Meet the National Finalists 2023
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 2023 on 3rd April 2023.
The Roux Scholarship regional finals took place at University College Birmingham and University of West London on 9th March and the 18 regional finalists also cooked their recipes for dry-aged heritage beef, one item of beef offal (tongue, heart or kidney) and chicory/Belgian endive. The mystery box dessert challenge was slightly different this year and allowed chefs to be even more creative than previous years; it included a choice of 22 ingredients including strawberries, chocolate and lager beer. Here are the six chefs who were successful in claiming a place in the national final.
National Finalists 2023
Competing in London:
Ben Champkin: “It’s great to keep coming back and be challenged. And this year’s mystery basket threw me a bit. I made a Paris-Brest with strawberries and crème diplomat. I’m looking forward to the final because I feel like it might allow me to just cook how I cook rather than to a recipe, which is where I struggle as I’m not overly classically trained.”
Oliver Dovey: “I still can’t believe it. It’s taken four years of trying, and there are a few things I could have done better but I’m still pleased with how it went. With the mystery box, you get given so many ingredients that your head goes in a spin but the best thing you can do is cross off a lot of things you’re not going to use and it narrows it down and makes it a lot easier.”
Sam Lomas: “I’m really blown away to have got through. The competition was incredibly fierce and there was some amazing talent in the room. But I’m glad I managed to hold my nerve and get through. The mystery box challenge played in my favour, I was nervous about very traditionally classic stuff but choux is something I’m very familiar with and just kept it as simple as possible and did a choux pastry with a craquelin on the outside and some crème diplomat and some strawberries.”
April Lily Partridge: “I’m gob smacked to be honest. I never had the confidence to enter this competition and I was really chuffed to get through to the regionals and I never thought I’d get to the final. When I saw that choux pastry had come up, I thought ‘I’ve never made choux pastry before in my life’, and so it was really tough. I’m so chuffed.”
Competing in Birmingham:
Christopher Clarke: “It was really hard to be honest, I’ve never done anything like it before, so I was surprised by how quick the time went; in fact, I even asked if the clock was wrong! All the other chefs were to such a high standard. It’s my last chance, so I’m really happy to have got through to the final.”
Alex Rothnie: “That was the fastest two and a half hours I have ever experienced, particularly the last half an hour which was stressful but I’m very happy with the results. I was under a lot of pressure because I work with Tom Barnes, a former winner, and he said many times ‘You’ll get through to the final,’ and so he will be very happy.”
The challenge was to cook the recipe they submitted with their application which was blind-judged on 22nd February by our judging panel.
At the regional finals at University College Birmingham and the University of West London, the 18 regional finalists cooked their recipes that included: A striploin of dry-aged Heritage beef (without bones), one beef offal (either heart, tongue, or kidney); together plated with two simple or composed garnishes/accompaniments, one of which had to include chicory (Belgian endive) and the other could be a garnish/accompaniment of the contestant’s choice. A sauce had to accompany the dish. They had two and half a half hours’ cooking time for the dish, alongside a dessert to serve four people made from a “mystery box” of ingredients given on the day. The total cost of the complete dish could not exceed £22.00 per portion.
The Mystery Box Dessert challenge
This year’s mystery box dessert challenge was different to previous competitions: the finalists were tasked with making a dessert with as many or as few ingredients from the 22 items as they liked. They were guided towards demonstrating their skills with choux pastry. We appreciate excellent ingredients supplied by some of our sponsors, including Elle & Vire butter and cream, St Ewe eggs and a selection of goods from Wellocks. The beef for the main dishes was supplied by Aubrey Allen.
250g Elle & Vire Professionnel unsalted butter
500g plain flour
20g yeast dried
250g soft light brown sugar
1ltr Elle & Vire Professionnel whipping cream
1 vanilla pod
2 leaves of ‘silver’ gelatine
400g fresh strawberries
100g corn flour
100g almond ground fine
75g praline hazelnut “Callebaut”
1ltr sunflower oil
12 Rich Yolk St Ewe Free Range Eggs
20g ground cinnamon
150g fondant patissier
1ltr whole milk
100g almonds flaked
330ml lager beer
150g icing sugar
250g caster sugar
140g dark chocolate tab 72% “Michel Cluizel”
Judging at the University of West London, Michel Roux Jr: “It’s always very challenging and gut-wrenching for some, but even those who didn’t get through have left with a big smile on their faces and they can be very proud of what they achieved. In terms of the food, there was some fantastic choux pastry in the desserts. I think giving our finalists more ingredients in the mystery box has actually worked, in so far as we’ve had some fantastic desserts here today.”
Judging in London, Clare Smyth said: “It is great to see such a strong group of young chefs back fighting for the scholarship. I loved the new mystery box as it gave more freedom for creativity.”
Judging in at University College Birmingham, Alain Roux said: “It was a really good mystery box and most finalists had a similar idea of serving a filled choux, with good flavours. Some were very simple with the use of chantilly. Personally, I was expecting something a bit more exciting, but we had two outstanding desserts.”
Judging in at University College Birmingham, James Martin: “There have been highlights today, which were the ones who had obviously practiced their main dish, because they mastered that and got it right, so we have two very strong main courses out of it. I think the dessert is always something that they stumble on, but I think changing the way we use the mystery box has certainly helped them focus their attention a lot better.”
- Ben Champkin has reached the final three times before. This year is his last chance to compete before passing the age limit. He is the only national finalist to have reached this stage before.
- Oliver Dovey has reached the regional finals three times before, this is his first national final.
- Chris Clarke entered his culinary career later than most, having completed a PhD in chemistry first.
- Nicole Benham-Corlette chose not to present her dish because she wasn’t happy with it, for which Michel Roux Jr applauded her for having the confidence to not serve something that wasn’t to her expected standard.