April Lily Partridge
“It can be easy to think you should be clever to try and impress the judges, but in fact it’s best to stick with what you know and what you know well. ”
At the award ceremony for the 2023 competition, our Honorary Judges Michel and César Troisgros opened the gold envelope to announce that April Lily Partridge had won The Roux Scholarship. As she covered her eyes in disbelief, the five other finalists applauded her with the utmost respect and admiration. While she may not have believed she could win it, everyone around her – who had shared the kitchen with her that day - had seen that she was a truly talented chef who had excelled in the final.
April first realised she wanted to be a chef when she did her work experience aged 15 at The Reform Club in London. The placement was her ‘lightbulb moment’: she loved the camaraderie of the kitchen and how a mix of different people all came together as a team. After this, she was encouraged by her teachers to take part in the Springboard Futurechef competition as well as the Rotary Club Young Chef competition, for which she won the London heat.
Part of the prize was a day’s work placement at The Ivy (the original restaurant in its pre-chain days). April continued to work there on Saturdays and in school holidays and fell in love with working in the kitchen. After a year of sixth-form college, she transferred to work at The Ivy while simultaneously training at Westminster Kingsway College on a scholarship placement. This turned into a full-time job, during which time April was nominated for the Observer Food Awards Young Chef of the Year award 2014, which she won.
Around this time, April also entered the Young National Chef of the Year competition three times. On her second try, she was competing against Luke Selby and was hugely inspired by his cooking; seeing him work she ‘wanted to be as good as him’. On her third and final try, she was runner up.
April was keen to experience working in other kitchens, so used her savings to live while she staged in different restaurants around the country including The Hand and Flowers in Marlow, Paul Ainsworth at No. 6, The Ledbury and The Clove Club, where she went on to work for 18 months.
A chance meeting with American chef Dan Barber while at The Clove Club led to her being invited to eat at his restaurant while she was in New York on holiday. Seeing Barber’s clever use of vegetables was life-changing – especially as she had hated eating vegetables as a child. She was determined to understand more and went to work at his Blue Hills Stone Barns for a year on a J1 visa. On her return from the US, April was ready for a new challenge and applied to The Ledbury which she had always admired and hoped to work at.
Under the tutelage and mentorship of Brett Graham, April thrived at The Ledbury, and particularly loved cooking meat. However, after 18 months, the world came to a standstill due to the Covid 19 pandemic. While The Ledbury was closed, April worked in a Notting Hill fish shop, started her own catering business Pril’s Pantry and worked at The Harwood Arms. When The Ledbury reopened in February 2022, April re-joined the brigade as sous chef and went to on compete once again in the National Chef of the Year award 2022, coming in third place, having also been third in 2020 – the highest placed female in the history of the competition. She also won an Acorn award in 2022 and has many other accolades.
However, there was one key competition she hadn’t yet tried for: The Roux Scholarship. With the changes to the format for the final recipe and an alternative star prize option, April decided to send in a last-minute entry on her last year before passing the age limit. She sailed through the blind-judged recipe application and then the regional finals with her recipe of striploin of dry-aged heritage beef with endive, chervil root, BBQ beef heart, ponzu hollandaise and Kampot pepper sauce.
On the 3rd April 2023, April became the second ever female chef to win The Roux Scholarship.
What did you cook in the final?
The theme was to create a hot monkfish pie, inspired by a recipe from the Troisgros family, and we had to use truffle and the monkfish, beyond that, the brief was then open to my own interpretation. I made a shortcrust pithivier and I lined the inside with dressed spinach and it had a barbecue shitake duxelles, with smaller pieces of monkfish tail inside. I tried to keep that relatively dry so it would hold its shape and not pop and explode. Then I wanted to make an amazing sauce that would be poured over it to bring in more flavour and moisture. On the side, I used the prime pieces of monkfish and lined the outside with some spinach and daikon. I made some mousse with all the trimmings that sat on top of the prime piece of monkfish and that had citrus zest in it and fresh flavours, such as fresh ginger for some heat and chives and truffle. Then that was poached and carved. There was also a lot of alliums in the display of ingredients and I love cooking alliums, so I used them in all different ways. At Blue Hill, I learned it was as important not to waste any vegetables as it was to not waste any meat or fish. So I used some of tops of the onions charred to bring some bitterness to the plate, and I used the bones from the monkfish to make the sauce.
How did you enjoy working with your commis chef?
My commis chef was amazing, I was so pleased I was partnered with a woman, too. I told her we were just going to cook from the heart. As we were coming up to the pass, I asked her to pick some thyme leaves up there, but I didn’t even use them, I just wanted her there at the end with me.
What advice would you give future finalists?
I knew from friends who had been in the final, that you have to make sure you read the brief, or you’ll lose points. It was only on reading the second time I noticed that I had to use the truffle, so I went through all the things I had to use and then worked around that. It can be easy to think you should be clever to try and impress the judges, but in fact it’s best to stick with what you know and what you know well.
Who are your culinary heroes?
Brett Graham is my greatest inspiration in the industry by a very long stretch. He is just a wonderful person, and such a brilliant cook, so kind and compassionate. He’s one in a million. There are powerhouses in the industry that I look up to as well. Lisa Goodwin Allen is next level and Oli Williamson is one of my heroes. He is incredible cook but the way he leads a team is unbelievable. Daniel Smith, he’s someone I really look up to, as well.
What are your ambitions for the future?
I just love to cook, and I want to have my own place one day. I won’t be thinking about stars. I love The Ledbury because of the calibre and the standard and precision, that’s what I love. If you’re good enough, those stars will come. I want to be a really good craftswoman and I plan to use my Roux Scholarship prize to help me fill my knowledge and skills gaps, to learn about fish, bread, charcuterie, fresh cheese. I can then use it when I have my own restaurant. It will be life-changing for me.