What’s on the menu for Sunday lunch at your house?
I love really traditional things at the weekend, so a good roast dinner, maybe roast lamb, or the boys love pork. The whole weekend will be structured around the meal. If you’re going to have a roast dinner, you structure your day around that. I love cooking for the family at home.
There’s two types of cookery in our house: there’s my wife Jane’s cookery and there’s my cookery. My cookery is the same at home, as it is at work. So if I’m making a roast dinner, or a pasta dish or soup , I use the same methods as I would in my restaurant. I use flavours, so the food will be seasoned, sweetened, caramelised, or roasted in a certain way.
My two sons, Jake, six, and Archie, three, always comment on the seasoning in my cooking – usually that it is too spicy or has too much pepper. Their regular food is their mum’s food, which is probably six times a week as opposed to mine, which is once a week. They’d probably say they love their mum’s food over my own, because I think it’s what they’re so used to. But they always have an opinion on the food they eat – they are mini critics in the making.
There’s a real celebrity scene among chefs these days. Do you meet up often with fellow fathers, Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver? And are you competitive fathers?
Yeah, of course they are. Gordon more so than anyone. Jamie just gets on with life and does his thing in his own way. Gordon is probably one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met, and when he’s not winning he’s sulking. That’s what men are like.
My relationship with Gordon has changed as he’s got bigger and bigger and gone completely global. Whereas before our children was a big talking point, it’s not any more because we just don’t bump into each other that often.
Would you like to have more television exposure like Jamie?
If you’re destined to be on TV, you’re snapped up straight away, like a beautiful model walking down the street, you get spotted. That how it was for Jamie. He was working in a kitchen when Ruth Rogers and Rosie Gray were doing their River Cafe cookery show, the producer spotted Jamie out of the corner of his eye, and he gave this little piece to camera and that’s when Jamie Oliver is born. Right place, right time. I’m not fussed about doing TV. If it comes along great, I’ll never say no if it’s the right thing. But no, I get up and I go to a restaurant and I cook. That’s what I do.
What would happen if it all fell apart? Could you ever see yourself as a stay-at-home father?
(Expletive deleted) ****ing hell. I’d do it but I think I’d get very depressed. It’s not what I get up in the morning for. It wasn’t, I keep saying ‘part of the agreement’, but Jane and I always knew this is how it would work. If Jane was high profile and did a bigger job than mine and earned three or four times more than I earnt, then fine, why not? I wouldn’t like it, but I’d do it if I had to.
How child-friendly is your Michelin-starred restaurant Petrus?
We are child-friendly at Petrus, in so far as if someone has booked and said ‘Oh, by the way, we have a one-year-old and need a high chair’, we’re not going to turn them away. Personally, I would never go into a situation where I know my kids could embarrass me. If you go to a restaurant like Petrus, you know you’re going to be sitting there for three hours; a toddler is never going to sit still for three hours, so why take them there? But you know what, people do bring their kids in. I remember recently, parents with a child about seven years old. The waiter brought the boy into the kitchen and showed him around, and the boy was very interested, talking about cookery. From that minute on, though, this boy kept getting up from the table and walking into the kitchen. In the end, I had to tells his parents he was wandering into a production area on his own.
Why is the world of haute cuisine such a male-dominated domain?
It’s changing. I’ve got five girls out of 25 chefs working in my kitchen at Petrus and they add a fabulous change to a kitchen. And if I have 25 guys, I have more problems than if I put girls into the equation. But there are no mothers. That doesn’t work, not at my end of the industry. The guys don’t work seven or eight hours a day; they work 17 or 18 hours a day.
Would you like your children to follow in your footsteps?
Yeah, why not? It’s a great industry. I love the way the Roux brothers have passed it down through the generations. That’s quite a nice thing. Jake is definitely going through a phase of being interested in food and cooking, but I’m not sure the others will be the same.
What’s your advice to encourage children into healthy eating habits?
It’s such a very simple thing. You’ve got this window of opportunity to feed them whatever you like as babies, and they’re hungry so they’ll eat it. And it’s right from the word milk: you’ve just got to feed them food, give them things that are recognised flavours in a purée format. It’s very simple. From milk, move onto fruit and veg purees but do them all: do the potato one, do the sprout, do the cauliflower, do the pea, do every one. The fridge is full of fruit and veg, so use it.
Are you strict about junk food?
When Jake was young, Jane never gave him chocolate, never gave him crisps, never gave him biscuits. I remember my sister commenting that Jake went to their house and never fussed about food. And there was chocolates and crisps and all sorts of crap, and he would look at it with interest, but there was no big excitement. I remember we were slightly ridiculed because we were so disciplined. But looks who’s laughing now. Our children eat properly. I can take my children to restaurants and they won’t turn their nose up at anything; they’ll eat any number of vegetables with absolutely no problem whatsoever and then ask for more. And at the end of the meal, they’ll ask for an apple or an orange and not be bothered whether it’s a bowl of ice cream or a bowl of fruit salad. And they are rather fond of my Pineapple Upside-Down Cake.