The influential chef and restaurateur Albert Roux has died at the age of 85. Along with his brother Michel (who passed in 2020), he was one of the pioneers of French cooking in the UK, paving the way for one of the world's most influential cuisines to have a definitive role in England.
In London, their celebrated restaurant, Le Gavroche, made history by becoming the first in Britain to earn a Michelin star and also the first to be recognised with a coveted three stars in 1982. According to the French guide, Roux “was a father of the UK restaurant industry”. The restaurant became known for merging haute cuisine with an interpretation of the popular and homely cuisine bourgeoise, returning to French cooking principles.
Albert once said he pursued “the kind of restaurant I remember from my hometown, offering good and honest country cooking, the kind of place you can go to eat without ringing the bank for permission”. He achieved much more than this, as the Guardian’s restaurant critic Jay Rayner expressed on Twitter: Roux was an “extraordinary man, who left a massive mark on the food story of his adopted country”.
It is not an exaggeration. Many of the chefs who established themselves in the British dining scene since the 1980s passed through Albert and Michel’s kitchens, where they learned the rigours of French cuisine that dominated the global stage of gastronomy in the 20th century. Famous cooks such as Marco Pierre White, Sat Bains, and Gordon Ramsay were all Le Gavroche alumni.
Responding to the news, Ramsay called his mentor “a legend, the man who installed gastronomy in Britain”. Marco Pierre White said Roux “made history”.
The brothers, whose father was a third-generation charcutier in the Bourgogne region, started their brand in 1967 when they opened Le Gavroche in London’s Sloane Street (moving it to Mayfair in 1981). Since its beginning, the restaurant was a big success, becoming a local favourite for celebrities such as Ava Gardner and Charlie Chaplin. Queen Elizabeth was also said to be a regular.
On television, the brothers played a key role in influencing even amateur cooks with their pioneering cooking shows in the 1980s, and many of their popular recipes are still available on YouTube today with millions of views.
Born in Saone et Loire, France, Albert Roux's career as an apprentice pâtissier at 14. Four years later, he had a stint at Nancy Astor's country home at Cliveden in Berkshire. Cooking for powerful people became part of his life, both when he spent one year at the French Embassy in London, and then as a chef at the British Embassy in Paris.
Over the years, Albert and his brother Michel opened many other renowned businesses - Le Poulbot, Roux at the Landau and multiple Chez Roux restaurants - as they amassed a food empire from England to Scotland. However, none surpassed the level of La Gavroche, which remains a major destination for classic French fine-dining cuisine in London.
In 1984, Albert and Michel founded a Scholarship which has gone on to offer training and mentorship to thousands of culinary students. In 2006, they were both recognised with the Lifetime Achievement Award by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Albert passed on Monday, 4 January. His son, Michel Roux Jr, is now the patron chef overseeing Le Gavroche. In a public statement, he said his father “was a mentor for so many people in the hospitality industry, and a real inspiration to budding chefs, including me.”