Fork in the road: Alain Roux's path to the top

05 February 2016 by
Fork in the road: Alain Roux's path to the top

In the first of a series of interviews with top chefs, examining how they made it to the top, Alain Roux tells Kerstin KÁ¼hn about his route to join his family's culinary dynasty

I made the decision to become a chef when I was 14. My parents were divorced and I lived with my mother in France, so I didn't spend a lot of time with my dad when I was growing up. I only saw him during the school holidays when I would come to the UK and follow him around everywhere. He was all about work and I remember, during one of my holidays, spending a few days in the kitchen at Le Gavroche when it was on Lower Sloane Street. I wasn't really working, but more observing the action, watching my father and uncle work.

Seeing them in the heat of the kitchen definitely inspired me to want to become a chef. In some ways it was probably also a subconscious decision to get closer to my father but, more than anything, I got the feeling of the team spirit that exists not just in the kitchen but front of house, too. It's like a family.

My first mentor

Alain at 16 with chef Denis Ruffel in Paris

He taught me everything there was to know. It wasnÁ¢Â€Â™t just about pastry but also about cooking savoury dishes. From him I learned all the basics of French cooking. I discovered all the ingredients and different techniques through trying different recipes. It was very hard work, being locked up in a small, hot basement in front of the three-decker oven cooking a few hundred trays of bread or viennoiserie. But he somehow gave me my love for the job.

He also really pushed me with my studies. I was training at a specialised pastry college at the same time as working for him and he helped me not only to pass my exam Á¢Â€Â" which was the first exam I ever passed in my life Á¢Â€Â" but also get a very good mark for it. Denis

Ruffel made me progress and gave me my love of the whole business of cooking. But he also built up my confidence by making me aware of what to expect, and helping me understand that itÁ¢Â€Â™s all about hard work and the relationships between people.

From there, I went on to work at five Relais & ChÁƒÂ¢teaux restaurants: Maison Pic, Le Domaine dÁ¢Â€Â™Orvault, La Bonne Etape, ChÁƒÂ¢teau de Montreuil and La CÁƒÂ´te Saint-Jacques, and I did my military service at the ÁƒÂ‰lysÁƒÂ©e Palace. All the places I worked at during my eight years in France were very different but also similar in many ways as they were all family-run. Some were one-star Michelin, others were three-star, and the brigades varied from five to 50 or 60 chefs. I really loved working at all these places and meeting all these wonderful people who were so in love with their trade; each chef I worked under was so different from the next and I learned so much from all of them.

The Roux family: Michel Jr, Albert, Michel Snr and Alain

Joining the Waterside Inn

Then dad told me that it was time for me to get ready to come and work with him. I was happy that he hadnÁ¢Â€Â™t forgotten about me and was keen for me to come back. It made me feel privileged and proud. This was to be the second biggest turning point in my life.

I joined the Waterside Inn in 1992. Mark Dodson was the head chef at the time and I started at the bottom of the ladder. I had never worked with dad before then, so it was a strange experience and very daunting at first. We didnÁ¢Â€Â™t know each other all that well, having spent so much time apart when I was younger. I knew I had to prove myself because ultimately one of two things would happen: either I would learn, work my way up the ranks and open my own restaurant with dadÁ¢Â€Â™s support; or I would take over the business.

Alain and Michel Roux

There were some really tough moments during the first few years. The Waterside Inn is unique Á¢Â€Â" it is small but very busy and when you have to do things to the standard of three Michelin stars for so many people, it is very challenging both mentally and physically. I could hardly speak English and I had so much to learn, but at the same time I had eight years in France under my belt, so starting again at the bottom was tough for me even though I was only 23. It felt like I was taking three steps back.

Some of the chefs felt threatened by me because my name was Roux, but dad was very old-fashioned in his way of working and he was treating me like everyone else. Of course, that was fair enough Á¢Â€Â" but as a son it probably wasnÁ¢Â€Â™t the best environment to get to know my dad.

At the end of 2001, Mark Dodson left and I became joint chef-patron. We decided then that it was time for dad to pull out and for me to take over. It was very scary; it was a big new start and a huge challenge that was intimidating, but also exciting. I knew I would either make it or fail.


1984-1985 Apprentice, PÁƒÂ¢tisserie Millet, Paris

1986-1987 Commis de cuisine, Restaurant Pic, Valence (three Michelin stars)

1987-1988 Commis de cuisine, Le Domaine dÁ¢Â€Â™Orvault, Orvault (one Michelin star)

1988-1989 Military service at the Palais de lÁ¢Â€Â™ElysÁƒÂ©e, Paris

1989-1990 Commis de cuisine, La Bonne Etape, ChÁƒÂ¢teau Arnoux (one Michelin star)

1990-1990 Premier commis de cuisine tournant, ChÁƒÂ¢teau de Montreuil, Montreuil-sur-Mer (one Michelin star)

1990-1991 Premier commis de cuisine, La CÁƒÂ´te Saint-Jacques, Joigny (three Michelin stars)

1992-1995 Demi-chef de partie, Waterside Inn, Bray (three Michelin stars)

1995-2001 Sous chef, Waterside Inn

2001 Joint chef-patron, Waterside Inn

Are you looking for a new role? See all the current hospitality vacancies available with The Caterer Jobs >>

Latest video from The Caterer

Continue reading

You need to be a premium member to view this. Subscribe from just 99p per week.

Already subscribed?

The Caterer Breakfast Briefing Email

Start the working day with The Caterer’s free breakfast briefing email

Sign Up and manage your preferences below

Check mark icon
Thank you

You have successfully signed up for the Caterer Breakfast Briefing Email and will hear from us soon!

Jacobs Media is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

The highest official awards for UK businesses since being established by royal warrant in 1965. Read more.


Ad Blocker detected

We have noticed you are using an adblocker and – although we support freedom of choice – we would like to ask you to enable ads on our site. They are an important revenue source which supports free access of our website's content, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.

trade tracker pixel tracking