He was the chef credited with teaching the British how to eat, a culinary giant who, alongside his brother, revolutionised the nation’s much-maligned gastronomy.
And while the chef and restaurateur Albert Roux has died at the age of 85, his legacy will continue to live on, a legion of fans and proteges have said.
Roux, the founder of the Michelin-starred Le Gavroche and member of the Roux culinary dynasty died on Monday after a long illness, less than a year after his brother and longstanding business partner, Michel.
A statement from his family said: “The Roux family has announced the sad passing of Albert Roux, OBE, KFO, who had been unwell for a while, at the age 85 on 4 January 2021. Albert is credited, along with his late brother Michel Roux, with starting London’s culinary revolution with the opening of Le Gavroche in 1967.
With Michel, who died aged 78 in March last year, Roux founded Le Gavroche in London in 1967, followed by the Waterside Inn in Bray in 1972.
Le Gavroche, meaning “street urchin”, was the first restaurant in the UK to gain one, then two, and then three Michelin stars.
The French chef Pierre Koffman, who moved to the UK in 1970 and worked with the Roux Brothers for seven years before opening his own restaurant, described the state of British cuisine in the 1960s when Roux arrived as “disastrous”.
“People were scared of going into restaurants, and Albert was full of ideas,” he said. “Albert and Michel were part of a group of chefs who changed everything.”
But the greatest lesson he learned from the chef was not about food, but how to treat your clientele, said Koffman. “He was extremely loyal to his customers, he knew how to look after them and he understood that a restaurant has to have not only the best food, but the best ambience and the best service. He was a brilliant restaurateur.”
Born in the Saône-et-Loire region of France on 8 October 1935, Roux began training as an apprentice pâtissier aged 14 before moving into the kitchen. After serving in the military in Algeria, he worked as sous chef at the British embassy in Paris for two years, before leaving for the UK. His first job on these shores, as a lowly “scullery boy” according to his work permit, was with Nancy Astor at Cliveden in Buckinghamshire.
In April 1967, with only £3,000 in funds and plenty of repayment promises, Albert and Michel opened the glitzy Le Gavroche in Chelsea. Its walls were adorned with borrowed paintings by Chagall, Miró and Dalí, its menu bursting with mousses, reductions and emulsions and the finest French produce shipped by the brothers directly from the Rungis market in Paris.
His legacy lies not only in the education of the British palate, but also in the long line of Michelin-starred chefs who worked in the Roux restaurants – including Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White and Marcus Wareing who all passed through the La Gavroche kitchen, and his son Michel Roux Jr, who took over at Le Gavroche as chef patron in 1991. In 2013, it was estimated that more than half of Britain’s Michelin-starred restaurants were run by Roux seminarians.
Michel Roux Jr said: “He was a mentor for so many people in the hospitality industry, and a real inspiration to budding chefs, including me.”
Along with his brother, Albert also founded the Roux scholarship in 1982, an annual chef competition which gave a generation of chefs the opportunity to hone their craft in some of the greatest restaurants in the world.
On Wednesday Ramsay paid tribute to a man who had guided him for much of his career. “So, so sad the hear about the passing of this legend, the man who installed gastronomy in Britain,” he wrote on Instagram. “We’ve shared the same office for the last decade and walking up those stairs today is going to be really difficult, thank you Albert for everything you gave me, God Bless you Chef.”