It was a month ago today that I met Michel Roux. Actually, that’s not quite true. I’d snapped a picture of him at the Cuisine NOW Gala Dinner on the previous Sunday. And, I’d eaten his course from the seven courses by seven chefs that cooked at that dinner. Why has it taken me a whole month to write this post you ask? In truth, I’ve written the post and re-written it and re-written it. How can I do justice to what was one of the most amazing experiences of my life (and I’m not just talking about the food …)
Before I tell you about Monsieur Roux or the food, let me share one other reason why this dinner was so important. My dinner companion for the evening was my Chef brother Rodney. We share similar classical foundations of taste, and so the enjoyment was increased while we delighted in discussing, the flavours, textures, balance, cookery techniques and presentation.
Not long after we arrived Monsieur Roux emerged from the kitchen to greet us. That moment was the true definition of serendipity. Totally unexpected, I heard a deep resonating French accent over my right shoulder and turned to see his piercing blue eyes. As I had already had a chance to browse through the menu, I seem to remember I muttered something about really liking eggs. Monsieur Roux smiled and responded “so do I”.
Friday 22nd of January 2010.
Chilled avocado soup, served with a sea trout tartar and yellow peach, garnished with a charolais soft cheese crouton
2003 Moet & Chandon ‘Grand Vintage’ Champagne, France
Flaked spanner crab with melon and fresh almonds served with marinated prawns
2007 Domaines Schumberger ‘Les Princes Abbes’ Pinot Gris
Poached egg in a pastry case with asparagus tips and mousseline sauce
2009 Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon, Margaret River, WA
Pan fried scallops served on a bed of lime scented carrot mousseline sauce
2006 Yering Station ‘M.V.R’ Marsann / Viognier / Roussanne, Yarra Valley, Victoria
Poached fillet of flounder filled with lobster mousse
2007 Phillip Shaw ‘No. 11′ Chardonnay, Orange, N.S.W.
Roasted loin of lamb stuffed with aubergine confit and grilled pine kernels, “gateau” of moussaka and a light saffron flavoured jus
2007 Vietti ‘Tre Vigne’ Barbera d’Asti, Italy
Roasted Thirlmere duck with a lemon thyme jus, potato and garlic mousseline (minimum two people)
2005 Curly Flat Pinot Noir, Macedon Ranges, Victoria
Refreshing lemon dessert on a crisp biscuit base, sweet basil sorbet
2006 Wellington ‘Iced Riesling’, Coal River, Tasmania
Tea, coffee and my selection of petit fours
There were unexpected updates in the menu. While retaining a classical French base, there were other influences that had crept in. I’m sure his cuisine would have evolved from the food that Monsieur Roux would have cooked forty years ago. I later asked Monsieur Roux about the evolution of his food. He showed delight in the wider choice of produce that was not available when he started cooking. “Bok Choy” he exclaimed has a sweet delicate flavour.
For us, this meal was faultless. We delighted in each perfectly crafted component of each dish, the balance across each plate, and, the balance across the menu. After all was said and done (and eaten), for me it was the egg that won.
Are you wondering why there are not more photos of the menu? It was out of my respect for a great chef. At the end of the night, I realised I had spent the evening calling him Sir. As for the pictures, I would have felt disrespectful photographing the food at the dining table, in front of the great man himself. Before our choice of main, I went to the bathroom only to return and to find Monsieur Roux and Jean-Francois Imbert carving our duck at the table. How could I not give my undivided attention to this pinnacle of culinary art ? There would be no photographs!
After the main course, Monsieur Roux sat at our table and talked for a long time, through dessert until Cognac. Monsieur Roux “cooks for himself”. He cooks for others, what he himself likes to eat. The Master Chef spoke of respect for the ingredient, to have a focal point of the dish. He doesn’t like a longer degustation, requiring small portions that are only three to four mouthfuls. He prefers less courses and a larger representation on each plate.
Monsieur Roux advised us that young chefs have a lot of choices these days, not like when he started cooking. (Maybe due to this) he does think that there can be a lack of respect for the job from young chefs of today. “They don’t understand ingredients” and he elaborated that they don’t understand the roots of produce, it’s provenance.
And, most importantly in a moment in time, that will stay engraved in my memory, Monsieur Roux advised of respect for yourself. The patriach of British cuisine, gave this advise “be yourself, and do not search for happiness beyond that.”
It’s a new world.
After he’d left I saw a twitter message from Chef Luke Mangan saying it was him that had “coaxed” Monsieur Roux away. Later I asked Luke why he had called him Monsieur (a chef he knew well, with whom he had worked and trained and honed his craft, who described Luke as his friend). Luke sent this response “It’s called respect”.