Following its phenomenal success last year, the BBC Good Food Show is set to return to the Belfast Waterfront this November, with some of the world’s top food experts taking part, including renowned Michelin-star chef Michel Roux Jnr - who took time out of his busy schedule to speak with the Belfast News Letter this week.
Having grown up surrounded by cooking royalty in the form of his father and uncle, Michel Roux Jnr knew he was passionate about pursuing a culinary career very early on in life.
But he emphasises he was certainly not ‘born into’ the job - and worked hard at establishing a career in his chosen craft, “I certainly wasn’t pushed into a career as a chef.
“My first food memories go back to when I was six or seven years old and being with my father in the kitchen at that age and really enjoying it - I loved the smells and the sounds of a professional kitchen,” Michel reminisces.
“I made my mind up very, very early what I wanted to do,” he adds. “I can’t wait to visit Belfast again, as the last time I was here was around 30 years ago! I am expecting that it has changed a lot in that time.
“I am hearing such great things, particularly about the vibrant food scene and I am really looking forward to seeing it all for myself!”
The former MasterChef judge and host of beloved show Service which hit screens in 2011, left school at 16 to pursue his ambition of becoming a top chef, undertaking military service at the Elysee Palace, and working for both Presidents Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and François Mitterrand before working in the likes of the renowned Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong.
Eventually, Michel would return to Le Gavroche, and when his father retired in 1993, he took over the world-famous restaurant.
Referring to his style of cuisine as ‘very French and based on the classics’ Michel explains that the menu at Le Gavroche has evolved over the years and is lighter than his father’s interpretation which was laden with fat.
But Michel insists: “People don’t eat everyday at La Gavroche, so there will be some cream, some butter - because it is a treat!
“But nonetheless, we still have a few light options which we always have had, like grilled fish and a few very light starters and such.
“There is something there for everybody, but there is always going to be some kind of rich sauce and some really classic French food - which is ultimately what has really made our name.”
Michel, who has two other restaurants, Roux at the Landau and Roux at Parliament Square in London, also explained why it is important for youngsters to treat the service industry as a career.
“I think it is vital that we encourage young boys and girls into the industry - and not just as chefs but also front of house,” Michel emphasised.
“Front of house service is so important and it is a career but sadly, a lot of British boys and girls think that waiting is just a holiday job and not a career choice - but it can be!
“It can be so rewarding and you can climb up the ladder very, very quickly. Encouraging youngsters into the industry in general is very important.
“Yes it can be tough, yes it can be hard but it is incredibly rewarding.
“I don’t think there’s any other job in any other world where you can climb up the ladder so quickly if you’re good enough and you really concentrare on what you are doing.
“You can get so, so much out of it and so much back.”
Michel added that one way to motivate staff is to make sure they are all individually recognised for their hard work.
Speaking animatedly, Michel explained, “It is so important that every member of the team feels valued, and that means everyone from the kitchen porter.
“Good cooking starts with a clean pot and a pan - you can’t get away from that!” he laughed.
“If the pot washer doesn’t turn up one day it’s very much pandemonium in the kitchen. They are very much one of the most imporant people in the kitchen. So it is very much important everyone feels valued.”
The well known TV chef added, “I would love to do another series like Service - based on the front of house staff.
“Service sadly wasn’t recomissioned but I would love another TV company to pick it up and go with it because I think it is very important and it did so much good for our industry.
“It did actually inspire quite a lot of young boys and girls to get into our indurstry and work front of house.”
Michel added that despite the gruelling hours that come with being a top chef, he feels as though he has never worked a day in his life, “Cooking is absolutely always a pleasure for me, it is never a chore.
“Yes, the long hours are there, but I don’t believe it has gotten in the way of my life. You have to be fairly strict with yourself, but I have been happily married for 27 years.
“Life/work balance is not easy, but if you enjoy your work and don’t see it as work - that definitely makes it easier.”
And despite having enjoyed the very best of fine dining and Michelin-star cuisine across the world, interestingly Michel says his standout food memories don’t always involve a fancy restaurant.
“Very often, great food moments are not in the ‘most Michelin-starred’ restaurants in the world, or the most fabulous locations.
“It is actually a moment in time that you share with loved ones or friends. I’ve had wonderful picnics where you are just eating a scotch egg and a salad or something basic with a beer and they are just as incredible, just as memorable as the meal that you go and eat in some of the best restaurants in the world in which you are spending hundreds of hundreds of euros on.
“Life is all about those moments of time that you capture. They make it.”
Michel, who often speaks passionately of the importance of using local suppliers in his restaurants, continued: “I am very excited to try out the local Northern Ireland produce which I absolutely would like to use throughout my restaurants.
“Northern Ireland and of course the Republic of Ireland, have such fantastic ingredients - and beautiful lager!
“Be it from the sea or the land, I have heard tremendous things, particularly that the beef and the lamb is of stunning quality.
“They don’t call it the Emerald Isle for nothing! It rains a lot, and the grass is lovely and lush, it’s got such wonderful produce.”
He added: “I have heard so much about the fantastic restaurants in Belfast and I want to try them all - I am going to have to come back!
“It sounds as though Belfast might have a more relaxed dining style based on the number of Bib Gourmands, and I am looking forward to exploring and finding out.
“Hopefully the BBC Good Show in Belfast is going to give me such a fabulous impression and the crowds are going to be rooting for me so much that I’ll have to make it a permanent appearance.”
Find out more about the BBC Good Food Show at bbcgoodfoodshow.com.