Judging by his name alone, Michel Roux must surely be a standard bearer for classical haute cuisine and the finest French wines.
Judging by his name alone, Michel Roux must surely be a standard bearer for classical haute cuisine and the finest French wines. Or so I imagined as I approached the author of Matching Food & Wine (Weidenfeld, £20). But in the flesh, Michel Roux Jnr, nephew of the Waterside Inn's chef Michel and son of Le Gavroche's Albert Roux, doesn't conform to my preconceptions. For one thing, there isn't much flesh on him - he's a trim marathon runner. And there's no trace of a French accent - he's British born and bred.
My initial suspicions of Gallic bias were aroused by his admission to being "proud and chauvinist" and his feeling that French wines are "just that little bit special". But despite this, he's equally happy embracing New Zealand pinot noir, California chardonnay and South Africa pinotage. It soon becomes clear that with a figurative foot in both new and old worlds, Michel Roux takes food and wine naturally in his stride. Without the need for outside help to bolt wines on to his recipes, he breaks the mould by seamlessly weaving wines and recipes together himself.
His book kicks off with a handy list of food and wine combinations, the first half are classic: lamb and bordeaux, sole with chablis, stilton and port. Then some surprises with "not so classic combinations": lime cheesecake with old riesling, roast turkey with Adelaide Hills pinot noir, sardines and English white. So far, so adventurous. At the heart of Matching Food & Wine are the recipes and accompanying wines. Introductions to each chapter give simple guidelines such as light before heavy, young before old, white before red.
Recipes such as chilli coconut fried tiger prawns, chicken tajine, rabbit paella and good old tarte tatin are appetising and do-able. Raised in the grand tradition of French cuisine, Roux re-interprets it in a modern style that flirts with other cultures. Each recipe is accompanied by simple guidelines with recommendations that might include a beer, cider or even saké. He doesn't shrink from matching a red with fish, pinot noir with red mullet for instance, where the "meaty red mullet and red wine sauce" call for it. A scotch-style lamb stew prompts a choice between an Argentinian tempranillo, a Bordeaux, a New Zealand pinot noir or a stout.
From the general to the particular. While most of the recipes determine the wine, with fine wines he switches the emphasis, suggesting mouthwateringly aspirational matches for those special bottles: Sassicaia with truffled macaroni, Latour with roast rib of veal, Yquem and roquefort. Michel cooked a meal for a handful of select journalists. Choosing specific wines means having to be that much more precise. I felt that the Laroche Chablis was a tad heavy for the tartare of sea bass with dill, the Sassicaia too Bordeaux-like for the very Italianate truffled macaroni.
For good measure he tacked on a few more matches including a rustic Morgon beaujolais and pig's head brawn, a wonderfully mature yet lively 1955 Château Chalon vin jaune with freshwater crayfish, a raspberryish Omihi Hills New Zealand pinot noir with red mullet in red wine sauce. These pairings were spot on, even if you wouldn't be advised to try them at home without taking out a second mortgage. Roux sipped the Yquem, his last drop before the London marathon. He recorded 3 hours 18 minutes, a pretty good time for a man with his feet so firmly planted on the culinary ground.E Anthony Rose has been shortlisted as Wine Writer in the 2005 Glenfiddich Food & Drink AwardsReuse content