Alain Roux -Chef Patron of the Waterside Inn in Bray- is part of the most renowned French cooking dynasty in England, his father Michel and uncle Albert having trained over 800 chefs and imprinted their unique turn on French food to former apprentices such as Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay and Pierre Koffman. While Le Gavroche in Mayfair -opened in 1967 and now under his cousin Michel Junior’s management- became the first restaurant in Britain to win three Michelin stars in 1982, his own restaurant -also originally opened by Michel and Albert- is celebrating this month 25 years of holding three Michelin stars, the highest culinary accolade. Here, London-born Alain (42) talks to Chic-Londres about his cuisine and what it feels like to be a French-English chef.
Your family name is a symbol of Gallic cuisine, yet you were born here: do you consider yourself as a French or English chef? As an individual, I would say I consider myself as primarily English, but with a French background. As for my cooking philosophy, it is definitely French. My father’s influence is obviously very important, as we worked for ten years side by side in the kitchen, and he is still the first to try all my new dishes. Also I trained and worked in France for fifteen years, so this is definitely part of my education. Yet, having said that, I love to cook with British ingredients and love English specialties, such as puddings, pies or fish and chips.
How do you define The Waterside Inn’s culinary style? Its style is based on French classics but with a personal twist: I use butter and cream, which is a must in French cooking, but always in moderation, to keep the dishes as light as possible. I would say that between my uncle and dad, and now my cousin at Le Gavroche, there is definitely a Roux “touch”, as we have kept some family specialties such as the soufflé suissesse or the tronçonnette de homard. The beauty of those is that they will never come out of fashion. Then I have added my own signature dishes to those, such as the pan-fried foie gras with caramelized oranges.
How would you describe the British approach to food and the way it has evolved? I think a lot of British people have become real foodies: they truly know about ingredients and cooking and are quite passionate about it, and in some cases are true food travellers, with a marked preference for France and Italy. Then there are an increasing number of British who seem to consider food as fashionable and who follow this trend through fashionable restaurants, magazines, books and TV programs. But in both cases, the approach to food has definitely changed a lot over the past ten to twenty years.
Which qualities are necessary to make a good chef? Quite a few… First, it is not enough to be a good cook, as a good chef must also be a good team player, who can look after the others and keep them motivated. You also have to make sure that you understand and respect the clients, and to understand that you don’t cook for yourself but for your guests: therefore, it is necessary to listen to them and see what they want. At last, you must put your heart in every single dish you make, like in a painting, which is particularly true in a restaurant like here, where we only cook “à la minute”, that is to say upon each guest’s request.
Do you have a favourite dish and one that you hate? There is nothing that I hate as I believe that any food can be good if cooked properly. As for my favourite, I have a particular fondness for any dish that has got black truffle in it. I love black truffle, as it enables you to get different flavours and textures depending on the way you cook it. White truffle is also nice, but contrary to the black one, it can’t be cooked and has to be used fresh and grated at the last minute, which is more limitative.
What is your best culinary advice? I would say practice and patience are essential, as well as organisation: try to have all your ingredients and utensils positioned at hand, all ready, so you only need to cook as it goes. Also, I would say that you should always try a new recipe on your close family before attempting to host important guests at dinner!
The Waterside Inn, Ferry Road, Bray, Berkshire SL6 2AT, about 45 minutes from West London by car or around one hour by train (Paddington-Maidenhead) and taxi.