Michel Roux talks to Time Out about the Jumeirah Festival of Taste, his love of Dubai, his long career at the top and his plans for the future.
This is your fourth trip to Dubai. What do you think of the city? I’m amazed at the way that Dubai has expanded. Some people will always find something to say about it, but there’s no other city that has expanded so beautifully.
What do you think of the culinary scene here? You can get everything, from good ol’ Europe, to all the ethnic food, which is beautifully cooked and served. You’re spoiled for choice.
How has the culinary landscape changed in London? In London, it’s been changing a lot. I did a lot of work to have those changes happen. Half the chefs who are Michelin starred in the UK have come from my table. But things are changing: Something that probably no one wants to talk about is the recession, which will be tougher in the UK than anywhere else in Europe. It will affect London very badly and that will put pressure on some of the restaurants, which is a shame, because London was doing so well.
What positive effects could the recession could have on food? A recession makes you think, because you have to survive, and the only way is to make new things. You realise maybe we made it too silly, and pushed it too far. A recession changes how you buy food. You might not use as much lobster. You might use langoustines instead, and you might simplify the recipe and come up with something that shows new skills. The bad news is bad news when it happens and we all learn to deal with it and survive, and we come up most of the time even stronger for it.
Six months ago Time Out broke a story about Gordon Ramsay moving to the Palm. Do you have any similar designs? My dear Gordon. He was one of our young appointees. You know, Gordon is Gordon; if he wants to buy property on the Palm, good for him. I’m not at that stage yet. I hear you hate the term celebrity chef. Why? Because we are not celebrities. Why should a chef be a celebrity? What we do is cook and serve meals.
But why shouldn’t a chef be a celebrity? I mean, cooking is an art form… It is absolutely not. Pastry [can be] an art form, not cooking. With pastry you do sugar work; pulling sugar, blowing sugar, moulding it and sculpting it, turning it into a piece you can present. But cooking is not an art at any stage. I’m a three-star Michelin chef, and I’m telling you, I’m not an artist.
Then how do you define an artist? An artist is someone who is doing a beautiful painting, or leading an orchestra. A singer is an artist, definitely, but cooking? Give me a break. If someone says, he’s an artist, I say, ‘No, he’s a great chef.’ If you say it’s an art form, OK, but I will not agree with you.
In your new book, Pastry, you say pastry isn’t that difficult to make. I began working with pastry at 14; if I was doing it at that age, I’d imagine anyone at home would be able to do it.
If making pastry is easy, why are people so intimidated by it? Because they don’t know. There are a lot of things that people didn’t know about, but have gotten used to. Like golf; it used to be a very exclusive sport. People thought you had to belong to a special club, now millions of people are playing it. In the same way, if you put your mind into it and give it time, you can become a very good cook. Ask yourself, what do you want in life? To sit in front of a TV and eat junk food? Or do you want to put a bit of time – it doesn’t take more than 10 to 15 minutes – to make dough? To make pastry, all you need is flour, a bit of butter, some salt and sugar and sometimes eggs, and that’s it – you’re in business. It’s a beautiful thing.
I often wonder if chef-authors write their own books. No one else’s fingers have touched that book other than mine. I wrote it longhand. If I put my name on something, I don’t have a bodyguard, or call it what you wish – we call it a ghost in our profession. I write my recipes and my philosophy myself.
Any plans on opening a restaurant in Dubai? I signed with a new project which will be born in a couple of years: the QE2. I will be in charge of a food outlet, but I can’t discuss it much because it’s yet to be finalised.
Roux the day
It’s fair to say that Michel Roux, and his brother Albert, made London the Michelin town it is. Their restaurant, La Gavroche, was the first British restaurant to win a Michelin star, and in 1982, it became the first to win three. Many of the country’s top chefs trained under the Rouxs, including Pierre Koffman, Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay.