When your grandfather is Michel Roux, celebrated chef and elder statesman of the Roux family of cooks, fish fingers aren’t going to cut it.
So it came as no surprise to Roux that his toddler grandson Paul should already enjoy feasting on fine food.
“Paul, my grandson, eats practically everything,” laughs Roux. “It’s fantastic. I live in Switzerland and travel a lot so my son Alain and his wife send me photos. They sent me one of Paul holding a leg of roast duck in one hand and chewing it. He was so happy!”
Paul comes from a long line of food fanatics, headed by his grandfather and great uncle Albert Roux. Together, Roux and his older brother Albert moved to the UK from France in the 1960s and opened classic French restaurant Le Gavroche in London’s Mayfair.
After working together for many years, Albert became sole owner of Le Gavroche, while Roux took over ownership of The Waterside Inn, another of their prized restaurants, in Berkshire.
“You don’t choose your family, you choose your friends,” he says. “I had the best time of my life with my brother as a partner for 17 years, but we wanted our own space, so decided to branch out. The love between the two brothers is there and we’re very cheeky when we’re together.”
With so many cooks in the family, including Alain and Roux’s nephew Michel Roux Jr, things could feel a little claustrophobic. But when the opportunity came to work with his family and televise The Roux Scholarship 2013, Roux Snr gladly took it.
The scholarship, founded back in 1983 by the brothers, is an annual cooking competition for budding chefs. To mark its 30th anniversary, the contest is being shown on the Watch TV channel for the first time, and from June 24 will be repeated on Good Food.
In the series, the Roux family and a host of famous judges, including the first ever Roux scholar Andrew Fairlie and Rick Stein, put chefs through their paces. The winner will go on to take up an apprenticeship under the supervision of a chef in a three-starred Michelin restaurant anywhere in the world.
“We’re doing something for the trade, for the chefs and for the country, because we will have better food and better recognition abroad,” says Roux. “Me and Albert are there as chairmen and the children - I call them children but my son is 45 and Michel Roux Jr is 53 - have taken over.”
While Roux, who has an OBE and cooked for the Queen’s 70th and 80th birthdays, has plenty of relatives around him professionally, he also has a habit of ‘adopting’ the chefs he’s worked with over the years.
“The Roux Brothers are a family to all our chefs,” says Roux. “When a chef leaves our kitchen, they never leave us.”
“If a chef needs us, we’re there. It could be over Twitter, a phone call, an email, a card at Christmas, news of a first baby, news of a new restaurant... I love hearing about it. It’s marvellous. I’ve got more children than anyone I know!”
Roux may not be on speed dial, but if you fancy cooking up something special, try this challenging recipes from the series.
Michel and Albert Roux’s Piperade
4 thin slices of Bayonne ham, or other cured ham, fat trimmed and cut into small dices
300g red and green peppers, stalks and seeds removed, halved lengthways, peeled with a sharp potato peeler and finely diced
4tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
750g very ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeds removed and chopped
250g onions, chopped
Put the diced fat into a heavy pan with three tablespoons of the olive oil and heat gently. Immediately add the onions, cover the pan and sweat for 10 minutes.
Add the pepper to the onions, together with the crushed garlic. Cover the pan and cook over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring half way through. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes, until the juices have evaporated. The vegetable mixture should be melting and soft but not liquid. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then transfer two thirds of the vegetables to a saucepan and keep warm.
To make the piperade, break the eggs into a bowl, season with salt and pepper, beat lightly with a fork and tip into the pan containing one third of the vegetable mixture. Cook over a low heat, stirring with a wooden spatula as though you were making scrambled eggs. As soon as the eggs start to set, add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Stop cooking when the piperade has the consistency of a creamy puree.
Divide the piperade between four deep plates, spoon the reserved vegetable mixture into the centre, and put a slice of the ham on top. Place the plates in a warm oven for one minute to warm the ham and serve immediately.