'Dear Mr.Roux' - Remembering a Great Chef-Mentor

By Margaret Roche posted 31-03-2020 11:43

Margaret started her career in Cathal Brugha Street where she completed a professional cookery course and Culinary Arts degree. During her time in college, she also spent time working in the Merrion Hotel, in the pastry section along with Paul Kelly. After working in the Merrion for nearly 4 years, Margaret moved to the Waterside Inn, where she met Mr.Roux and spent the next 3 years, before leaving to travel. Since then she has been the head chef in Hugo's Restaurant in Dublin, worked in The Wild Honey Inn in Clare and is currently working in The Brooklodge and Macreddin Village as a senior chef de partie.


It’s a Thursday like no other, a strange atmosphere in the kitchen. Leo Varadkar has just announced the closure of schools from 6 pm this evening. Kelsy has just made a pot of coffee. Lunch service is set and ready to rock. Thursday lunch is normally the start of the run into a busy weekend, but today we’re unsure how lunch is going to go. My phone rings. Sharon, an ex-college and great friend is calling from London.

Michel Roux has passed away.

Like many, I, you, we have all felt loss during life. This, however, was a different feeling. I felt a huge knot in my stomach and instantly shed tears. First of sadness and shock, followed by tears of pride. Privileged and lucky to have met, worked and shared time with the legend that is Michel Roux. A mix of emotions I have never felt. So, I did what every other self-respecting chef would do, I dried my teary eyes, put back on my apron and went back into the kitchen to a busy service.

This, to everyone’s relief, is not an article about the ever spoken COVID19 – thank God! It is a few simple paragraphs of what Mr. Roux and working at the Waterside Inn for nearly 3 years meant to me. When I say simple, it has actually taken hours to be honest, to find the right words. I am not a writer. I am a chef. I cook, I taste, I season, and I taste again. With that comes an over-thinker, a touch of O.C.D, a perfectionist - just a few of the personality traits of most chefs. A touch lazy if I’m honest, with regards to paperwork and a class clown in school. So, writing a short simple article doesn’t come naturally to me. In fact, neither does cooking. I’m not a natural talent, I wasn’t lucky enough to have been “born to cook”. I was, however, lucky enough to be born into a family with a huge work ethic, honesty, encouragement and a positive attitude, to name a few. I have and continue to work extremely hard on everything I have achieved and firmly believe, as my father would say to us all “You reap what you sow”. That is all it takes; you can achieve absolutely anything if you work hard enough and want it bad enough. So, this article is no different from how I work in a kitchen. If you are to do anything, give it 100% and do it right. Whether it's right or not, I have given it 100%.

Quercus Robur – Not a French term. It is the scientific name for English oak, “The king of the forest”. It is the symbol of strength, kingship, endurance, longevity, truth, courage, wisdom, leadership and knowledge. The oak's symbolism is one that’s remained consistent and sure. The Celts held oak in high regard, believing it provides protection to leaders and worriers. They saw this tree as representing the ultimate in hospitality and safety. As well as a mystical symbol of truth and bravery. The oak stood as a firm reminder that humankind has the ability to overcome all odds and a tremendous capacity for kindness, even to strangers whose paths we cross.

I could not think of a more fitting description of Mr. Roux than this. The oak tree to me, relates amazingly to the journey of a chef through different kitchens. I started in the Waterside Inn, in January 2012, at 22years old, spending nearly 3years there in all.

I was bursting with enthusiasm, as well as nerves, of course. Lots of feelings. Doubt was a huge one and intimidation. I think all the normal feelings that most young chefs experience when they are about to embark on a journey into a new kitchen. The Waterside kitchen was French-speaking. Of course, we spoke English as well, but services were run with all the French terms and dishes were called aloud in French. With a kitchen team made up of French, Italian, English and one little Irish girl from the back arse of nowhere - I was, what can only be described as a rabbit in the headlights. I hadn’t a clue what they were saying!! With the communication proving the first of many tasks to overcome, the sous chef Harry, proceeded to tell me on my first day that I would start on the troncenette section and herbs. Eager and keen, I replied “No problem!”. Inside, sheer panic!! What the hell is a troncenette!! I kept my mouth shut with the hope that I would soon find out and to not expose my lack of knowledge on the first day. I did, and it’s a lobster! Phew!! This section also included herbs to chop for every section. Every chef had a specific job and the organisation was nothing short of military precision. While many chefs would be a little disappointed to be only chopping herbs or washing spinach. I was so proud to be wearing a Waterside Inn jacket, and if I was chopping herbs, they were 3 Michelin star herbs, perfect and consistent. I would soon learn they had to be. I moved through many different sections of the kitchen with this attitude.

I had spent the years previous working in the Merrion Hotel kitchen led by Ed Cooney, working with the likes of Gareth Mullins and Paul Kelly. They had already put manners on me and distilled this great attitude I had. In college, I had great mentors. Jim Rock had a huge influence on me and James Carberry, a previous roux scholar and great friend of Mr. Roux also, it was he who made my dream of working in the Waterside a reality.

Hours were long and hard. The pace was fast and furious. The food, the cooking and the sauces were perfect. Preparation exact, organisation military. Services ran smooth, sturdy and precise. Competitiveness, at the most time, healthy - we all wanted to be the best. That’s why we were there, and if that, if it was only that aspect that we had in common- it was enough. It was enough for 32 chefs in a kitchen to understand each other. The harder you pushed, the harder the person next to you pushed. The better you ran your section, the better you cooked, the more you learned and the faster you moved sections.

“Storms make the oak grow deeper roots” George Herbert

We all undoubtedly meet very difficult times through our journeys as chefs. Both physically and mentally. It is tough, but it is through difficult times that we must choose to keep going, to become stronger than ever before. I am a stronger chef today, because of my time at the Waterside Inn and Mr. Roux. The strong branches of his tree - Alain his son, his head chef Fabrice - the strongest of branches and never a hint of breaking. The reason Mr. Roux stood so tall, mighty and strong. His many teams of little acorns over the years, to which he showed the best training, experience, guidance, time, advice and direction. His warm welcome, his traditional 4kisses and warm hug to follow, he always hugged me after the 4kisses, this was a very special feeling to me. (Especially at times living so far from home, it was so lovely to receive the warm greeting), his presence inside the kitchen, pure admiration and awe. His ability to make each and every one of us feel as though we were on the same level, just as important as each other. His pure professionalism and expert hospitality, his ability to lead a team to the level of greatness and perfection day in, day out, year in and year out. His energy, exhausting but inspiring.

For me, after leaving the Waterside Inn, he invested genuine interest and understanding in my career. My talents were nurtured, weaknesses improved, and skills perfected. He was a true leader in the way the he carried us with him, not behind him. I hope we can all take a leaf from Mr. Roux.  His interest in making and helping us achieve, never resting on his laurels. Not for the benefit of his name, but for the benefit of us to achieve a name. This is what made him so uniquely brilliant and special and the reason I chose the mighty oak tree to represent him.

It takes 70 years for an oak tree to produce acorns. Mr. Roux has produced many acorns around the world, and it is now our job, to live his legacy in this amazing industry and continue to grow. To continue to grow ourselves, to grow our very own acorns, carry them with us through the storms, help them recover and watch them grow on their own. I only hope that every chef has met or meets a Mr. Roux on their journey. I hope someday to have the same profound impact on younger chefs that Mr. Roux has had on me, and so many others. To nurture their talent like mine was nurtured, to work with their weaknesses and help them grow.

Mr.Roux's Book | Chef Network

Months after I left the Waterside Inn, Michel sent over a beautiful signed copy of his new book in the post to Ireland.
Something I will treasure forever. 

“Mighty oaks from little acorns grow” A.B. Johnson

Mr. Roux has faced his last storm, but his little acorns will continue to face the wind. In this current climate of storms, COVID19, wherever we came from, the journey we choose to take - the storms will not be forgotten, the recovery and hard work will always be remembered. I have been very lucky to have worked with many, all challenging, exhilarating, fast, difficult, exciting and thoroughly enjoyable. I have taken with me all types of experiences, the good, the bad and the ugly. I have heeded advice from many, but the Waterside Inn and Mr. Roux hold a very special place inside of me and always will. I will forever cherish that time.

To you - Just be your best

To me - The best is yet to come

To Mr. Roux - You were the best

So, here’s to me, here’s to you and here’s to Mr. Roux.

Thank you for everything. You were our hero and now you are our star.

Shine bright, and until we met again.
Lots of love “Your Maggie”

“The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream. The oak sleeps in the acorn, the bird waits in the egg, and in the highest vision of the soul a waking angel stirs”
 - James Allen

The Waterside Inn - Team PhotoThe team at Waterside Inn

Waterside Inn Gingerbread House | Chef Network

This is the gingerbread house I completed. I was eager to move to the pastry section at the time. So in order to try to prove my skills, I decided to make a gingerbread house in my own time. I shared a very small house with 4 others, so space was quite limited, which was a little struggling at times. I started it on the 3rd of October and finished on the 3rd of December. Using up my Mondays and Tuesdays off, to work on it. It was displayed at the front desk in the waterside for the month of December. 

Waterside Inn | Chef Network

This is a photo of the front of the Waterside Inn.
Hopefully, you can see the resemblance to the gingerbread house

Fabrice & Margaret | Chef NetworkThis is the head chef Fabrice, whom I hold in the highest regard, and is still a great friend. This was taken during a masterclass in Hamilton ice sculptures. A very famous ice sculptures in London. Chef Alain organised a learning day out for the full pastry team. 

Who has been a key mentor and guide in your journey as a chef? What made them a great leader?

Do get in touch with us if you would be interested in writing a piece to honour your chef mentor



31-03-2020 14:26

A truly beautiful tribute to a chef hero by Mags Roche. Thank you for sharing, here’s to the inspiration it creates.

31-03-2020 12:43

Fantastic Blog. Moving, inspirational and heartfelt. Thank you Margaret, you write beautifully

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