Michel Roth, from the Ritz to the Président Wilson in Geneva
The former star of the Ritz, president of the Bocuse d'Or Winners Association, is now a starred chef in Geneva. Here he tells Les vergers Boiron about his methods and sources of inspiration.
Two years ago, Michel Roth took charge of the restaurants of the Président Wilson in Geneva, one of the most luxurious hotels in the world, overlooking the lake. He fell in love with the establishment, for its family atmosphere, even at work.
The starred chef, who was still head chef of the Ritz two years ago, was given the heavy task of restoring the gastronomic reputation of the hotel. In a city which has several luxury hotels, the Président Wilson has clearly opted to set itself apart through its excellent cuisine. This has been partially accomplished: one year after Michel Roth's arrival, it won its first Michelin star.
"We use local produce to which I add my personal touch. Perch and fera freshly caught in Lake Geneva, for example, or traditional Swiss sausage, "longeole". But we will also look for great produce from all over, like abalone of Plougastel, which we serve in a snacked version. And of course I always serve the sole I had prepared for the Bocuse d'Or in 1991, while continuing to make it evolve”.
A key experience for the starred chef
"The Bocuse d'Or is our world championship. We are selected from a large number of candidates to represent our country. The pressure is huge! I still remember the emotion of listening to the Marseillaise when on the top step of the podium..."
For the past five years, he has been president of the Bocuse d'Or Winners Association, which Les vergers Boiron have partnered since day one. In his impressive career (best apprentice of France in 1977, Taittinger Prize in 1985, Escoffier prize in 1986, Meilleur Ouvrier de France in 1991, etc.), the Bocuse d'Or is his crowning achievement.
At the various restaurants of the Président Wilson, Michel Roth can play with different nationalities and frontiers. "We serve traditional Lebanese cuisine at L'Arabesque and Asian cuisine at L'Umami, the result of my travels and a twinning between the West and Asia. And, although like any chef, I enjoy presenting my cuisine, I'm receptive to my international customers, and I can make significant changes to some recipes by adapting to their advice".
It has been quite a journey for this native of Lorraine who is very proud of his roots. "I often return to my native region where I find inspiration. I’m very attached to it because that's where I learnt my trade". Here he is referring to l'Auberge de l'Ill, near Colmar, and Le Crocodile in Strasbourg, where he started his career. But he learnt "palace cuisine", as he likes to call it, with Guy Legay, the legendary head of Ledoyen and L'Espadon, the restaurant at the Ritz in Paris, where Michel Roth first joined as a commis in 1981. "Guy Legay taught me about technique and the high requirements of this type of cuisine, respect for produce and the art of customising for guests. With him, I understood that you could balance traditional with modern styles". In thirty years at the Ritz, eleven as Executive Chef, Michel Roth honed his crab with cream of celery, vodka and red onion, his Charolais ravioli, his scallop, oyster and caviar tartar, his Hereford beef fillet Rossini, cappuccino-style mashed ratte potatoes or millefeuille in the Ritz tradition with caramel ice cream, his hallmark dishes. We interrupt him to ask him about his little weakness. He hesitates for a second. "Soups and consommés especially beef!"
When he moved to the Président Wilson in 2012, with nine members of his team, including his trusted lieutenants Laurent Wozniak, Franck Meyer and Didier Steudler, Michel Roth brought a piece of the Ritz's history with him. So is the adventure of his life over? "I'll always be there as an ambassador, but more as an Executive Chef. I have opened my consulting firm. I have many projects underway and more to come, in Geneva, of course, but also in Paris ..." Last year, Michel Roth worked on the first class menus of Air France, and after Masterchef on M6, he hosted the "Food Party" show on Arte. The second season will be screened at the end of the year.
With all these different activities, Michel Roth has a good overview of the current trends in gastronomy. "Cuisine is now more understated. Flavours are more concentrated, more intense". He himself focuses a lot on sauces, salad dressings, emulsions, as well as the 'staging' aspects. "It's the first thing customers see. They must feel that a special work of art has been created for them". What three pieces of advice would he give to chefs who want to follow in his footsteps? "One: be passionate about food and produce. Two: be consistent, but call yourself into question every day, while developing your curiosity and receptivity. And three: always taste everything systematically!"