“Growing up in the kitchen of Le Gavroche [run by his father Albert and Uncle Michel] gave me a bit of a head start but I still had to begin at the bottom: washing pots. Good cooking starts with a clean pot. That’s what I was told when I started my apprenticeship aged 16 and that’s what I still advise my young chefs. My first boss was a very good, very tough Frenchman and every copper pot had to be gleaming.”
1. Sharpen up your knife skills
Chefs need to acquire many skills, but learning how to use knives properly is essential: how to hold a knife, how to sharpen a knife, how to chop vegetables safely. Watch the professionals at work on good cookery shows – that really will help – and then practise, practise, practise.
2. Get the right knives for you
You don’t need a selection of 10 or 20 like professional chefs: just one or two that are very good quality. Assess the weight, the quality of steel and how you feel holding it – does it feel too heavy or too light? Look for knives that feel good, that feel like an extension of your hand. It’s a very personal thing, which is why chefs never share knives.
3. Choose the right staples
A good larder of non-perishable goods is very important so you’ve a palette to choose from. As well as dry spices, dry herbs and a variety of vinegars, flavoured oils are often a great addition to a dish. One of my favourites is hazelnut oil – I love it drizzled on salads or winter leaves like endives and radicchio. In the fridge, I always keep tomato paste and bottled sauces such as soy or hoisin.
4. Follow nature’s calendar
Don’t serve foods out of season. They won’t taste the same because they’ve been flown in from the other side of the world. I’m also a firm believer in spending more to buy something special. So instead of eating chicken every day, save your money and buy a really good chicken at the end of the week – you’ll be able to taste those extra pennies
5. Be prepared
Being able to deliver food at its best and on time is all down to the work you put in beforehand. Prepare as much as you can before you light that stove.
6. Taste, taste and taste again
Taste at every stage of the cooking. A berry coulis is a classic example: I tell my chefs to taste the berry before putting the sugar in because some raspberries and strawberries are sharp and will need more. Always taste as your guest will – take a proper spoonful.
7. We eat with our eyes
Presentation is important. It can be as simple as finishing off a dish at the last second with some sprinkled herbs, or serving it in a lovely bowl or on a beautiful plate. Don’t smother the plate. When you can see the white of the plate – and I always use white plates – the food always looks better.
Michel Roux Jr is owner of Le Gavroche, London.