Michel Roux is a legend in the culinary world. He recently sat down at his new French fine-dining restaurant, La Maison 1888, in the InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsular Resort to speak to AsiaLIFE about food, Vietnam and the Roux family’s enduring legacy. Photo by Christian Berg.
Your restaurant serves classic French cuisine, do you have to import many ingredients? How much local produce are you able to incorporate?
I cook French cooking. Classical, no. I would say modern. Not eclectic, but certainly modern. … Our sauces are much lighter than they used to be. They are more than just sauces. Our cooking is a light way of cooking. We steam, low temperature cooking, and so on and so forth. We do have a modern approach to French cooking. That’s my philosophy.
Yes it is French, so what do I do about the ingredients? It’s true that some ingredients are more difficult to find than others. For example, the meat and poultry are difficult. … I’ve been spending a couple of days with my chef just looking at a lot of vegetables, some fish, and different ways of cooking them. … And I found at least five different vegetables that I’m going to use in the near future.
You have extremely high standards for your restaurants. How do you maintain that when you are not always on site?
The way to keep the quality of the food standard if I’m not there is easy. It’s easy because the people I put in place, who are in charge, are my children … they grow with me for five years or more. They know that there is no short cut, not to play with me, and that the standard must remain. And they’re doing beautifully well. I come [to Vietnam] about four times a year and spend about seven days to 10 days.
The other thing I do is Skype. I’m with them on Skype at least once or twice a week. I couldn’t do it without seeing them, and them seeing me. So Skype is a wonderful way of talking to people. They can even show me some of the dishes they are making.
What sort of experience are you trying to create at Maison 1888 and what feeling would you like people to leave with after eating here?
What I like them to think when they leave here is that it’s a small island; it’s a little piece of France with the best French cooking. Which is not easy, believe me. … You’ve got to do it at a certain speed when you’ve got experience, and you can’t lie. And it’s got to be easy to understand. My kind of food, you look at the plate and you know what it is. … The owner [of the resort] wanted the best of the French. … We are absolutely giving our best shot.
Have you had a chance to experience much of the local food during you trips to Vietnam?
One of the reasons I came to this country was not only to cook, but to eat. And what am I going to eat? I eat Vietnamese food. I love it. Last night, one of my young Vietnamese chefs cooked me a dish, just for me, to make me happy. That’s what I call beauty. Because I love eating food of the country where I work or where I visit. … Cooking French food is normal — it’s in my genes, I’ve learned about it, I love it. But eating — please, give me a break. I came to Vietnam to eat Vietnamese food.
Your family has an incredible history in food — your grandfather and father had charcuterie businesses, you and your brother and each of your sons are Michelin starred chefs, and your nephew Michel Roux Jr’s daughter is now following in the family footsteps. What does the history of dedication to food in your family mean to you?
In the morning when I wake up, I know already what I’m going to eat for lunch. And I know that if I’m travelling, after a couple of days, I’ve got to go to the kitchen where I’m staying and I’ve got to cook something. Even a simple dish. I need it, I need it so badly.
I believe that’s what’s happening in the family. My brothers love cooking. Michel loves cooking, and his daughter, the same. My son loves it. And my grandson, who is three and a half years old, just had his chef jacket made. You wouldn’t believe it, on a Saturday morning … he goes to a children’s cooking class and partakes. He brought back something and gave it to me, to his granddad, to taste. Three and a half years old!
Gordon Ramsay famously came here a few years ago for a TV program to try to — in his words — master Vietnamese cuisine in seven days. Do you think it is ever possible, as an outsider, to master another culture’s cuisine?
Gordon Ramsay was one of my apprentices, he worked two years for me. And maybe he’s talking too much and not doing enough in life now. In life, you should never say you can master the cooking of a country in seven days. … You can get the flair, you can get the idea, you can learn a few dishes, of course you can. … No way anyone can master the cooking from any country in the world in seven days.