In London, French restaurant Le Gavroche wields two Michelin stars, and a prix fixe menu with wine costs customers around $304 (£240, to be precise) — but despite that, chefs at the acclaimed Mayfair venue, headed up by chef Michel Roux Jr., were being paid as little as under $7 per hour across 15-hour work days.
The news was revealed by The Guardian in November, and now Roux has come out to apologize. Speaking to hospitality industry publication The Caterer in the most British way ever, Roux explains that while he was unaware of the low pay, it’s still his responsibility. “I take responsibility for ballsing up on this particular front. I am embarrassed and I am sorry for it, but in no way was it done intentionally.”
Chefs were receiving pay as low as £5.5 ($6.96), when the British minimum wage is £7.20 ($9.13), and were often working from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., with little over an hour off the Guardian reports. Speaking to the paper, Roux says that basically, some chefs were total keeners who would obsessively come in early even when asked not to, in order to keep hours in check.
Obviously not all staff were digging 15-hour days, though, as Le Gavroche employees were the people who flagged the issue to the Guardian in the first place.
Roux, who also appeared on several seasons of the BBC’s MasterChef, tried to excuse away some of the criticism by highlighting the prestige of working at a restaurant such as La Gavroche. “The benefits of working at Le Gavroche and for the Roux family are incredible. But they are intangible. You can’t put a worth on it,” he told the Guardian, sounding suspiciously like a person with plenty of cash telling an unpaid intern that exposure is more important than money.
Now that Roux’s staff will be getting paid minimum wage to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world, they can take heart in the fact that they’re now in the same pay bracket as the lowest level McDonald’s or Starbucks employees. And the internet has proved all too willing to point out that chefs (or anyone, really) can’t pay their rent in Michelin stars.
MICHEL ROUX JR: I am to blame. / The benefits are incredible, but intangible.https://t.co/5DaamPtREc— The Grauniad (@The_Grauniad) December 13, 2016
ie. I'm sorry. And yet I'm not.
Pressure should be on Michael Roux Jr to pay the living wage, nevermind the blooming legal minimum wage https://t.co/UrIX3Olk7V— Benali Hamdache (@GreenBenali) December 13, 2016
Michel Roux claims benefits of working for him are intangible: “You can’t put it on the payslip”— Jane Blacklock (@JaneBlacklock) December 13, 2016
YES YOU CAN! https://t.co/tViUEvQn6a
This isn’t Roux’s first public monetary snafu — while working on MasterChef: The Professionals, the BBC (as a taxpayer-funded public broadcaster that does not carry advertising) told Roux he couldn’t be the face of a Scottish brand of potatoes. The BBC’s ban on its personalities peddling products is partly what led Roux to quit MasterChef.
• Michel Roux Jr apologises for paying chefs less than minimum wage [The Guardian]
• TV chef Michel Roux Jr paid kitchen staff below minimum wage [The Guardian]
• Michel Roux Jr: “I ballsed up on pay but it won’t happen again” [The Caterer]
• Michel Roux Jr leaving BBC and MasterChef in row over potato [The Guardian]