Albert Roux had diners eating out of his hands
Albert Roux is sitting on a club fender in front of a log fire at the Roxburghe Hotel in Kelso. Small and portly, with beaming eyes, and dressed in an immaculate white chef's jacket his faithful, and rather fittingly, chocolate labrador is stretched out beside him.
“Good morning and welcome,” he calls out as some 35 guests troop in, shake hands and pay homage to this godfather of gastronomy. Roux, now nudging eighty, is as bright as a button and can’t wait to get started on yet another cookery demonstration. The plan is to do it with his grand daughter Emily, but she’s been delayed at Heathrow so she won’t be coming, he tells us full of apologies.
It’s my turn to say hello. We’ve met once before but only fleetingly. I tell him that I know his brother Michel. We worked together on some shooting parties in Scotland and a podcast project for an hotel school in Switzerland. “He lives there you know and he loves it but I’m in love with Scotland,” he says with a huge smile.
Albert does indeed like Scotland, for in recent years he has launched a number of Chez Roux restaurants at Scottish hotels including Greywalls, Rockpool Reserve, Cromlix, Inver Lodge as well as the Roxburgh.
But he goes back much further than that. When the Roux brothers came to England from France in the 1960s they could not have known how it would transform their lives, and at the same time change the face of British cooking. Add to that the fact that their teaching skills have brought to our television screens chefs like Marcus Waring, Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, Andrew Fairlie and many more now running their own restaurants no wonder the Roux brothers are known as the godfathers of British cooking.
It began at Le Gavroche in London in 1967, with a certain amount of fear and trepidation. The Rouxs could not be sure that enough diners were ready for their rich, French dishes of foie gras, sauces and truffles and puddings and pastries that seemed to be out of this world. They needn’t have worried. News of the two young cooks spread like wildfire. Tables were fully booked and with customers like Charlie Chaplin and Ava Gardener knocking at their door they were laughing all the way to the bank.
By 1982 they became the first British restaurant to be awarded three Michelin stars, closely followed by The Waterside Inn at Bray, which they had opened in 1972. Their fame grew and grew with books and television programmes, and awards and accolades dropped into their laps.
Their Roux Scholarship scheme has brought hundreds and hundreds of chefs through their kitchens and every year there is one outstanding winner. Without these two brothers, now helped by their two sons, restaurant fine dining would be a shadow of what it is today.
A chance to see a member of the Roux dynasty at work in the kitchen is like spotting a rare creature. With the resident chef at his side and lunch thrown in, all for less than £50, I can’t wait. It begins with pan fried squid, pickled lemon and Fregola risotto. Roux lets his chef do all the prepping, which he does extremely well, but Roux watches him like a hawk.
“So many chefs do not taste enough” he calls out. “You must taste and keep tasting. And stop wiping your hands on your apron,” he scolds. “You should know better because I taught you. Use a cloth to wipe your hands.” The young chef takes it very well, with great respect for his master, and we all burst into laughter.
“These are Emily’s recipes,” Roux points out. And when it comes to demonstrating the making of the pudding, a gateau de Savoie with avocado mousse and pineapple, he boldly tells us: “It wouldn’t be my choice so I hope it doesn’t spoil my reputation.” Once more we erupt into laughter.
Lunch is served in the sunny conservatory full of flowering geraniums. The tables are beautifully laid with white tablecloths and large napkins. Roux comes in last with his dog and sits down to a well deserved glass of red wine. “If there is anything you don’t like you must ask for something else,” he has already told us.
The squid and risotto is delicious. The main course is poached and roasted guinea fowl, cassoulet of butterbeans and tarragon jus (Roux confesses that he hates tarragon).
We all love it and as the pudding comes round everyone is looking forward to tasting the combinations of avocado and pineapple with the Savoie sponge.
Does it work? It does. For some of us it turns out to be the star dish. The smoothness and creaminess of the avocado adds a tasty and pleasing touch to the pineapple and cake.
Watch out Mr Roux. Your grand daughter is coming up on the rails.
1For more info about the Chez Roux at the Roxburghe Hotel, Kelso, phone 01573 450331 or visit www.roxburghe.net
1Keith Allan is a travel and radio journalist based at The Old Dairy in Ford where together with his wife Lynne they run a concept store of antique dealers, a bistro, coffee shop and champagne bar where they do pop up suppers with guest chefs. For more details contact: 01890 820325 or [email protected]