When Thierry de Magneval first arrived in the UK he was swiftly swept up under the wing of Michel Roux Jr and former Le Gavroche manager Silvano Giraldi as the restaurant’s porter. Now, almost 10 years on and a string of jobs later, the Frenchman speaks to Becky Paskin about how his experiences have resulted in his return to the Roux family nest, as Restaurant Manager of Albert Roux’s eponymous brasserie at Sofitel Heathrow.
“Working for Mr. Roux is quite lucky I have to say. He’s a man with manners and great knowledge too,” de Magneval enthused. “He even recognised me from all those years ago when I was at Le Gavroche.”
De Magneval had worked part-time in a friend’s restaurant in his home city of Lyon, before moving to England at the age of 18 where he secured a position in the Le Gavroche kitchen. With little experience, having studied accountancy over catering at college, it wasn’t long before de Magneval realised he had been offered a worthwhile career on a silver platter.
“Basically my catering school was Le Gavroche. I was very curious so I always asked questions; Silvano taught me very well and I also learned on the side, using books my friend could give me from France because he went to catering school.
I never regret not doing that though. At Le Gavroche you see people from the French and Italian schools come over for work experience, and sometimes once they finish school they may be ready to be a head waiter or open a business on paper because they all have the theoretical knowledge, but at Le Gavroche they take you back to the beginning, that’s how it works there.
“I planned to be in London for six months and obviously learn English so I went to Silvano and told him I’d like to move on and start being a waiter. He very kindly gave me my chance and started me as a commis chef de rang.”
Onwards and Upwards
It was after three years working through the ranks from room service up to sommelier that de Magneval received his culinary diploma, a moment he describes as his greatest triumph. But in that same year both Giraldi and himself thought it best he moved on to experience alternative aspects of the industry at different restaurants.
“I got a job as Assistant Restaurant Manager at La Rascasse where I worked for a couple of years. It was a great learning curve for me as it was a newly opened restaurant and the way it was situated there were a lot of big parties for famous companies like Polygram, with all these glamorous people attending. It was a bit of a different world there.”
But de Magneval soon moved on to further add to his knowledge of the industry, securing a position as Bar Manager of Bar Kick in Shoreditch through a chance meeting with the owner whilst celebrating his 24th birthday.
“The owner of the bar was looking for someone with a strong background and high standard, and for me it was a new challenge to go from running a wine stock to a bar stock, it’s completely different. Le Gavroche is more of a dispense bar, but this was a more trendy sports bar with lots of different cocktails.”
Wanting to complete his knowledge of bars, de Magneval took the job and learned more than he ever thought he would.
“It was fantastic, I improved by learning some marketing skills too, like I came up with an idea to have an indoor Christmas market in the bar where people could come and try all sorts of things like food in the kitchen, and our supplier’s wine. I learned a lot and I improved at bar as well. We were even voted by BA magazine as one of the best bars in London in 2005.”
A change of culture
But having stepped straight into a serious career path from college had taken its toll on the inquisitive Frenchman, and he started to yearn for the knowledge and abilities that life in different cultures could give him. Leaving Bar Kick behind, de Magneval set out on a journey around the world, stopping firstly back home, and then South America, New Zealand, Australia and Spain.
“It was a fantastic learning curve, learning different aspects of what’s going on in the world and opening your eyes. Doing it that young and then coming back I felt more confident to actually go back into catering and pass on my passion and knowledge of different tastes, wine and people to customers.”
De Magneval was away 16 months before he finally came back to London to work at one of the UK’s top restaurants, the Michelin-starred No.1 Lombard Street, as Assistant Manager of the brasserie.
“I took the role as Assistant Manager, because after 16 months travelling I couldn’t jump straight back into being a restaurant manager. But it was great; they’ve a really good team there, really nice. The business has been running for nine years now so it is a very well oiled machine.
“One day I was working at Lombard Street and I called Le Gavroche to book a table for a friend of mine, and I was just catching up with Silvano when he came up with the offer of the position at Brasserie Roux. He wanted to push me forward on his recommendation.
“Going back after several years to being back in the Roux business was very attractive, and I think my main incentive was to work for such an impressive name and learn from them to move on further than where I am.”
De Magneval accepted the position as his first job as Restaurant Manager, and one he has been preparing for since his arrival in England. From developing close ties with the people he has worked with, to enhancing his skills and knowledge of food, wine and culture from around the world, all his experiences have led him to an ultimate point back in the nest of the Roux family.
“The transition to Restaurant Manager was very challenging and really attractive, a new build, a new start, but now today I can implement all my knowledge and put it into something real and do it by myself with the fantastic help of the assistants I have as well.”