"To be a great chef you need to be fit," says the famous chef and marathon runner.
Raise Your Game: How did you get started as a chef?
Michel Roux: I have been at the Gavroche Restaurant since 1991, my father and uncle founded the business in 1967. We are constantly in the limelight and we are always voted as one of the top restaurants, not only of Britain but of the world.
RYG: What does it take to become a highly successful chef?
MR: To be a great chef you really need dedication and to be hard working. You must give it 100%.
RYG: For those people who think that you probably saunter in here at about 11 o'clock, ready to start some lunches at 12, what really happens in a successful restaurant like Gavroche?
MR: Well that's not the way it works, I'm in here at 8 o'clock. I'm here generally before any of my staff get here. I open up the kitchen, I check everything. I really am a very hands-on chef and I think that's the secret to success, to really have your finger on the button all the time. I very rarely get home before midnight.
RYG: How important then is it to be physically fit in your role as a chef?
MR: I think it's very important. I think the days of fat chefs really have gone. If you see a fat chef now it's generally because he's lazy - he's sat on his backside all day long, drinking and eating, so that's no good. I think to be a great chef you need to be fit.
RYG: Are you still tempted though by things that you've made and think 'just another mouthful'?
Michel Albert Roux
23 May 1960
- Completed the London Marathon 17 times
- Awarded two Michelin stars
MR: I do eat a lot but I burn the calories off, that's why I'm so slim. But alcohol is the demon so I have a rule and that's no alcohol from Monday to Friday. Other than maybe tasting a drop for professional reasons.
RYG: What skills can you take from your very successful working life into your running and keep fit programme?
MR: I think it's all about time management. It's very important in a busy day's work to have time management, to be able to separate certain things and to make time for them. And that's the same in training and in every other part of your life. You have to be able to make the separation.
RYG: Where do you fit your training in with the hours that you work?
MR: I'm terrible in the morning. I need my double espresso and I need a certain time to click into action, so I don't run in the morning. When I do run is in the afternoons or in the evenings, or during my break.
People find it odd that during break time I'm actually running. But for me break time is a time when I'm on my own, and I can sort problems out. Mentally it's a great release as well, a great stress release. So it's a time for myself; it's a time to reflect; it's a time of silence where there's no phone and nobody's pestering me.
RYG: Were you always good at sport growing up?
MR: I've always enjoyed sport. I was one of the few that regardless of what teenagers normally do, as in cigarettes and drink and everything else that's involved in growing up, I still enjoyed cross country, rugby, football and all the other sports that we do when we're young. So yes I really did enjoy sport as a child, and I kept that enjoyment through the years. When I gave up cigarettes 17 years ago the running became better, easier, much more fun, and was almost a substitute to the addiction. I became addicted to running.
RYG: How did you get into distance running?
MR: It started when I stopped smoking. The weekly run around the park became easier and quicker so I challenged myself to run around the park twice, and so on. It just snowballed from there. Then I had a goal to achieve - the London marathon, because it's something so mythical and wonderful. You see it on the TV every year and these people cheering you on, and that's something I thought 'Yes I want to do that. I want to be part of this wonderful group of people that run around London and be cheered on.'
RYG: Do you remember how you felt the first time that you crossed the finishing line?
MR: Oh gosh yes. It's bringing the hairs on the back of my neck up. It's the most fantastic feeling, and you're on cloud nine for a week afterwards.
RYG: So running can do that for you?
MR: You get such a buzz from running. It's phenomenal. Even if I'm running half an hour to an hour I come back and I feel really elated, I feel good.
RYG: For you what has been the most enjoyable, the most special race that you've run?
MR: It's very difficult to pinpoint one particular race because I have run 17 marathons to date. I did enjoy the Ultra Marathon, which was a 100k - that's two half marathons. That was a tough one mentally but I was so pleased to have achieved that.
RYG: When you're out running do you ever think 'I'm not going to achieve this', and if so, how do you get over that feeling?
MR: Many times I had doubt, mental doubt not physical doubt, because I'm a very stubborn person and physically I think 'No I can push my body further and further and further'. But it's the mental doubt that can set in, and that's when you have to really dig deep mentally and think 'Yes I can do this'. You just repeat it and repeat it and you get on with it, and if you really want it you can do it.
RYG: Do you run to music?
MR: I tend not to run to music as I like to hear my breath and I like to hear what's going on around me. But I do occasionally put the iPod on. My daughter absolutely shudders when she sees and listens to what I have and she says 'You cannot run with that'. It's very varied, anything from Benny Hill and Ernie, all the way through to Led Zep, Floyd and Ian Dury. I do like a bit of modern stuff as well, like Pink, but it's so varied and horrible it's unbelievable.
RYG: How competitive are you?
MR: I am fiercely competitive and that is, I think, a trait of chefs and top sportsmen, but that's something that everybody can, and should have, as well. You can always have a goal, and if you have a goal, then you become competitive.
RYG: What was the inspiration behind your book The Marathon Chef?
MR: It came about because I noticed that the more I was running my diet was changing, and my perception of healthy food was changing. For example, I realised that if I ate a steak before a run that was not good - very basic things. So I studied that, put pen to paper and really devised a whole load of recipes that are very easy to achieve, very healthy and great for people who want to do a bit of sport.
RYG: In the book it says you can have chocolate and you can have bread?
MR: Yes, definitely. I could live off bread and bread is such a beautiful, beautiful thing. You see flour, water, maybe a flavouring in it - bit of thyme, rosemary, olive oil or anything really - bit of yeast and then whoosh, it grows. It cooks, it smells beautiful, it's wonderful. Bread for me is really magical. Then of course you can put lots of different things on bread, so it's a vehicle as well.
As for chocolate, well I hate cheap confectionary - chocolate bars that when you look at the ingredient list chocolate is about the 10th item. The biggest ingredient in that chocolate bar is actually sugar, then fats, then hidden sugars and emulsified fats, and maybe after a few more you get to chocolate. That's not chocolate. If you buy a bar of real chocolate chocolate is the first on the list of ingredients. So it's pure, intense, and you only need a little bit. You get a buzz and you get a great hit of chocolate so you don't need to eat as much.
RYG: What are your views on healthy eating and a healthy diet?
MR: I think it's vitally important to have a good diet and a healthy living style. I'm not saying don't drink, don't smoke, don't do this, don't do that. Of course not. It's all about having a balanced diet and enjoying life. You can enjoy life by enjoying yourself to the full, but being careful. Just take time to think about what you're eating and to think about your lifestyle.
RYG: There is a growing obesity problem among young people in Britain. What can we do about people who just live on a fast food diet?
MR: Fast food for me is boiling an egg with a slice of wonderful bread or something that's easy and quick to produce and to cook. In my book The Marathon Chef for example there are hundreds of recipes in there that only take 10 minutes to prepare. Ten minutes is maybe the time it takes you to get to the fast food outlet, queue up and get that horrible spirafoam piece of yuck and that fizzy drink. The fizzy drinks are probably the worst because they have so many hidden sugars, absolutely dreadful.
Young people should look at the labels, and the labels should be fairly obvious. Anything that finishes in 'ose' for example is a sugar. So if they say it's sugar-free look at the label and you've got six ingredients with 'ose' on the end - maltose, dextrose, etc. That's sugar. It's not sugar-free, you're still pumping sugar into yourself and that is bad. Forget your sugars, forget your fizzy drinks. Fresh orange juice, and water. Water is so good for you. We don't drink enough water, and then of course don't take the lift, walk up the stairs instead.
RYG: Is moderation important?
MR: Absolutely. Moderation really is key to balance. Moderation is the secret to it, but as I said I'm not being a killjoy. If you look at your diet on a weekly basis so if you have excess on the weekend just make sure that you don't do so badly on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.
RYG: Can diet affect you mentally?
MR: Diet can definitely affect you mentally. Without a good diet, you cannot think straight.
RYG: Do you have any tips for young people who want to start running?
MR: Well I would say get out there and just run around the block. You don't have to run fast, just run at your own pace, enjoy it and have fun. You don't need to spend a fortune on running gear, some trainers, shorts and an old T-shirt will do. It doesn't cost much. Secondly run around the block and do that on a regular basis, two to three times a week. Then two times round the block, or to the park and back, and gradually build it up. You will see the benefits from that are absolutely unbelievable.
RYG: Do you keep a runners' diary with a record of times?
MR: I used to keep a very strict diary just to make sure that I was going towards my goal and that was to finish the marathon in under 3 hours 30 minutes, so I needed a running schedule, but I no longer do that now. I'm an old hand at it now so I know where I'm going.
RYG: Are you competitive with other chefs? Is there anyone that you would particularly want to beat out there?
MR: All chefs are competitive, and I suppose I do have one person that I always take great joy in beating, and that's Gordon Ramsay. We always meet up on the start line and have a few jokes, but I normally beat him quite easily.
If your attitude is wrong you'll get found out in the end.
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