The Roux Scholarship 2011 Semi Final UCB Birmingham

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 11th March 2011

So begins the quest to find the 28th winner of the Roux Scholarship 2011 with the semi final heats held in both London and Birmingham.

This year the competition attracted a record year for the number of applicants as the competition expands its reach. This year also saw an increase of new recruits and first time Roux Scholarship enteries. The competition is itself a huge tradition and is steeped in classical gastronomy. Eager to reach a wider catchment of chefs it has turned to the internet and modern media to do this.

Roux ScholarshipThe Roux Scholarship is also keen to dispel a perhaps an unfair myth that the competition is reserved for Michelin starred elite chefs only. It's very first winner Andrew Fairlie who has gone on to have an outstanding career was anything but a "Michelin" trained chef.

There are a number of Chefs who share this common theme Steve Love in 1997, Simon Hulstone in 2003, Matthew Tomkinson in 2005, to name but a few. What is true of the competition winner's is how so many of the Roux Scholars have gone on to build outstanding careers at the very highest level within our industry.

Most do hold Michelin stars, some hold two, and are among a very talented group of leading Chefs. Why? Because it takes a dedicated person to win this competition. It takes a person who is very motivated, a person who is prepared to put themselves on the line, to go that extra mile, to commit to hard work. Anyone that enters a competition not only has to endure hours of intense pressure and the glare of the judges and general public, but it's also the unseen hours of toil and a practice in their own time to get them to the competition heat stages.

What does it mean to be a Roux Scholar I asked Alain Roux "It's a family and Roux Scholarshipoften a fast track to success. It's an opportunity to work in any three Michelin star restaurant for three months, The Roux scholar family is a network for chefs supported by the Roux family itself. We meet every two years to celebrate the success of current and past winners." Steve Love describes winning the Roux Scholarship as "Changing his career"

This year's competition, a two and half hour timed event based around a Monkfish dish served for four covers with rice and one green vegetable. Added to this was a mystery basket, this year containing rhubarb, chocolate, sugar, milk, cream and eggs. The candidates are to create a dish and then serve this within the specified time of two and half hours. The judges in Birmingham are Alain Roux, Chef Patron of the Waterside Inn, Steve Love, Roux Scholarship winner 1997 and James Martin, Saturday Morning Kitchen host. What are the judges looking for? Steve Love "In the kitchen I'm looking at how the chefs work, the basics, making a stock, how the chefs work as they progress through their task." When I asked James Martin, he is looking for first and foremost, taste.

"It has to taste good". So we begin; six chefs who start at ten minute Alain Roux, Roux Scholarshipintervals move to their work stations. The kitchen at Birmingham is one of the best that I have seen, each candidate has his own solid top, under counter refrigeration, access to ablast chiller, combi ovens water baths. It has everything the modern chef demands and more! The contestants and their menus are:

 Mark Birchall, L'Enclume Monkfish with crispy chicken, mussel and wild garlic risotto, Howbarrow leeks and celeriac

Federic Aumeunier, Devonshire Arms Slow cooked Monkish, sow thistle, wild black rice, butter milk foam

Carl Chappell, Montague Arms Monkfish Osso Bucco, rice tadigh and pak choi, almond milk

Viresh Singh, The Connaught Pan Fried Monkfish Larded with Saucisson, creamy pea risotto, garlic wilted spinach perfumed with lemon grass foam

Richard Edwards, Lucknam Park Tail of Monkfish wrapped morel mouse, fricassee of peas and wild garlic leaves, smoked bacon risotto sautéed morels

Richard Cullen, The Spotgate Inn near Stone Osso Bucco of Monkfish tail, Seared Monkfish liver, creamed wild garlic leaves, peas and watercress

At first, as the chefs enter their work staRoux Scholarshiptions the atmosphere is very calm, with smiling faces but like kettle, it slowly builds up a head of steam, the minutes, then hours pass into a final crescendo. As the Chefs begin to prepare the elements of their dish, as Mise en place lists are franticly checked and then double checked, as pens scribble off items one-by-one.

The judges move around the work stations; they chat and discuss the methods and cooking styles of the chefs. A more concentrated and serious looks begins to adjourn the faces of the chefs as their service time races to meet them. They are allowed if ready to serve early they are not, however allowed to serve late.

Plates warm under salamanders as the chefs begin to seal and sear, foam their sauces, dot their purees and the fish is cut and arranged. Each contestant creates four plates, two of which are sent to the judge's room. The judges room which is adjacent to the kitchen theatre,is set up with clothed table, bottles of water and spoon pots, set in an almost hotplate esq style ready for service.

Two dishes are brought into the room and placed next to the competing chefs numbers, profiles and menu breakdowns. The judges debate bon taste, texture, flavour combinations, at times they disagree. At this point Alain Roux's palette really comes to the fore as they work their way through the six competing chefs dishes, checking the dish against the chefs presented menu. In the kitchen, frowned and foraged brows, they clean, they wipe down, and they pack and discuss their dishes with the other competing candidates.

Roux ScholarshipOf course they all want to win but there is a real air of togetherness on display and I get the feeling that whilst waiting, they just need to be told "Yes" or "No" so they can lift the pressure from their minds as the conclusion and climax of many hours very hard work nears. The waiting and nail biting and turning stomach is almost over!

With everyone assembled expectantly in front of Alain Roux, James Martin and Steve, girlfriends, partners, family and friends are all on hand to support the chefs. Alain explains that the standard has yet improved and that all of the candidates should be extremely proud of their efforts to reach this stage of the competition. Alain explains that there are two chefs who will be going through to the final. The candidates at this point have taken up religion and you can almost hear the thoughts inside their heads as they all make promise to their
chosen God. If only it could only please be them please, please, please.

The first name is called...Richard Edwards from Lucknam Park. Hands clam, the tensions rises, Richard puffs out his cheeks, and he's through!! Then, almost X-factor style, Alain pauses, five chefs watch for a movement, perhaps eye contact, anything that will offer some guidance to the next name.................. "Mark Birchall".Roux Scholarship

Mark punches the air and celebrates as if he's just scored the winning goal for Liverpool in the cup final, the joy, the excitement and the relief on his face is all too apparent. Yes, this is a clique but they are all winners. Of course there is disappointment but for those that will return next year, they will return stronger and better equipped. So six chefs go forward to London in April and we wish them every success and good luck!

>>> Read more about the Roux Scholarship here

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 11th March 2011

The Roux Scholarship 2011 Semi Final UCB Birmingham