A Glimpse into The Roux Scholarship
By Chandos Elletson, founder of The Chefs Directory
The Roux Scholarship is an outstanding event in the culinary year and has been since it started. It seems amazing to me that it remains relatively unknown outside certain chefs circles. And yet, if you trouble to delve a little deeper, it is clear that for those who take the time to enter and ultimately win the competition that the opportunities it offers are very valuable indeed.
Without the offer of a three month stage, all expenses paid, at virtually any three Michelin starred restaurant worldwide the value of the prizes more than makes up for the pressure of entry. However, factor in the stage and the membership of the so-called Scholars Club and a different picture emerges.
I have spent a good deal of time this year learning more about the scholarship from those involved. I have talked to scholars, judges and supporters. I joined Michel on an amazing trip to The French Laundry where I made a short film about last years winner, Hrishikesh Desai, who was then mid stage under the tutelage of Thomas Keller. And I even went on the biannual study trip to Germany.
This access into the inner workings of the scholarship have given me a unique viewpoint and what I have seen has radically changed the way I perceive the scholarship. It is far more than just a chef’s competition.
I didn’t know, for example, that one of the reasons for starting the competition nearly thirty years ago was to give young British chefs the opportunity to work in some of Europe’s great kitchens which were almost all run by French chefs. Without the help of Michel and Albert Roux, British chefs were just not seen as good enough to get even a simple job in a top French kitchen.
The first scholar, Andrew Fairlie, had written to twenty top French kitchens and only had one reply and even that was to tell him there were no vacancies. In culinary terms the door was shut to British chefs.
Today, that position is completely different. There are many great British chefs and many of them are respected the world over. But it is easy to forget just what a colossal effort it took to establish The Roux Scholarship not just amongst young British chefs but amongst the worlds elite.
As Michel explained: it is just as much of a leap of faith for the chef who receives the scholar as it is for the scholar to decide where he, or she, would like to go. The Roux name may open the door but the scholar still has to be professional enough to live up to expectations. This is why, during judging, there can be lively debates about who wins. The scholar has to wear the Roux badge when they go off traveling.
Talking to the scholars about their experiences over the years it was very clear that the stage was just the beginning. Some of the scholars needed to go on language courses to make it easier for them to fit in. Some wanted to go to cities, others wanted the solace of the countryside and the deep calm of being amongst ingredients. This is where Michel and Albert have been very clever: making sure that the kitchen they organise for the scholar to work in is the right one for them and their style.
Looking back every scholar I have spoken to has said that the stage was an amazing experience but in a way that is hard to quantify. For some it was just like going off to university and the fact that they had the freedom to see great food being prepared in a completely different and foreign environment. For others it was an opportunity to see a great chef at work.
Mathew Tomkinson, scholar in 2005, said that his experience at Michel Guerard did not necessarily teach him how to cook a piece of fish any better but made him see food and hospitality in a different light and it is this theme that crops up again and again.
The Roux Scholarship may appear to be a chef competition but in actual fact, for the winner, it is a lesson in hospitality and a unique one at that. Michel also explained that the three month length of the stage had been carefully worked out. Any less and the important lessons may be lost and any longer and the chefs may not have a job or a relationship to come back to.
Persuading head chefs to let their juniors go off on a three month stage was just as much a part of the competition structure and remains one of the most important considerations and stumbling blocks.
The Roux Scholarship gives the winner an opportunity to travel to a foreign land, see some of the worlds best food being prepared and to come back full of confidence about the future. But it also gives the winner an opportunity to join a club from which all the other members are always at the end of a telephone for support, ideas, staff and encouragement.
Michel and Albert Roux and their sons Alain and Michel Jnr have been promoting British chefs for nearly thirty years. The scholarship is the embodiment of their belief that respect for the great dishes and great chefs of the past is part of becoming a great chef and that by studying the classics and studying with great chefs only brings greatness back to this country.Any chef with even a shred of ambition should think of entering this great competition as the opportunities for development are unparalleled. Any head chef who has a promising fine dining chef in their brigade should consider putting them forward for it only strengthens the brigade in the long run.
Michel Roux 30th Anniversary
One of the industry's most acclaimed cookery competitions, the Roux Scholarship this year celebrates its 30th anniversary. Michel Roux, who co-founded the Scholarship with his brother Albert, tells Kerstin Kühn how it has developed over the past three decades and how he sees it continuing to grow in the future - Read more
Are you the next Roux Scholar?
The 2014 Roux Scholarship competition is now open for entries, chefs must be cooking in the UK and aged between 22-30yrs. They have until midnight on Monday 27th January to apply. Click here for recipe details.
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