Michel Roux Jnr took over the celebrated Michelin-starred Le Gavroche in Londons West End in 1991, a restaurant that had been made famous by his father and uncle, Michel and Albert Roux, in the 1970s.
As a young man, Roux Jnr worked in the kitchens of master chefs in Paris, Lyon, Hong Kong and London, and spent two years with the legendary Alain Chapel, one of the originators of Nouvelle Cuisine. He also cooked for former French President Francois Mitterand at the Elysée Palace. He has won countless awards for his cuisine and continues to set the standard for classical French fine dining in London. Michel Roux Jnr is now known to millions of telly addicts in the UK as the formidable judge of BBCs MasterChef: The Professionals.
Roux Jnr opened the doors to his latest venture, Roux at Parliament Square, just as the Cameron/Clegg alliance came to power in May. As one would expect from a venue just a hop, skip and a jump away from the seat of Government, British produce is very much on the agenda.
The restaurant, which seats 56 and also has a private dining room that holds up to 10 people, is housed in 12 Great George Street, Westminster. The historic building, designed by Alfred Waterhouse, the architect of Londons iconic Natural History Museum, is the headquarters of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), which prior to the opening had been refurbished to the tune of £30 million.
A glance at the menu crafted by Roux Jnr shows a wealth of British produce, which may seem out of place in the shopping basket of a chef who is acclaimed for his classical French cuisine but Roux Jnr has long been a champion of sustainability, leading by example as he obtains ingredients from local sources wherever possible. And he was brought up in Kent which begged the question, did his famous father, a chef committed to producing the finest classical French cuisine, have to make compromises and use British produce?
The Roux ethos is never to compromise, however there were times when recipes had to be adapted. Kent is a beautiful and fantastic place for produce its not called the Garden of England for nothing, says Roux. Furthermore, there is a wealth of produce to choose from here in the UK, so why would you opt to bring in ingredients from abroad if its not necessary? Less travel means fresher ingredients. It is also a way of supporting your local community.
So when does Roux believe it is OK to source from abroad? Only if it fits in and is beneficial to the end product, but this should be kept to a minimum, he says.
A typical dish on the Parliament Square menu includes loin and belly of Gloucester Old Spot and English hothouse tomatoes among other more continental ingredients. French cheeses do feature on the menu but alongside a selection British farmhouse cheeses.
Over time Roux has built up a relationship with Pedigree Meats and Heritage Prime because, he says: Both companies are passionate about what they do and deserved to be helped by leading chefs. I believe that the produce I get from both these firms is second to none. Heritage Prime produces meat that is farmed biodynamically. Biodynamic farming follows a holistic approach, which means the farm has to be self-sufficient in compost, manure and animal feeds. Prime Meats is the Brakes Group specialist butcher, the first foodservice business to be awarded Red Tractor accreditation. It also holds Quality Meat Scotland, Quality Pork standard and Welsh Lamb signs of assurance, and supplies meat under the RSPCA Freedom Food initiative.
Roux is also a pioneer when it comes to using unthreatened less well-known fish and seafood at a time when stocks of traditional British favourites are threatened. I have been using flounder, pollock, mackerel and gurnard for the past 20 years at Le Gavroche, amongst other unpopular fish. Its up to the chefs to make them into great dishes and be creative, he says. Mackerel, sardines and anchovy feature on the menu as well as managed farmed fish. What is important is that the produce is sustainable and of perfect quality.
Environmentally aware diners at Parliament Square can sample delicious fishy concoctions like confit of cuttlefish, garden radish, coriander purée or Roast Loch Duart salmon, horseradish gnocchi, tomato and tarragon dressing, safe in the knowledge they are not jeopardising the wildlife.
The spectacular wine list for Parliament Square also includes a fair number of English white, sparkling and rosé wines because Roux felt it was important to have them on the list not only because of our unique location but because they are rather nice to drink. Wines from Nyetimber, West Sussex and the Lamberhurst Estate in Tenterden, Kent are well represented.
When it comes to achieving sustainability in foodservice Roux is convinced that awareness of the issues is vital and he believes chefs have a duty to help with this. He is positive about the future saying that his experience on Masterchef Professional has shown him that young chefs are already on board when it comes to producing dishes from locally sourced produce.
I have found that young British chefs are now far more attuned to local produce and champion their home counties more that ever, he tells Foodservice Footprint. I would suggest caterers use the farmers markets for inspiration: even in central London you can find passionate local farmers.