Over a year after his sudden departure from the BBC, Michel Roux Jr is back on television – and his usual measured self both on and off it.
“I walked away for issues that have been talked about in the past,” he says gently but firmly when we broach the subject of his former employer. “I don’t want to rake over them again.”
The MasterChef: The Professionals judge stepped down in March 2014, replaced by Marcus Wareing after falling foul of the BBC’s editorial guidelines. His adverts for Albert Bartlett Rooster Potatoes breached the Corporation’s strict rules on commercial tie-ins. Perhaps more shocking for fans was a subsequent outburst in which the habitually mild-mannered chef branded his former employee “hypocritical” and “two-faced”.
“My view on the BBC is that it is run by a bunch of bureaucrats adhering to an outdated editorial policy,” he fumed in an interview last November. “And I do feel that they are hypocritical and that they are two-faced.”
After stepping down, he was besieged with offers from other broadcasters, he says now. “More offers than you could shake a stick at and for the most part absolutely crazy – really silly, ridiculous stuff. It was just not for me. Definitely not for me.”
In the end, he decided to try his hand at catering for a younger audience in a new cookery contest on the Disney Channel. First Class Chefs is the satellite channel’s first foray into food, and bears more than a passing resemblance to CBBC’s answer to MasterChef, Junior MasterChef.
“I love teaching so it’s something that appealed to me immediately – to be able to work with youngsters, teach them some skills, be a bit of a mentor,” he explains. “It ticked all those boxes that I enjoy doing.”
The show’s wholesome message also appealed. Roux Jr’s fledgling chefs must dish up a meal that is nutritious as well as tasty in the hope of winning £10,000 for their schools. “To get children in the kitchen. Get them to understand how to cook from scratch and that healthy is not boring – it can be fun and delicious.”
Like Mary Berry, he believes that cookery should be part of the school curriculum, and that a little of what you like is the best diet. “I love my butter, cream and cheese but in moderation. Sugar is the one we should be very careful of, especially sugary drinks and all the hidden sugars in processed food. At least if you do it from scratch, you know exactly what’s in it.”
Home economics is not a lesson young Michel ever needed. As the son of Albert Roux and nephew of Michel Roux – the Frenchmen credited with introducing 1960s Britain to fine dining – he was, as he puts it, born into a dynasty of chefs.
“I was practically born in the kitchen. My mother went into labour while helping my father cook. She was the kitchen help so day two of my life I was in a proper commercial kitchen underneath the work bench in a cot. And when I was [aged] one, two and three, I was given bits of puff pastry instead of play dough, and a rolling pin and a pan. I started very young!”
But it was MasterChef that turned the Roux dynasty into a household name. Would he consider returning to the BBC in future?
“Pass! No comment.”
And then he adds, as gently and firmly as ever: “I hold absolutely no grudges and I’m sure the BBC doesn’t hold grudges either. We’re all grownup and we all get on together, and who knows what will happen in future.”
First Class Chefs is on Mondays and Tuesdays on Disney Channel at 4.30pm