AAlbert Roux, who died aged 85, did more to encourage and nurture Britain’s catering industry than any other chef working in the UK. The list of names that passed through the kitchens of his Mayfair restaurant, Le Gavroche, which he opened with his late brother Michel in 1967, is the classic who’s who of the culinary firmament of the kitchen. It includes Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, Pierre Hoffman, Phil Howard, Marcus Wareing, and Rowley Leigh, each of whom, in turn, passed on what they had learned from Albert to so many others.
He was firmly in the business of unapologetic luxury. “We knew nothing of the British indifference to food,” he once told me, from his early years in Britain, “because we had only cooked for the rich.” Both brothers had come to the country from Paris, as private chefs for the aristocracy, Michel for the Rothschilds, Albert for the Cabarets. It was money and the contacts of their employers that allowed them to launch Le Gavroche.
The guest list for the opening party included Eva Gardener, Robert Redford and Charlie Chaplin, the latter chauffeured every night of the following week from his suite at the Savoy. He came for classics like the Gruyère-dippedSuspensee souffle and a lobster mousse with caviar and a champagne-butter sauce.
Whenn we opened, you couldn’t get things likepoett depresse in this country,” Albert later recalled. “So my wife drove to France to smuggle it.” He was trying to cook French classics in a country where some of the ingredients were apparently illegal.
Le Gavroche became the first UK restaurant to win one, then two, and then in 1982, three Michelin stars. Michel would have been happy with that success, but Albert wanted more. The sometimes tempestuous sibling relationship, which eventually developed into a hilariously irritable BBC cooking show, resulted in Michel turning to Bray to manage the equally successful Waterside Inn.
Albert, a businessman as shrewd and irascible as a talented chef, stayed in London, developing an empire that included brasseries, atrailerr and a high-end butcher shop, once again expanding the culinary skills of the country’s cooks. At Le Gavroche that eye for business resulted in the set menu lunch, the price of which included half a bottle of very fine wine from the extraordinary winery he had worked tirelessly to build. Although the price has gone up over the years, lunch has always been excellent value for money and more importantly guaranteed that the dining room was full from start to finish.
In 1991, at age 55, Albert handed the restaurant over to his son Michel Roux Jr., who was smart enough to retain the spirit of the place, if not the same volume of double cream. Albert continued to encourage the next generation by helping his family launch the Roux scholarship contest and lived an extremely good life. He ate at the London restaurant and had several wives and mistresses. The kind of grand, classic, butter-dipped cuisine that you first brought to London can now be dismissed as a desperate anachronism. But his legacy goes far beyond the richness of his food, to the richness and rigor of the culinary experience he brought to his adopted country.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism