateful for that.

"As part of the 'Roux family' as it is affectionately known, it was a privilege to be able to go on the scholarship study tours, and spend time in the company of such a gentleman, in awe of his charisma and presence. No matter where you were in the world leading chefs and restaurateurs welcomed chef Michel with open arms and a huge respect; a tribute to him as a industry leader and the driving force for quality in British gastronomy.

"The word 'legend' is often over used but in the case of chef there is nothing more fitting, he helped change and evolve our great industry, with a real passion for the next generation of cooks in a way that has been unmatched. A true inspiration to us all and a legacy that will live on forever. Thank you chef! My thoughts are with his family."

Michel Roux on the cover of The Caterer in 2013
Michel Roux on the cover of The Caterer in 2013

Amanda Afiya, former editor of The Caterer, said: “Where do you even begin to précis the life of Michel Roux Snr? Aside from the fact that, alongside his brother Albert, he created one of the most widely respected competitions for professional chefs in the world, he was awarded every accolade going from three Michelin stars to the Légion d'Honneur in his beloved France, and, of course, an OBE in his beloved Britain.

“Spending even a few minutes in his company was a joy. He was charming and engaging, at times a little bit naughty and cheeky, which just made you love him even more, and of course, he was unbelievably knowledgeable and insightful - on all things. But he could be a tough customer too!

“The Roux Scholarship started a culinary revolution in this country and as a nation we haven’t looked back since. It was a trailblazing concept and one that launched with heaps of integrity because Albert and Michel were so loved and admired in every corner of the globe. The chefs who won – among them the late Andrew Fairlie, Sat Bains and Mark Birchall, to name just a few – went on to have the most marvellous careers thanks, in no small part, to that platform. Roux study trips taken since winning, played a massive part in shaping the cuisine that emanates from their restaurant’s kitchens today.

“Michel’s imprint on the current, magnificent crop of chefs – not just his scholars, but those who passed through his kitchens or study his books - who now lead the industry, is clearly discernible and will be for decades, hopefully centuries, to come.

“He made history.”

Chef Pierre Koffmann said: "The Waterside Inn was at the very top of the UK culinary industry for many years because of him, and he always knew how to take care of his guests. He was a great host with a very entertaining sense of humour."

Andrew Bennett, national chair of the Craft Guild of Chefs, said: “Michel Roux arguably changed the UK’s culinary landscape forever, not only with his skills as a chef, but as a passionate advocate for the industry.

“He was a true pioneer; the restaurant he opened with his brother in London, Le Gavroche, became the first three Michelin-starred restaurant in Britain in 1982.

“His generosity and enthusiasm knew no bounds. His ability to inspire others and willingness to pass his knowledge on to the next generation of chefs, means that he will forever have a place in British food history.”

The Castle at Taunton owner Kit Chapman said: "We mourn the passing of Michel Roux. He, with his brother Albert, transformed the gastronomic landscape in Great Britain. They lit the fire that launched the revival of good food in the 1980s. Their influence and inspiration nurtured a new battalion of gifted young British chefs."

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