Over the last 40 years, Britain’s culinary scene has transformed. The 21st century sees a nation proud of its acclaimed chefs; there are successful restaurants the length of the country, with hundreds of them boasting awards and accolades. Yet, when Michel and Albert Roux established the Roux Scholarship in 1983, there were just 33 starred restaurants in the Michelin Guide to Britain and Ireland. The country may have been taking its first steps on the world’s culinary stage, but it was still not known for its cuisine, indeed it often received sneering criticism. How then, could British chefs improve their skills by getting experience abroad when they were met with derision with every job application?
Cue the Roux Scholarship: created in partnership with the credit card company Diners Club UK, Michel and Albert Roux launched a competition where the star prize was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – a stage in kitchen of the of one of the world’s finest chefs, Michel Guérard at Les Près d’Eugénie. Albert and Michel were already pioneers in improving Britain’s reputation. They held three Michelin stars at Le Gavroche and two at The Waterside Inn (gaining a third the year after): only they could make such an opportunity possible.
In 1984, the first competition took place at Inn on the Park and the winner was 20-year-old Andrew Fairlie, who went on to hold two Michelin stars at his eponymous restaurant at Gleneagles – the only restaurant in Scotland to hold the award.
From there, the competition brought further esteemed winners who went on to enjoy opportunities working in some of the world’s best restaurants. After a few years, Diners Club UK parted ways, and new sponsors were found – prestigious companies from across the hospitality industry, proud to develop new generations of talent, and the same can be said today.
In nearly four decades, the competition has seen a number of prestigious judges preside over the competition, and it has taken place in many different kitchens, from Claridge’s to Westminster Kingsway College. It has helped the careers of hundreds of chefs working in the UK and played a key role in improving Britain’s culinary reputation abroad. The Scholars themselves enjoy being part of a network of top-class talent and have taken part in numerous educational trips abroad.
While the competition itself has also evolved over the years, with chefs set different tasks to test their competences, the competition remains true to its origins: to develop and reward classic culinary techniques. Only by mastering these skills, do chefs have the foundation on which to build a successful culinary career.
The Roux Diners Club Scholarship is established.
The first competition takes place at The Inn on the Park, London, and is won by Andrew Fairlie.
Winner Scott Hessel is the first winner to do his stage outside of France, at Aubergine in Munich.
Mercy Fenton becomes the first female winner of the Scholarship.
Michel Roux Jr and Alain Roux join the judging panel.
First educational trip takes place, to Gleneagles in Scotland.
The competition celebrates its 21st birthday and appoints Andrew Fairlie to the judging panel.
Winner Hrishikesh Desai becomes the first scholar to do their stage outside Europe, at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, California.
The Roux Scholarship celebrates its 30th anniversary with a Gala Dinner and is filmed as a TV series for Watch TV. It is won by Paul O’Neill.
Alain Roux and Michel Roux Jr take over from their fathers as chairmen of the competition. The judging panel is led by an Honorary President of Judges for the first time, Pierre Gagnaire.
Luke Selby wins the Roux Scholarship and is the first scholar to stage in Japan.
The coronavirus pandemic forces the postponement of the competition after 18 regional finalists are selected, their places are carried forward to 2021.
After two postponements, the 2020-21 competition finally takes place in September and October, with Oli Williamson winning. Three Roux Scholars, Luke Selby, Martin Carabott and Spencer Metzger, cook the award ceremony dinner, hosted at Westminster Kingsway College.
The competition resumes its normal spring schedule, with Jonnie Ferguson winning the Roux Scholarship just six months after competing as a finalist in the 2020-21 final.