Fame and fortune: Wine is for
pleasure, not profit
Michael Roux Jr, head of Michelin-starred restaurant Le Gavroche, enjoys
fine reds and fast cars, but is passionate about pensions
27 February 2011 The Sunday Times
Michel Roux at Le Gavroche
Michael Roux Jr has defied the recession with a profit rise at Le Gavroche (Handout)
Michael Roux Jr, head of Le Gavroche, the Michelin-starred Mayfair restaurant, served his apprenticeship in kitchens around the world.
He started in Paris at 16 and has cooked at the Elysée Palace for two French presidents, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and François Mitterrand. In 1991, Roux took the helm of Le Gavroche, which was founded by his father, Albert, and uncle, Michel Sr, in 1967.
The 50-year-old removes his apron to appear on television programmes such as Masterchef and his own series, Service, looking for the new generation of waiting staff. He will be appearing in the Great British Food Revival on BBC2 on March 9.
Roux is married to Gisellé and has a daughter, Emily, 20, who is training to be a chef in Lyon, France.
How much money do you have in your wallet?
I have about €30 (£26) and about £70. I go to France and other parts of Europe quite often so I always have some euros. I invariably have some cash because I use taxis fairly frequently.
What credit cards do you use?
I have an array of credit cards, including a NatWest Visa and an American Express, and they all get their fair share of use.
Are you a saver or spender?
I am a saver. I don’t like living on debt, I like paying in full.
How much did you earn last year?
Le Gavroche pays me a basic wage of about £120,000 a year. My father and I are the two shareholders and in the good years we share the dividends. I have other income through television work, books, endorsements and consultancy. Last year, I earned enough to put aside for a rainy day, enough to contribute to my pension, which I think everyone should do, and enough to enjoy a good bottle of wine occasionally.
Are you better off than your parents?
Probably not. I’m not a materialistic person so I don’t judge myself in those terms. I suppose my father is better off financially. I’m not aspiring to be better off than him. I’m more than comfortable.
Do you own a property?
I bought my first flat in London in 1986 for £50,000 and sold it four years later £105,000. The profit went towards the flat I now own in Clapham, which cost £140,000. It is beautiful and in a quiet street. The last valuation a couple of years ago was just under £650,000.
We’ve also had a house in France, in the southern Ardèche, for five years. The oldest part dates back to 1848. There is an open fireplace in the living room, a courtyard and a swimming pool. It’s a bolthole. When we go there we are totally immersed in village life. The kitchen needed an overhaul and we installed an Aga. This was difficult for the French to understand and I’ve had the whole village coming through my kitchen, looking at it and scratching their heads.
My guess is that my flat in London has stayed the same price-wise, maybe even lost a tiny bit of value, whereas my house in France has gone up. The British seem to be upping sticks and leaving France because of the exchange rate. We’ve heard sad stories of retired couples coming back to England and finding the value of their French property doesn’t get much here.
What was your first job?
At 13 I was a washer-up in Le Poulbot in the City. It was one of our family’s first brasseries. I worked practically all the summer holidays washing pots and pans and peeling vegetables. To this day I say good cooking starts with a clean pot. With my first pay packet I bought my first racing bike, a 10-speed, bright orange Holdsworth, a great British brand.
Do you invest in shares?
I’ve had a few shares in the past but I don’t dabble in the FTSE 100. I had shares in Manchester United when they were going through the buyout with the Glazers, so I made a little bit of money on that. I started supporting the club after the directors came to dinner at Le Gavroche the night before the FA Cup final in 1976. Instead of leaving a tip, they left a pair of tickets for the final. I was only 15 and it was the first time I saw a big team play at Wembley. They lost, but I was hooked.
What is better — property or pension?
A combination is good. You can use property as a way of enhancing a pension. I am passionate about encouraging people to have pensions. It was drummed into me by my father and has been proved to me by people who have put aside a little diligently. Start putting away at a very early age, even if it is just a few quid a week. The catering industry is tough, hard work and low pay in the early years. We have a company pension.
What has been your best investment?
One of my best was joining the P1 Supercar Club, which gives me a pool of sports cars to drive without having to insure or garage them. A car arrives at your doorstep and off you go.
Membership costs me about £15,000 a year and there are different entry levels. I like the Bentley Continental and any Porsche. It’s not the fact that they go very fast, I just love the beauty and craftsmanship.
What about worst?
I love good clothes and getting dressed up. My worst purchase was a white leather jacket that cost me a fortune a few years back. I bought it from a fancy shop in Bond Street and haven’t worn it once.
Do you manage your own financial affairs?
I’m a hands-on person. I like things to be in order. I take tax, legal and financial advice. I listen to the experts. That’s what they’re there for.
What is the most extravagant thing you have ever bought?
I bought a case of 1982 Château Latour from Wilkinson Vintners five years ago. It is one of my favourite wines. I recently looked at the price and it has appreciated by about £6,000. At one stage I thought I would buy it as an investment and then I thought, life’s too short! I’ve opened two bottles and enjoyed them very much.
I find it sad that a lot of wines now are solely bought for an investment. I’m not having a go at the Asian market but, unfortunately, they are the ones who are inflating the prices. They stack up the wine so people can see the bottles they have bought. It is a shame because wonderful wines should be drunk. The guys who tended the vine, who picked the grapes, put it into bottles and lovingly looked after it the reason they made it so good was to be drunk.
What is your money weakness?
I’m not a trophy hunter but I do like the finer things in life. I love art and have an eclectic collection. I recently purchased a wonderful piece from Jonathan Delafield Cook. It’s a life-size of a Charolais bull. My father was born in Charolles, France, so it has some significance. I’m going to hang it in my latest restaurant, Roux at Parliament Square, because I think it’s rather relevant. You cannot help but be captivated by it. Le Gavroche has a huge collection of art. Ultimately, I believe art is there to be shared. It can be a good investment but I can’t see myself selling any of my pieces.
What is your financial priority in life?
I haven’t got a goal or dream to buy a chateau or vineyard. I simply want to carry on as I am and be happy. I also want to ensure that my daughter can continue her education.
How is Le Gavroche faring in the economic downturn?
We are very fortunate as we have a huge loyal customer base built up over four decades and they are there through thick and thin. In the past financial year we saw a 2% rise in takings and 2.5% in profits.
What is the most important lesson you have learnt about money?
One of the things my father taught me from an early age is that you have to work hard for your money. By making me do the washing up and paying me for it I truly appreciated the value of money. There were no handouts for me although my mother and father could have given me enough money to buy several racing bikes at the age of 13. To understand the value of money is vital.