Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Michel Roux, co-founder of Le Gavroche and the Waterside Inn Restaurants

'I was very good at metalwork'


Michel Roux OBE, 68, is the brother of Albert and the uncle of Michel Roux Jnr. The Roux brothers founded Le Gavroche in London and the Waterside Inn at Bray, the Michelin-starred restaurants now run separately by their sons. His latest book, Pastry, came out in 2008. He is Chef Correspondent at British Airways and will be appearing at the Taste of London (18-21 June, www.tastefestivals.com and 0871 230 7132).

I was born in a family where my father was a naughty man and left home: my mother had a very tough time. My grandfather was a charcutier – making sausages and paté – and I was born above his delicatessen in Charolles (in central France, where the best cattle come from). When I was six-and-a-half we moved to Saint-Mandé on the outskirts of east Paris, and I went to Ecole Paul-Bert.

My brother Albert was at the same school and was my protector when other kids would try to get back the pocketful of marbles that I had won. I liked the walk to school and looking at the shops.

I wasn't a stupid little prat and I objected to being put in line with other people and told when to sit down. It was very strict, which was not necessary because the kids were quite nice (not that they're nasty now). I never saw anyone behaving badly or a teacher losing their temper. The teaching was very good but my interest in school would have been better if it had been more friendly.

We had woodwork and metalwork and I was one of the best in the class. I did a wooden coathanger; I was very pleased with it and we used it at home for years. I didn't have any problem with calcule: arithmetic. I used to like rédaction: writing. I was not all that good at spelling but, if you were given a subject like spring, I was able to describe what spring was to me. I have written 10 books, selling 1,800,000 copies. I write in French and have a translator, as we didn't do any languages; when I came to the UK at 27, I couldn't speak a word of English.

I always wanted to use my brain – with my hands. We didn't have any cooking classes. My interest in food came from helping my mother at home. I used to love shopping: buying the bread or Camembert or carrots. I used to mash the potatoes; the steam from the potatoes coming out and over my face was lovely. In my last two years at school I had a teacher who got the best out of me, M. Guignard. He improved my spelling tremendously, that teacher. He was not teaching a class, he was teaching an individual. When I teach now, I use something of what I saw in that man: I never look at students as a group.

I left school at the age of 14, which was not unusual at the time, with the certificate des études primers, which was not very much: the minimum qualification.

In Life is a Menu, I wrote that I had my university when I worked and lived with the Rothschilds for seven years. I learnt about finance, because they used to talk about it. I used to read the newspapers they left lying around. I used to learn and discover art because they had a house like a museum where Greta Garbo was a regular visitor. She was a wonderful lady and being there was like being part of the cast.

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