Meet the National Finalists 2020/21

After the exciting regional finals in London and Birmingham, the Roux family is delighted to announce the names of the six chefs who will compete for the title of Roux Scholar 2020/21 on 25th October 2021.

After an 18-month delay, the regional finals went ahead at at University College Birmingham and University of West London. With a mystery box that included apples, oranges and Grand Marnier for the dessert challenge, the 18 regional finalists also cooked their recipes for hake, clams and leeks and six were successful enough to claim a place in the national final.

Meet our six finalists

Ryan Baker, Maison Francois, London
Ben Champkin, The Newt, Somerset
Nathan Cornwell, The Barn at Moor Hall, Lancashire
Curtis Tonge, Chester
Jonnie Ferguson, The Raby Hunt, County Durham
Oli Williamson, The Fat Duck, Bray

What the finalists said:

Ben Champkin: “This is my third time in the final now and it feels amazing. I’ve been following the competition for many years and I’ve worked for previous winners, so I’ve always wanted to be there, so it feels really good to be getting another chance.”

Reserve competitor Nathan Cornwell (from The Barn at Moor Hall) was notified on Monday 6th September that he could take part in the competition after another finalist pulled out: “The last few days have just been crazy. Finding out just days ago that I could take part and going straight into it, I’ve had to focus on it after a long, long break. I’ve been looking at my notes for my recipe after service, even on the train here. To win it would be a dream.”

Oli Williamson: “This was my last chance to enter the competition because I’ve just turned 30, and this is my first time entering the competition. I’m super happy! I’ve got some work to do for the final, so it’s going to take some preparation to get ready in the next six weeks before the final.”

Ryan Baker: “Getting in the final is what we came here to do, and that’s exactly where I want to be. I found the regional final tough, it was a really hot kitchen but I’d practiced my dish many times. The dessert just throws in that bit of mystery and affects your timings on the day. I’ve been in the final before and it’s tough, they ask everything from you, but I’m going to give it my all.”

 Jonnie Ferguson: “I really enjoyed the whole day. I’ve done competitions before and I enjoyed the whole set up; I thought it was fair and a generous amount of time, so I felt quite calm throughout the day. For the final, I’m desperate to know what we’re cooking, I’ve watched lots of the previous videos, and you can see it’s a classical approach, so I’m excited to test myself and find out how strong my skill set really is.”

Curtis Tonge: “I found the regional final amazing, I felt really strong and really enjoyed the day as a whole. For the mystery box dessert, I cooked Grand Marnier crème brûlée with financier madeleines, with mandarin segments and zest and candied peel. I practised a few mystery boxes and done something similar with other ingredients, so I brought the madeleine molds just in case. For the final, it’s my last chance so I’m in it to win it! I’m really excited to meet the guest judge Björn Frantzén and Clare Smyth and Michel, because I’ve never met him, and of course seeing what the recipe is. I will be doing some research on classic dishes and practicing skills.”

The Challenge

Their challenge was to cook the recipe they submitted with their application, which uses one whole fresh gutted hake, weighing anywhere between 1.6kg – 1.8kg and 600g of live whole grooved carpet shell / palourde clams (ruditapes decussatus). They had to be plated together with two simple or composed garnishes/accompaniments. One of those had to include leeks and the other was a garnish/accompaniment of the applicant’s choice. One of these can be served separately if preferred and a sauce has to accompany the dish. The regional finalists had 2½ hrs to cook their dish, along with a dessert from a mystery box of ingredients given to them on the day. The judges were looking for recipes and methods, which demonstrated the best balance of creativity, taste, style and practicality in the finished dish. Main picture: Ben Champkin’s dish (photo by Jodi Hinds). 

The  Mystery Box Dessert challenge

The task was to create a dessert for four people. The chefs were allowed to omit one ingredient, but had to use at least 50% of the remaining ingredients.

30ml Grand Marnier liqueur
400ml whole milk
150g caster sugar
200g plain flour
100g unsalted butter
4 Mandarin oranges
4 medium-sized Granny Smith apples
80 g mixed orange and lemon candied peel

Judges comments: 

Alain Roux: “When you work on a dish that you care so personally about, you tend to get carried away and I wonder if the finalists had eaten the finished dish enough times, with all complements, with the sauce on plate. Did they serve it to friends and family, or their customers to get feedback? In food, you never get it 100% right but the challenge is to get as many people as possible to like it and prove the dish works. For many of these dishes, the balance just wasn’t there.”

Michel Roux Jr: “Happy to be back tasting some fabulous food and to finally see the chefs in action and taste the recipes we’ve sat on for the last 18months.”

Simon Hulstone: “I think they should have practiced more, classic example, for me forgetting a bit of innovation to make the desserts to stand out. We say every year you can win or lose on the dessert but the main course has been a bit forgotten in practicing. The main dishes were not as well executed as well as we hoped on the day.”

Sat Bains: “What’s crazy, and I say it every year, what you see in the kitchen doesn’t always translate to what we see on the plate. These guys have had an extended 18 months to practice but I thought we would have got a lot better quality. We can’t emphasise enough you have to nail the dish you’ve submitted. I’m looking forward to the final, Bjorn Frantzén is coming over and the legacy of the Rouxs lives on; whoever wins has a really exciting career ahead of them!”

Angela Hartnett: “It’s always an honour to judge the Roux Scholarship. What is so clever is that with the mystery box for the dessert, Alain and Michel always bring it back to basics to see the true skills of these this young chefs.”

Fast Facts

  • Three of the six finalists are competing for the first time, the other three finalists have all made it to the national final before.
  • Only one finalist comes from an establishment in London, the other five come from as far afield as Somerset and County Durham.
  • Many of the judges felt that some of the competitors could have practiced more, giving more attention to their main dishes.
  • Jonnie Ferguson from the Raby Hunt spent time working for our first scholar, Andrew Fairlie.
  • Nathan Cornwell was the second reserve and only joined the line-up on Monday after being told another competitor had dropped out.