Ask Michel Roux Jr how important it is to have a mentor when you’re starting out in the competitive world of cooking and his response is resoundingly clear – he thinks it’s vital.
“It would be very difficult for any chef to achieve greatness without a mentor,” he says.
Michel will be passing on his experience to wannabe kitchen wizards in BBC2’s latest culinary offering, The Chef’s Protege, which is on BBC2.
Over the course of three weeks, Michel and fellow gastro giants Tom Kitchin and Theo Randall will each spend a week at catering college, working with apprentice chefs desperate for a break in the industry.
At the end of this time, Michel, Tom and Theo will each select two trainees to take to the fnal week. Each mentor will then select a protege from their two finalists who will cook for the three chefs’ own mentors.
For Michel, that’s his father, renowned chef Albert Roux. Tom’s mentor is the legendary Pierre Kaufman, while Theo’s career has been guided by Ruth Rogers from London’s world–renowned River Café.
Michel admits taking part in the programme was an easy decision. “It ticked so many boxes,” he says. “Not only is it cooking, it’s working with young students and teaching them their profession and craft. To be a mentor is just wonderful.”
Michel, who will be the focus of the programme in the third week of the competition, starts of with seven students and has to slowly whittle them down to two based on various cookery challenges. The first kitchen test is something of a surprise. Rather than asking his trainees to, say, flambé or fillet, Michel requests that they simply cook him scrambled eggs.
“My father always used to interview chefs and part of that interview process was to cook an egg,” says Michel. “You can learn so much from that one simple task.”
Over time the successful candidates are asked to perform more complex dishes, very much based on Michel’s love of French cooking and the classics. It’s clear that his father played a big part in mentoring Michel.
“We have several mentors in life and my father is certainly one of them,” says the 52–year–old chef, who runs the two–Michelin–starred restaurant Le Gavroche in London.
The many cookery programmes on TV, including MasterChef: The Professionals, which Michel also judges, all affirm that one of the most frightening prospects facing any wannabe chef is the frenetic pace of the modern day professional kitchen.
These types of cookery shows also give a glimpse into how difficult it is to be a chef.
Michel hopes this one will make great viewing. “Starting out is hard work,” he relays. “Tis show is about mentoring kids and giving them a chance.”