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Interview with French Chef Albert Roux

Aired November 2, 2012 - 05:30:00   ET


KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN the world's news leader and Talk Asia starts right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More caviar, more caviar --

STOUT: His name is synonymous with French cuisine and at 78, Chef Albert Roux, did most of passion for his profession.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please, please, please, please.

STOUT: Especially known as the grandfather of French cooking, he's one of the most highly respected culinary ambassadors on the planet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The sauce on the tuna belly, perfect.


STOUT: Armed with six decades of experience, Albert Roux, his brother Michael and their sons have become a gastronomic institution.

Born in France, it was until the Roux brothers opened the famed Le Gavroche Restaurant in London in 1967 that they became a household name. Their eatery would become the first British restaurant to be awarded the Michelin star, the first to gain two and the first to gain three and would earn them both an Order of the British Empire. Even British queen mother regularly sought them out to make her, her favorite dish.

But Roux's legacy extends far beyond these doors having trained the likes of Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay alongside of host of other international renowned chefs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the month (ph) of lobster --"

STOUT: This week, Talk Asia is in the kitchen with Albert Roux in Hong Kong, as he reveals the (rhythmic piece) for his recipes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For about 15 years, we smuggled about once or twice a week.

STOUT: And we discovered why his signature dish was fit for royalty.

It's like a little piece of heaven. It's beautiful.



STOUT: Albert, welcome to Talk Asia.

ALBERT ROUX, CHEF: Well, thank you. Nice to be here.

STOUT: You are the first man in Britain who've been awarded three Michelin stars. What do you make of that achievement?

ROUX: I never chase Michelin Star. What was important to me was bank account first and repeat client and myself. Obviously, I was highly delighted. It's a great reward could face an (inaudible) medal and I was there for 60 years on my own.

STOUT: But when you heard the news back in 1982, were you stunned, were you surprised, what was you immediate reaction?

ROUX: No, I was not stunned. The head of Michelin France came in and he said something to me, which was very nice. He said, "We're not in England. If you are in Paris, we would get you three-star."

So it was very nice. Obviously, yes, I was there extremely happy had a glass of champagne. Come to take more than a glass of champagne. Yes, it was a great accolade.

STOUT: The queen mother, which to have been one of your client and she said that Le Gavroche was her favorite restaurant.

ROUX: Yes. Well, I'll go back to a long, long time relation, really a relation with Queen Mom. I've cooked for her on many, many occasions.

STOUT: What's her favorite dish?

ROUX: Souffle suissesse.

STOUT: And just --

ROUX: Just souffle.

STOUT: Oh, very rich and a very classic dish.

ROUX: Yes. Yes, classic. My invention, but classic.

STOUT: Where did your culinary inspiration come from?

ROUX: As a young man, I was born above the shop, which was a shop charcuterie at (inaudible) where we're dealing with pork. We used (Suez) pork, kill the pork and all the things that you know with the pork from the bacon down to the snout, down to the tail, black pudding, so I was born within the smell of that. But that was not going to be my destination, I wanted to be a priest. I changed my mind at the age of 14 and then went into cooking pastry, pastry. I started pastry first, four years in pastry.

STOUT: You mentioned where you grew up. Your father was a butcher and he raised pigs, how involved were you in the family business?

ROUX: The involvement used to be peeling onions on Thursday, which was a day off from school, because on Thursday I was doing the black pudding. The involvement was going out to pick up the acorn and chestnut for the pig.

STOUT: You mentioned earlier that you want to become a priest. At age 14, you wanted to become a priest.

ROUX: I studied - I studied priesthood right from the age of 6, sort of serving Mass, learning Latin and so forth, yes.

STOUT: And why did you choose to leave that and choose a culinary profession?

ROUX: Last time I said that there's slight indifference with the old priest.

STOUT: Mm-hmm.

ROUX: -- which he did put me off the church. It did not - thank God, he did not accept my lies. But I never talked about it to my mother or father. I felt rather guilty about that affair.

And it's only lately that I reconciled myself with the church. I was knighted by the pope seven months ago, a Knight of St. Francis, and for the work that I do on interfaith because I did not believe simply in one religion. I think we have so much to teach to each other, like why should we fight.

STOUT: What allowed you to return to your faith after what had happened in your youth?

ROUX: I've never lost my faith. I've never lost my faith in God. But when I said I returned to my faith to reseal the honor, which was vested on me I had to take communion and I've not taken communion for more than 50 years.

STOUT: Mm-hmm. And how does that feel?

ROUX: I think inside of my body it was sort of reconciliation with my faith.

STOUT: At age 18, you left France to go to the U.K. and you worked for Lady Nancy Astor. Tell me about that experience.

ROUX: Yes, quite of a formidable woman. She (inaudible) as Member of Parliament. But, indeed, she's got the statue. She has got parliament toll (ph) and first governor of the BBC, really formidable lady. To me going into such a splendor of a product house, this was a six-star hotel where there were 65 menus of star and great and great and excellently well- looked after.

STOUT: Do you experience any sort of culture shock?

ROUX: Yes, I would say that because I came from a very proud but humble family.

STOUT: And how did you land that position?

ROUX: Landed that position through my godfather who was the chef of the Duchess of Windsor in Paris. So I went to see him when I finished successfully in my apprenticeship and he said there's a job in England and I went.

STOUT: I'm probably going to portray my American naivete (ph) here, but when I hear about the experience of working in a British-stately home I think of the series down to Navi (ph).

ROUX: It is not entirely similar. But I could go back in those years and see some definitely certainly back on the years.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can get ask why the restaurant called Le Gavroche. Well, the simple reason is here. This little character here is from the Victor Hugo play Les Misarables. (Inaudible) this sweet (bran) muffin who is hungry and he means (inaudible) plates to eat. And that what has happened.

STOUT: 1957, that was a massive year for you. That was when you opened Le Gavroche.

ROUX: 1957 was the opening of Le Gavroche with the help of my employee, where the boss gave me a check of 500 pounds to say goodbye. That was 25 percent of the money needed to open the restaurant and then all the family chipped in as well with 500 pound.

STOUT: It's a fantastic gift, but were you and brother since you opened up the business together what were you scared or anxious about the amount of risk that you were taking on as you were starting your own business?

ROUX: My brother obviously counts on (inaudible) because he had never worked in England or in Paris working with the Rothschild family. And myself is certain that the cross venture will be successful.

STOUT: And tell me about the market at that time? This is the late '60s in the U.K. What was British cuisine like?

ROUX: Well, with due respect, what we could call gastronomic desert.


ROUX: But there was no demand. The demand was very, very tiny. The demand was the gentry who wanted to go out. There were about four top restaurants in London called - so called (top). But what we've put on the menu when we opened was econ-evolution and it was a small menu.

No more flowering the saucers. Goodbye saucers, bye all. So it was a light, no deluge portion. That was in some respect we have to alter that because people will indeed complain that it was too small serving.

But it was extremely well received. The restaurant has been full ever since. At lunch - our lunch is full three months in advance and we full about two weeks in advance for dinners.

STOUT: In the early years, do you find that you had to educate the British palate in order to serve your customers?

ROUX: The biggest thing is not to order course. How many people did tell me, "Oh, it would be much better to have a bit of sugar into the dressing of the salad."

No, no, you don't do that. In palate service you did, yes, because you have your boss. The best chef in palate service was the one who plays his boss otherwise he has no job; he goes out. Well, in a restaurant, when the course was set you stick to it.

STOUT: What about sourcing ingredient at that time again, late '60s in the U.K.?

ROUX: That was one of the biggest hurdles. I also remember if you wanted olive oil, you have to go to the chemist. So the chemist sells a little bottle of olive oil to put in your ears. So that's - it's a fact and so it was.

So we smuggled. For about 15 years, we smuggled about once or twice a week just to go to farms with an old (inaudible).

STOUT: When you say you smuggled, you brought in these ingredients illegally into the country?

ROUX: Illegally, yes. According to what I see actually, it was illegally. And one is named you had the (prominent) minister of food and supply who would say, "That's (inaudible) delicious." A little bit, you know, that well, you must be low that it was smuggled. So we smuggled.

STOUT: Yes. And after the success of Le Gavroche, you opened up the (inaudible), you opened a brasserie, you opened a bakery, and outside catering business. You're creating this empire and why did you feel compelled to do that? Did you feel that the success of Le Gavroche was not enough for you?

ROUX: No. Well, I've always been ambitious, struggled as an entrepreneur very different to my brother. My brother if I've had been a farmer, he would have been a farmer as a young boy. They said, "What are you going to do?" He said, "What my brother does."

His idea was fame and I forever no other restaurant. So those terms are realized we're painful for him. But I wanted to open everywhere. I could see that there was demand and I want him to exploit it.

STOUT: In 1972, you opened the Waterside Inn, which also eventually went three Michelin stars.

ROUX: Yes. I think that was an extraordinary site by the river.

STOUT: Was it the physical beauty of the site that inspired you to start that restaurant in (developing) the dining experience (that sets in)?

ROUX: Well, not from the beauty but could have a famous American guy who say location, location, Hilton. I said, "You're right." I told the location was fantastic.

STOUT: You received many accolades and words over the years. And because of your high profile, you've also come under a lot of scrutiny and an example of that is the so called "kitchen sink drama" in 1988, 2008 other allegations of poor hygiene or --

ROUX: Yes. The allegation of hygiene to me was very painful.


ROUX: Because it was totally fabricated. But chosen not after winning on old camp and cost awarded I decided after advice not to sue but that every ground and the proof to pursue the counsel it was totally fabricated no doubt whatsoever. But to me it was a mission to defend myself and the staff because that kitchen was not silted. There was no fine in the kitchen.

But, you know, I received publicity on this one from all over the world, a publicity which I could have not been able uphold to if I needed a device, so.

STOUT: That's right (inaudible) your time.

ROUX: Yes, exactly.

STOUT: What is the key to running successful restaurants?

ROUX: The first thing you have to understand is that you are a distributor of joy. And I'm afraid quite often the people who run restaurant failed back. You have to understand as well that the client that you service to coming there, you're not doing any service and sometime some restaurant pays some restaurant can be very pompous. The French (inaudible) will be good to that. French waiter, you know, looking over the head of customer low better, you know, that not exists. You will provide a joy.



STOUT: Hi, there. We are here in Hong Kong preparing for the (inaudible) Festival. And a quick introduction; who is your sous chef?


STOUT: (Inaudible). Nice to meet you. And what will you be preparing today?

ROUX: We're going to prepare a souffle suissesse.

STOUT: This is your signature dish and the queen mother's favorite dish.

ROUX: That's right.


ROUX: So pasta going to be melted plus going to be added to it milk, yolk of egg to thicken it. Obviously, season salt, cheese which is a mixture of Gruyere and cheddar of the (inaudible) cheese. (Inaudible). And then the white of eggs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to make dough which is melting the butter and then cook the flour. Now the butter is fully melted so I'm adding the flour. OK. Now my (inaudible) so I'm going to let this freeze block.

ROUX: As snow color. This is very important.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now the other thing is I'm going to let this cool down a little bit and let my milk boiling, because what you don't want to do is put hot milk on too hot.

ROUX: Why?


STOUT: Yes, what happens?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why? Because that's what you told me.

ROUX: That's not good enough my boy. Now, what happens it means you put hot against hot it will confuse like cream (inaudible).


ROUX: We don't want that.

STOUT: So it likes to protect the --

ROUX: Exactly.

STOUT: It was incredible. A dish like this with simple ingredients like eggs, cheese, milk, it's about the technique that makes this classic dish.

ROUX: Yes, absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here we are, OK? And then right away, into it, you put in your egg yolk and then you got to mix it right quickly because you don't want to cook the egg yolk.

ROUX: We don't want scrambled egg.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) chef always put more salt than I am. I should have known. (Inaudible).

STOUT: Like to get up.

ROUX: And now you fold into two. See the white it is (inaudible). So it's ready to go in the over for about three to four minutes.

So (inaudible).


STOUT: It's the sauce.

ROUX: They're not bad.

STOUT: I like the brown on top.

ROUX: Here we are.

STOUT: Beautiful. The Albert Roux signature dish. Delicious. It's like a little taste of heaven. It's beautiful.

ROUX: Good.


STOUT: Used influence on entire generation of young British chefs including Gordon Ramsay, who is a Roux trainee, were you able to spot his talent early on?

ROUX: Absolutely. One of my biggest attribute number one is teaching and pick up winner. Yes, yes. Marco Pierre White, Ramsay, and the list is long of people who have come to my school.

STOUT: A question of Gordon Ramsay, he has such a dominant personality. I can't imagine him being a trainee to anyone. Was he obedient when he worked for you?

ROUX: You know, he has still a tremble of it when he sees me.

STOUT: Oh, good.

ROUX: No, I really like Gordon. He is a bright human being. He has got a very big heart. I never had other name. It was always yes chef, no chef, you know, very studious, hardworking guy, a guy you'll need to tell him once.

And kind of, you know, in some instance became better enjoyed by the teacher, which I think that's a great accolade.

STOUT: Looking back at your career, what impact do you think you have made on British-eating habits and the British palates for the last half century plus?

ROUX: Well, I'd like to think that I've woke them up to good things of life, woke them up to find food. There is a three-star Michelin on (inaudible). There's a three-star Michelin on toast; that's what I teach. There's a three-star Michelin on soup. There's a three-star Michelin on lunch for stars.

So three-star at all level.

STOUT: It's about standard.

ROUX: Talking about standard.

STOUT: Now, you're 78 years old, do you plan to hang up your apron or retire anytime soon?

ROUX: I don't think my young wife would appreciate that. No, no, no, no. I'm joking. No, no, no, absolutely not. No, I got a lot of other things.

I will stop when I stop finding (salads). So to do a talent, on my own I'm nothing.

STOUT: Have you enjoyed being a Frenchman in Britain all these years?

ROUX: I'm already Frenchman by birth. I'm one of the strongest rallyists (ph) of them all and applied for British passport. I love that country and I will die in it and I'll pay my tax in it.

STOUT: Well, Albert, thank you so much for talking with me. I really enjoyed it.

ROUX: And the same.