If you’re craving comfort food and a crisp glass of wine in a foreign land right now, who could blame you after the 18 months we’ve had? But if travelling abroad is too daunting to contemplate at the moment, a new soothing French food show, Michel Roux’s French Country Cooking, might suffice in the meantime.
Decorated two-star Michelin chef Michel Roux Jr takes viewers on a culinary journey of the Provence region, cooking classic, simple dishes that let the ingredients shine, and meeting the food producers behind the local fare.
And it seems we have it all wrong when we think of French food. “There’s a misconception in thinking that all French food is really rich and heavy, that’s definitely not true,” the 61-year-old says. “Yes, there is that element to it but it’s not what people are eating every day. Every day, people are eating very simple food.”
Another myth about French cookery, he says, is that it’s difficult to cook, “which it’s not. At its heart, French food is based on seasonality and local produce and it’s just easy.” He shares recipes in the show that he calls “achievable and inspiring”, so if you’re new to French cookery there’s no need to feel daunted.
What the French do so well, he says, is eat locally. “Nine out of 10 [times] it will be local – the French are very fervent about that – they like to eat local food. It could be just the cheese made in their village – they won’t eat the cheese made in the village 10 minutes down the road. They want to support their local farmer or producer.”
So there’s a focus on that in the show, whether it be a bull farmer, to make bull stew, a small biodiverse vineyard, or a producer of “the most amazing lavender honey you’ve ever tasted”.
He says: “Just connecting with local producers is so enlightening and very important.”
It may be more steeped in tradition in France but Roux Jr says attitudes are changing in the UK to reflect these values too, particularly since the pandemic hit. “I think there’s been a change in the UK with that and it’s great to see. We’re finding more and more small producers, small farmers, more little marketplaces and more independents opening. I think as a consumer we should help these guys out – buy in small independent shops and support them with our cash.”
Eating seasonally, he says, is just as important. “I get excited about wild mushroom season; September and October, that’s the time to get out there and forage and find those beautiful treasures.” While filming the show, the tomatoes were in season – “sweet and fragrant and incredible” – as were courgettes and melons.
Provence, in the south-east of the country, means a lot to Roux Jr; he owns a holiday home here, his wife is from the region and the Roux family of course hail from France, and although he was born in Kent, France feels a lot like home.“Early memories of France are of family and eating together around the table as children and adults – the way it should be. Food and sharing food, brings people together, and the food that I’m cooking on the show is exactly that – it’s sharing food, it’s food I cook on a regular basis for my friends and family,” he says.
It hasn’t been an easy time for the Roux family though; “[The pandemic] has been challenging on the business front, but also challenging on a personal front because I lost my uncle (Michel Roux, 78, in March 2020) and my father (Albert Roux, 85, in January 2021), as well as all the issues with Covid and lockdown, losing two pillars of the Roux family was not easy,” he reflects.
But a new member of the family arrived in May, “[My] little grandson helps a lot to keep me going whenever I feel down in the dumps. I’ll just have a look at the latest video or photo of him and that brings a big smile to my face.”
Michel Roux’s French Country Cooking premieres at 9pm on Thursday 9 September on Food Network and discovery+.