Masterclass with the MasterChef
Not content with heading up Le Gavroche and his MasterChef duties, Michel Roux Jr can also be found running a cookery school and fronting the revived Food And Drink. Diana Pilkington receives a masterclass in souffle-making
My right arm prods limply at the ingredients of my first creme patisserie. "Are you left- handed?" jokes Michel Roux Jr.
Wincing from the heat of the stove, I am clearly a far cry from the professionals the two-star Michelin chef is used to scrutinising on TV.
To make matters worse, we are tackling one of cooking's most fearsome tasks – the souffle. More precisely, it is an omelette souffle Rothschild, a Cointreau-enriched dream of a dessert that has been on the menu at Le Gavroche in various guises since Roux's father and uncle opened the restaurant in 1967.
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"A lot of qualified chefs get worried about making souffles, so this is going to be a big step for you," Roux says, with a characteristic twinkle in his eye. No pressure then.
I feel like a bit of a spare part in the presence of such culinary greatness. Roux has to step in a few times to rescue my wilting egg whites, but I'm determined to make the most of it.
After all, fans have to fork out an eye-watering £895 for the privilege of spending the day with Roux at his new London cookery school, Cactus Kitchens.
Located above the studio where the BBC's Saturday Kitchen is filmed, the school is the brainchild of Cactus TV's Amanda Ross and also offers cooking experiences with the likes of Monica Galetti and Adam Byatt.
"I'd say it's extremely good value," insists the Masterchef: The Professionals judge. "You spend around £900 for a full day with me. I think that's very good value, and we've sold out so far."
The project launched this year, and so far he has seen a "very broad range" of ages and standards take part.
"We're not trying to compete with L'Atelier des Chefs or Le Cordon Bleu. They do fairly rigid, structured cooking demos with a class. This is more of an experience. People should feel at ease and, hopefully, go away with lots of tips."
It is one of many strings to the sprightly 52-year-old's bow. He can currently be seen fronting magazine show Food And Drink on BBC Two.
Roux says: "I wouldn't want to denigrate the old Food And Drink because I used to watch it and was an avid follower.
"But I felt that one was very structured and formal and a bit too serious, whereas this is lighter and far more accessible to viewers."
Although he is frequently on the telly, Roux's busy schedule means he rarely gets a chance to watch it. Nonetheless, there are a number of TV chefs he admires.
"Some of Rick Stein's cooking programmes were stunning and he's such a nice man as well. But nowadays I love Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. What they do is fantastic and what it's done for baking is brilliant," he says.
On the subject of baking, our omelette souffle Rothschild is coming along nicely – even the meringue, which Roux says is the bit that causes the most fretting.
"People are a bit scared of over-mixing the egg whites and then losing all the air in it but actually the first bit of mixing can be quite vigorous."
According to Roux, it is careful planning and methodical work that separates the professionals from the amateur chefs, and breaking a task down into stages can take the stress out of the most daunting recipe.
"This is a perfect example," he says, removing our fluffy, perfectly risen pudding from the oven, turning it onto a plate and scattering it with boozy apricots."
Cooking With The Master Chef by Michel Roux Jr is published by Phoenix at £16.99.
OMELETTE SOUFFLE ROTHSCHILD
3 egg yolks
50g caster sugar plus 1tbsp
40g plain flour
1 good measure Cointreau
8 egg whites
For the apricots:
150g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod split
20 dried apricots
2 measures Cointreau
Boil the water, sugar and vanilla then pour over the apricots, add a measure of Cointreau, cover and leave to macerate overnight.
Remove 12 apricots and a little of the syrup and reserve for the garnish. Puree the remaining apricots with another measure of Cointreau to make a light sauce. If too thick, add a little syrup from the apricots.
Bring the milk to the boil. Whisk the yolks with 50g of sugar until creamy then add the flour, and pour on the boiling milk and mix well. Return to the pan and bring back to the boil stirring continuously. Remove from the heat and stir in a measure of Cointreau.
Heat six to eight blini pans (12cm diameter) over a medium heat. Whisk the egg whites with 1 tablespoon of caster sugar until soft peaks form. Stir in half to the egg yolk mixture then lightly fold in the rest. Butter the blinis pan and spoon in the mixture and then cook in the oven at 180ºC for 6-8 minutes. Then turn out onto the plates and serve immediately with the warmed apricots, sauce and if you like a little double cream.
SPICY AUBERGINE SALAD WITH COCONUT
4 large aubergines
Vegetable oil for frying
2tbsp tomato ketchup
1tbsp wholegrain Dijon mustard
Juice of 1 lemon
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
50g coconut chips, toasted
6 grilled king prawns for decoration
Trim off the ends of the aubergines. Cut lengthways into slices, about 15mm thick, then into cubes. Heat a large, non-stick frying pan with a generous amount of vegetable oil. When the oil is smoking hot, add the aubergine cubes. They will soak up all the oil, but don't worry – carry on cooking over a high heat until the aubergine is lightly browned. Turn down the heat and gently simmer until tender. The whole cooking process should take about 12 minutes.
Season well with salt and chilli powder to taste. Remember, if the salad is to be served cold it will need more seasoning than if eaten warm. Put the aubergines in a colander and leave to drain for about 10 minutes. Return the aubergines to the frying pan and heat gently. Fold in the ketchup, mustard and lemon juice. Simmer for 3-4 minutes, then remove and chill. Just before serving, fold in the spring onions and toasted coconut chips.