The Michelin Star

One of the world's greatest chefs talks about his malt journey
By Joel Harrison
There are fewer accolades as highly sought after in the world of flavour, than the Michelin star.

Recognised the world over as a sign not just of exceedingly good quality food but also of great service and high quality ingredients, it has become the beacon of flavour, the Star of Bethlehem to the Magi of taste.

If there is one family who can lay claim to being the ultimate astrophysicists of food, to have so many new stars to their name that they have more of a galaxy then an empire, it is the Roux family.

Albert Roux, along with his brother Michel and son Michel Jr are the holy trinity of cooking; their stable, the notso- humble Le Gavroche in London's Mayfair, was the first in the UK to gain three, bright shining Michelin stars.

Not just content with creating amazing dishes, the Roux Scholarship has trained several other well known, Michelin-awarded chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White and Marcus Wareing.

To say that the Roux family not only know, but nurture taste and talent would be the understatement of the decade; a mere amuse bouche when a full main course is required.

It is no surprise then, to those of us who love whisky, to find that this beguiling spirit has, through the relationship with one distillery in particular, found favour with the Family Roux.

"French cooking is littered with the use of spirits as a flavour ingredient in sauces, dressings, savoury food as well as sweet foods," Michel Roux Jr explains over a morning coffee at Le Gavroche.

"In the same way, I do use whisky in cooking but it is quite a strong flavour. It can enhance a lot of food," he continues.

Michel Jr, along with his father Albert, is on a journey of discovery. It all started with a chance meeting between Albert and The Balvenie's UK Ambassador, Dr Andrew Forrester.

"My father first met up with Andrew because we have several restaurants in Scotland," Michel Jr tells me.

"We've always loved whisky and always loved Scotland. Andrew introduced The Balvenie to us, and some of the very special casks that they have there." Speaking of his own exploration of the flavour path through the Speyside malt, Michel Jr enthuses that "going on the journey through their range has been very exciting.

"If you take the Port Wood for example, you smell it... you know there is something different in there and then you taste it. There is a certain sweetness and then you learn why and it all begins to makes sense." The discovery of spirit matured in different cask-styles seems to have tickled Michel Jr, who goes on to exclaim that "the Caribbean cask is lovely!" It is this passion for flavour and a drive towards quality which has drawn the Roux family into the world of Scotch.

Pan-industry initiatives over the past decade to ensure the quality of anything labelled as Scotch whisky seems to have resonance with Michel Jr.

"I do feel that quality is on the way up, with people making spirits of great quality," he observes.

"Very much in the same way that craft skills in the butcher or baker are now being revered, and quite right that it should be, we're seeing that happen in the spirits industry." It was this foundation of quality, mixed with the discovery of a range of styles at The Balvenie, which initiated a relationship between the Roux family and the single malt Speyside, one which has given rise to a series of whisky dinners, hosted by Albert Roux, the first of which took place in September 2013 at Roux at the Landau.

A four course dinner, each course has been carefully paired with a whisky by the Rouxs.

The dinner kicked off with a Tartare of Oak Smoked Salmon, followed by Albert Roux's famous Lobster Soufflé.

These dishes were paired with the 14 Years Old Caribbean Cask and 12 Years Old Doublewood respectively.

A game course of Roast Grouse followed, eloquently paired with the older Doublewood 17 Years Old.

Dessert was a Chocolate Cremeux, with Salted Butterscotch Sauce and a dram of the Portwood 21 Years Old.

The whole affair was wrapped up in style with a healthy measure of The Balvenie's famous limited edition offering, Tun 1401 Batch 8.

In constructing the menu, Michel Jr explains that matching food and whisky "uses the same thought process as pairing food with wine.

“The same rules apply,” he tells me. “You just have to tweak it slightly; you just have to put a bit more thought into it. When it works, it’s good. It’s very, very good”.

And who am I to argue? When any member of the Roux dynasty (Michel Jr’s daughter is currently training to be a chef, so the succession planning has continued in earnest) turns their attention to flavour matching, it is not going to be good. You just know it is going to be excellent.
But what about outside of these dinners? How does Michel Jr enjoy his whisky when away from the coal-face?

“For me, having a whisky should be an enjoyable moment, a time to relax. It could be at home, or in a restaurant, a moment when you’re with friends or in a relaxed mode,” he muses.

“I think whisky, especially aged whisky, works equally as well as a good Armagnac or a fine Cognac as a digestive,” Michel Jr concludes.

And I agree. Before, during or after, whisky is a perfect flavour companion to any meal; the gold, frankincense and myrrh delivered by wise men to the venue directly under the bright shining Michelin star.