Can two Standard writers cook Le Gavroche’s legendary Soufflé Suissesse?

Le Gavroche will run its final service on January 13, chef-patron Michel Roux having announced the restaurant's closure late last year. In January 2024, Roux said he had served his one millionth Soufflé Suissesse, an iconic dish on the menu since the beginning, in 1967. Here, Going Out editor David Ellis and writer Josh Barrie try to make one in the famous Mayfair kitchen. The results were mixed.

Few chefs are truly synonymous with food. Gordon Ramsay? Sure — but more with TV, more with swearing. Heston? To many, he’s just the mad one with the glasses. But Michel Roux has always been known as one of the great modern chefs. And while few restaurants are truly famous, his — Mayfair’s two-starred Le Gavroche — really is.

Perhaps ill-advisedly, Roux invited the Standard down to attempt Gavroche’s Soufflé Suissesse, one of only a handful of dishes across the world that can really be considered worthy of the term “legendary.”

How did it go? Not especially well. But there was fun had along the way. Watch the video above for more, and read the experience below.

David’s experience

There is a note in Michel Roux’s voice that is simultaneously quizzical and panicked. “Do you…” he says, head cocked, “cook at home?”

I answer, but I needn’t have; Roux, I suspect, is speaking mostly to himself. As well he might: the man must be wondering why he’s let two bickering lunatics into his beloved kitchen, a kitchen he has treasured since buying it from his father and uncle, Albert and Michel, in 1991. Or to put it another way: for 30-odd years, this restaurant has been a gleaming shrine to the highest standards of cooking, and now Josh Barrie is repeatedly spilling boiled cream across a hob.

Meanwhile, I’ve determined that the correct amount of salt for a soufflé is not a pinch, but what might be described as “a Dead Sea’s worth”. I’ve never before seen a man grimace with the back of his head, but as Roux turns away from me to taste the beginning of my efforts, that’s exactly what happens. It is an inauspicious beginning.

As it happens, I do cook at home, and reasonably often, but my defence is three-fold. Firstly, I’ve not done a soufflé before — I’m renovating my kitchen by hand, and have been without an oven for a year, which puts paid to any souffléing urges, of which there were few to begin with — and secondly, Roux has issued only the vaguest of instructions, most of which seem to centre on the names of equipment. Having seen his excellent new show, I know the man is capable of more and truth be told, I resent the present ambiguity. Thirdly, and I suspect this may be the real cause of the rot, I am egregiously hungover.

In dire straits, I make like a school boy and decide the only thing for it is copying Josh. Roux and I speak with fair regularity, and so I’m counting on him to be unashamedly biased toward me. I don’t explicitly mention a lifetime ban from the Standard if I lose, but deep down I hope he divines this.

The fault in my plan is that Josh is muttering about Les Dennis and slippery little beavers and, instead of swearing, says “Richard Madeley” as though it were a particularly venomous oath. As he does all of this with alarming frequency anyway, I’m not as worried for him as you might have been, but it is distracting when you’re trying to crib.

It goes about as well as might be expected. What Roux says should take 10 minutes ends up clocking in at about an hour. In truth, mine was better — it rose more, the colour was better, its general vibe was cooler, more professional, hotter, taller —  but Roux gave the win to Josh. I understood at once; the quiet nod, the gentle touch on the shoulder. The great chef didn’t want to be accused of favouritism. It wouldn’t look right, me winning, there’s a proper way to behave and all that. So let me say sincerely, and without holding a grudge: well f***ing done on your stupid little, namby-pamby vanity win, Josh. You’re fired.

Le Gavroche (Press handout)
Le Gavroche (Press handout)

Josh’s experience

There was something innately troubling in turning around at Le Gavroche only to see my cream boil over for the second time. More confounding still was watching Michel Roux mop up the dairy with a dishcloth. “Cheers, chef,” was all I could muster, as I struggled with the béchamel. A certified legend, there, all manner of stars draped over him, cleaning up after someone who writes to a middling degree about omelettes.

I had not ever cooked a soufflé before competing with my editor to prepare the Mayfair restaurant’s legendary Soufflé Suissesse. I worked in kitchens from the age of 14, up until I thought I’d try “writing” for a living, but never bothered with baking or anything too technical. I was never a chef, obviously — my cooking was only ever circumstantial.

And so to attempt a Suissesse? Frankly absurd. Not that I had a choice. Cue a Come Dine with Me — the country’s greatest ever cooking show — sort of rendition, where I flap about with spatulas while exerting the necessary faux confidence.

The Suissesse is a perpetual dish that has been on the menu at Le Gavroche since 1967. It is one of the Roux family’s most cherished, loved, famous and, like so many great things to come out of great kitchens, it is simple in form but difficult to do well. Harder still with only a vague sheet of ingredients and instructions, Michel poring over my every move, laughing gently as he does, and a host of cameras zooming in on my whipped egg whites.

Michel said his team had served about 50 soufflés the night before. They are intimately popular. Michel’s chefs, ever skilled, churn them out en masse. The fact is one of the most revered but feared dishes in the restaurant kitchen makes sense. Junior chefs start by crying and stressing, Michel explained, but after doing about 100 in the deranged freneticism of a professional kitchen, the exercise becomes second nature.

I managed to cook the cream properly in the end and seasoned it well enough. I folded my egg whites into my béchamel — albeit not to the required standard — and spooned the mixture into a baking tray in the hope that Blue would play and all would rise. The result was justly pitiful but soufflés, somehow, appeared. All that was left was to place the best of a bad bunch into a bowl of cream, sprinkle generously with cheddar, and slip the whole thing under the grill for that final flourish, that little dose of pizazz. There was no pizazz.

The tasting? Well, that’s what the video is for. Michel was typically polite about our attempts. You want that soft spring, don’t you, that smooth luxury so evident in fine French cookery? He was handed two soufflés distinctly lacking in elegance, but two soufflés nonetheless, and for that we might allow ourselves a moment of satisfaction.