Food, Interviews, Main

The Power of Two

WORDS Charlotte Hogarth-Jones
PHOTOGRAPHS Simon Murphy

 

January 25, 2017

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LEGENDARY CHEF MICHEL ROUX SR AND HIS FORMER PROTÉGÉ ANDREW FAIRLIE REUNITE TO DISCUSS EARLY BEGINNINGS, MICHELIN STARS – AND THEIR 30-YEAR BOND OF FOOD, FAMILY AND MUTUAL SUPPORT

The first chef to take up the Roux Scholarship back in 1984, Andrew Fairlie has enjoyed a unique relationship with Michel Roux Sr – the godfather of French cuisine in Britain – for over 30 years. Reuniting at the younger chef ’s two-Michelin-starred restaurant at Gleneagles for an event to raise money for the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre, mentor and protégé discuss life, food and a very special relationship.

You’ve got a very close but also respectful relationship with each other. How would you describe it?

AF: When I first met Michel I was 20 years old – just a kid – and at that point he was already a legend for me. He was quite intimidating. Today, of course, I see him as a friend as well as a role model, but our relationship has completely evolved over the years – although it still feels weird for me not to call him “chef ”.

MR: When we first met, I used to call Andrew “my boy”. That’s what I call my young chefs in their 20s – the ones I’m fond of who are very gifted and who always give everything their best shot. It’s not a title I give to everyone. Since then, we’ve always kept in touch and Andrew also became one of the judges of the Roux Scholarship, so now I ask him for advice too. He’s a peer and a colleague, but I also consider him a member of the family now. I’m full of respect for Andrew. He’s a gentleman.

Do you always eat out at Michelin-starred restaurants together, or do you ever go to the pub?

AF: Well, over the past ten years we’ve done a lot more socially together than we used to – I went to Michel’s 75th birthday last year, it was one of the liveliest parties I’ve ever been to.

MR: Of course we spend time together doing what friends do – relaxing, cracking jokes, having a beer – but if you’re asking if there’s anything we do that isn’t in some way connected to our profession? Well, there is, but there isn’t. Because quite simply, from the moment we wake up in the morning to when we dream at night, our whole life revolves around what we do. So talking about food, having nice meals, visiting markets... it’s automatic. We don’t treat what we do as a job; it’s our life.

Andrew, what’s the most important piece of advice Michel has given you?

AF: I can remember it very clearly. It was when I was working at the Hôtel Crillon in Paris. It was a super-de-luxe, 5-star hotel but I was really struggling there. It was an extremely hard kitchen to work in – very, very tough – and I’d gone from running my own section at my previous job to working in the larder section. I was never allowed breaks and I hadn’t eaten for three days when someone called out, “There’s someone here to see you.” Out I walked, and standing there was Michel. He’d just popped by for lunch.

And what did he say?

AF: It was just a five-minute chat but I was on my knees and seriously considering giving up and coming home – I just really needed to speak to someone who under- stood. He told me it was OK, that I needed to try harder to learn French and that I had to stick it out. In the end I stayed in France for a few years after that, so it was de nitely worth hanging in there, but I still call that period my military service...

Did you feel emotional when you saw the state Andrew was in that time?

MR: Oh yes, but of course I couldn’t show it – because I was there to give him support. When you get either no news from someone or too much news, you know that something is not going well, and I realised that I had hardly heard anything from Andrew in that period. It was very tough for him at the Hôtel Crillon, there’s no doubt about it.

Do you feel proud seeing the plates coming out of Restaurant Andrew Fairlie today?

MR: I feel very proud, yes, but 90 per cent of the time, Andrew and I are on the same page – I think sometimes he just likes to con rm what he thought was right.

AF: That’s true, but then again the scholarship was a real game-changer for me. At that time there really weren’t many career opportunities and when I got that place, my career just took a sharp left. To say that it was a life-changing moment for me isn’t an exaggeration.

Michel, what do you think Andrew has done to raise the pro le of gastronomy in Scotland?

MR: He’s done what the Roux brothers did in England, but up here. In my opinion he’s the rst chef to serve ne food in this country, with excellent front of house, and to act as a true professional. He’s an asset to Scotland, a shining example, and also someone who has trained a lot of young people to a very high standard. He should be recognised for what he’s done. I think Scotland is very lucky to have Andrew.

Does it still feel intimidating cooking for Michel?

AF: I wouldn’t say intimidating, but having cooked for him a number of times I know to expect an honest critique.

Have you ever cooked him anything he didn’t like?

AF: Yep. Bread. Always bread.

MR: Last night the bread was superb. But... you know, there are some dishes I prefer more than others. We all have different tastes. I don’t think Andrew would serve anything halfway or gimmicky.

AF: I’ve seen Michel lead a whole table out of a restaurant before. We were in a Michelin restaurant in Italy, all the chefs from the Roux scholarship and they served us some braised beef that wasn’t cooked. Michel just put down his knife and fork and said, “Right, everybody out.”
MR: Yes, it’s true...

Is there a secret to brilliant cooking?

MR: Yes. There’s more than one secret. If there was only one I wouldn’t give it to you! That’s one secret – don’t share everything, only certain things. Another is that you should just cook for yourself and your guests, no one else. Don’t focus on cooking for a Michelin inspector.

Can you name a young chef at the moment that you both think is particularly promising?

AF: Ian Scaramuzza. He’s a young guy from Glasgow who won the Roux Scholarship last year. Ever since I’ve known him he’s been such a focused, ambitious and stubborn young man. For two years he used to phone me without fail once a month and ask if I had any po- sitions going – he told me he would carry on calling until I gave him a job. But as soon as I saw him cooking I could see that he worked harder than everyone else, he was more meticulous than anyone else, and took his research further than anyone else. To be honest, he could already have been made a head chef somewhere by now but he’s waiting to go to California. I believe if there’s going to be a chef awarded three Michelin stars in Scotland, he’ll be the rst one. And I don’t count Gordon Ramsay because he grew up in England...

MR: I agree absolutely. You can de nitely tell that he [Ian Scaramuzza] is going to be a star in the future by the way people in the industry talk about him.

But the scholarship isn’t what’s brought you up to Gleneagles, is it?

AF: No, we’ve done Roux scholar meet-ups here before – we went shooting – but this time we’re here to do an “In Conversation With...” event in aid of The Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre. There’s a pro- fessor there who’s a real genius – he’s doing research into this new kind of radiotherapy at the moment but he needs funding for the next three years. The Beatson has the best equipment anywhere – you can’t get better even in America – but we need to attract the person- nel he needs for the project to Scotland. I’m passionate about the centre because it’s where I had the treatment for my cancer, but the fact is, we simply have to recruit these people.

MR: It’s a cause that’s very close to my heart as well – I’ve also had cancer. When you’re healthy, I’m afraid it’s not something you really think about that much, but you mustn’t forget to help when you can. Because if we don’t help, who will?


 

Andrew Fairlie and Michel Roux Sr held their event in aid of The Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre on 21 October 2016. To find out more about this project and to donate, visit beatsoncancercharity.org/currentappeals

 

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