Last month I had the fantastic opportunity to cook and dine in the company of Michel Roux Jr. at the beautiful Cactus Kitchens school in Clapham. If you are passionate about cooking and want to learn how to do it alongside one of Britain’s top chefs, the Michel Roux Jr Cooking Experience is perfect for you.
Michel Roux Jr. is owner of two-starred Michelin Le Gavroche, an iconic French restaurant in Mayfair opened in 1967 by Albert and Michel Roux (father and uncle of Michel Jr). French haute cuisine has been part of the Roux family legacy for decades, a legacy which Michel Jr continues today with his unique and innovative style.
In addition to being an acclaimed chef and author, Michel Roux Jr is also a judge and presenter on the BBC MasterChef: The Professionals. I imagine that many people who book this class (or receive it as a gift) are fans of the show and have a fascination for the famous chef. I have never watched MasterChef and I’m hardly starstruck by celebrity chefs, but Michel Roux Jr is so lovely, approachable and talented it is impossible not to be charmed by him. Spending the day with Michel Jr is a truly unique opportunity.
Cactus Kitchens organise one-day hands-on cooking classes with first-class chefs (view full schedule here) and the Michel Roux Jr Premier Experience is one of them (the best, most popular and also most expensive class). It takes place just a few times a year for a small, intimate group of around ten-twelve people.
The setting is gorgeous: an attic kitchen decorated with muted colours and furnished with state-of-the-art Miele hobs and ovens. Individual cooking stations are available for students to get their hands dirty and practice the skills just learnt.
The Premier Experience starts at 10am with the students gathered in the dining room to go through the day’s schedule. Before the class starts, you also have the chance to see the studio of Saturday Kitchen (the popular show is filmed in the same building). I still can’t believe that the show is filmed ten minutes away from my house and I had no idea!
After the introduction, students are taken upstairs to meet Michel Roux Jr in the kitchen. He is absolutely charming and immediately makes you feel at ease by telling jokes and anecdotes. What makes this experience so special (and different from any other cooking class) is that by the end of the day you feel at home (and almost feel surprised when they tell you the class is over and it’s time to leave).
The space is warm and welcoming; there are no screens or microphones or any barriers between you and Michel Jr. You sit around the chef’s counter and watch him demonstrate how to prepare a few dishes (starter, main course, dessert) and at any point you can ask questions. And I mean ANY questions: want to hear gossips about James Martin or about MasterChef competitors? Fire away, Michel Jr will graciously give you an answer.
Of course we were not there to gossip but to cook and learn the best practices for creating classic, delicious dishes at home. And maybe even learn how to style and plate the dishes to impress our guests at the next dinner party.
Michel Jr demonstrated and explained every step (with plenty of useful tips mixed in) and the friendly kitchen staff was also on hand during the cooking part to provide additional assistance. Being able to spend the day with a Roux chef and ask him any questions you want is what makes this experience really invaluable.
This is a class that will inspire you if you are a beginner; while experienced cooks can get tips on how to cook like a Michelin star chef. I am not a great cook myself and generally stick to a few, simple recipes. The class was a great opportunity to learn new skills and techniques: like removing the green germ from a garlic clove; how to clean prawns and cut them across slightly before pan-frying them; how to make sure a soufflé will rise, and so on.
What I loved about the class was the format of cooking and dining in stages (over six hours). After short cooking demos of about 30 minutes, we would all go back downstairs to the dining room to eat a course before starting with the next one. Rather than being in the kitchen for hours, which would have been over-whelming and tiring, we spent some time sitting down at the table, eating and chatting with Michel Jr.
We learnt how to prepare the dishes that Michel Jr loves cooking with family and friends: a simple, but delicious three-course seasonal menu using the best quality ingredients. We started the class making a pear puree that we used later to make the dessert and prepping the cucumber for the starter dish.
After the first cooking demo we had a break to eat a soup made by the Cactus Kitchens cooks and drink a glass of Champagne.
Next, we cooked the starter: Grilled Tiger Prawns with Cucumber Salad and a Pistachio Yoghurt Dressing. I loved the flavour pairing and freshness of this dish.
The main course was a classic French dish: Magret de Canard Bordelaise with Bone Marrow, Wild Mushrooms, Roast Potatoes and Red Wine Sauce. I never cook duck at home, but I learnt a few tricks that I can apply to other kinds of meat. I mostly found very useful the tips on how to prepare a red wine sauce and how to cook wild mushrooms.
Another unique element of this class is learning how to plate the dishes like a Michelin-starred chef. Michel’s touch made each dish look beautiful, but we were also encouraged to be creative and give our own style to the food.
My version of the same Bordeaux-style duck looked more “pub” than “fine dining”, but it tasted great nonetheless especially with a glass of French red wine.
The third course was Soufflé aux Poires (pear soufflé) with a crumble topping and served with clotted cream. This was my favourite part of the experience, as I got the chance to learn baking skills and practice with a dessert recipe I had never made before.
My soufflé did rise and tasted great, so yeah for me!
I had a fantastic time with Michel Roux Jr and Cactus Kicthens – the entire staff was incredible and there wasn’t one single thing I wish was done differently. The staff was at hand to answer any questions and fulfil any needs (more food, wine, coffee? Not a problem). Thank you for the incredible experience.
And since you made it to the end of this long post (thank you) I have a surprise for you. This year marks the 25th anniversary of Michel Roux Jr being at the helm of Le Gavroche, so Cactus Kitchens are offering a special treat to my readers who wish to book the class. Book a place on a Michel Roux Jr Premier Experience between February and April 2016 and receive a complimentary bottle of exclusive Albert Roux Champagne to take home with you. To redeem, call 020 7091 4800 and quote code MR25. Please note that this offer is not available online and is only valid until 29th February 2016.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Cactus Kitchens. All opinions are my own.