“My instant vision on the final dish was to keep it peasant-like, focus purely on the flavours, not to make fine dining, I wanted it to keep its original artisanal style, and that's what I did.”
Chris Colmer won the Roux Scholarship in 1995 at the age of 25. He did his stage with Pierre and Michel Troisgros at Troisgros in Roanne, France. It was the first time he entered the competition.
Chris developed a love of food from a young age, thanks to his mother who was a Cordon Bleu-trained home economics teacher. He first got a part-time job in catering at his local golf club before going to catering college in Peterborough.
Although Chris didn’t enjoy school, he loved catering college and cooking quickly became his passion. He excelled in the Cambridge Salon Culinaire, getting the silver prize.
His first role was in Windsor working at Sir Christopher Wren’s House Hotel, where the head chef was James Murphy, whose firm but fair approach helped Chris learn the basics of being a chef. This, coupled with Chris’ hunger to learn all the different sections of the kitchen, meant he fuelled his passion, and quicky moved on to a role as demi-chef de partie at Oakley Court, also in Windsor, where he was focussed on big functions. Though he wasn’t as excited by his role there, Chris got into competitions and entered the Young Chef of the Year competition where he was runner up. Through the competition, he met chef Chris Suter, who went on that year to win. Suter offered Chris a job at Bishopstrow House in Warminster, and he regained his love of cooking.
When Chris won the Roux Scholarship, he was head chef at The Greenway Hotel in Cheltenham. He then moved on to Bailiffscourt Hotel in West Sussex, where fellow Roux Scholar Martin Hadden is now executive chef.
From there, Chris went on to work at Ynyshir Hall Hotel in Wales, where he found confidence in cooking great food with great ingredients in an idyllic setting. The restaurant won three AA rosettes, and Chris also won the title National Chef of Wales, and was twice a runner-up in the Young Chef of the Year competition. Chris cites the Roux Scholarship as the highlight of his career; it allowed him to work with some of the greatest chefs in the world, Michel Troisgros.
Later, Chris left the hotel trade and worked with some of the leading retailers in Britain, which allowed him to focus this strength in bringing quality to a bigger audience. He has worked as a senior development chef with Bakkavor and is now Head of Food at JDM Food Group, which sees him manage all new product development as the company supplies to major retailers across the country, as well as business to business and cook deliver businesses (such as HelloFresh and Gousto).
Where did you do your stage?
Going to work in such a great kitchen as Maison Troisgros matured me and my style of cooking, it gave me a true focus on cooking, and allowed me to evolve my style. Simplicity, but the best ingredients, don’t over complicate, something I was guilty of in the past.
What did you cook in the final?
I remember the final well, four days before the competition, I was dying with man flu, that close to death I started writing my will, I remember waking the morning of the competition, feeling a million dollars, it was a glorious day, the sun shining, and I made my way down the M4 with the window wound down getting fresh air in my lungs. I was stopping at the Goring Hotel, once I had checked in, I walked to the Four Seasons, and I remember watching Jean-Christophe Novelli finishing up service before we were allowed in to get set up, I felt great, nervous but exhilarated in anticipation that today was going to be my day. Once set up, we walked into a room where I met the competition, we were all told that we were going to cook a classic Basque fish stew called Ttoro, my instant vision on this was to keep it peasant-like, focus purely on the flavours, not to make fine dining, I wanted it to keep its original artisanal style, and that's what I did.
How many times did you enter?
I won on my first time of entering; everything just went perfectly. I was nervous, but hungry to do my best, just cooking in the kitchen with my peers walking around judging you, it made my day, Jean-Christophe Novelli, Gary Rhodes, Brian Turner, Michel and Albert Roux. Wow! It was like cooking for my dream team. I remember the evening, at the prize ceremony, I was sat there knowing I’d cooked my best, knowing I’d given it 110%, but when my name was called out, I couldn’t believe it…. Me! Really! The winner of this great competition! It gave me goosebumps, and a heap of swear words that were probably best staying in my head.
Why were you inspired to enter the Roux Scholarship?
I had previously entered Young Chef of the Year, where I had come runner up twice, I had always wanted to enter into the Roux Scholarship, in fact I had previously filled in an entry form, but bottled it. 1995 however, I grew a pair! The main ingredient for the main dish, was skate wing. I loved cooking skate wing and had just the dish, skate wing barigoule, a dish I had cooked time and time before, however the challenge was the mystery basket for dessert. No practice, no recipe book, just turn up on the day, and get your ingredients 30 minutes before the competition started. This scared me, so I decided, I was going to print every basic pastry recipe I could think of and I stuck them on the wall in the kitchen, and started my task of remembering as many recipes as I could. I'm so glad I did this.
What do you remember most about the competition the year you won?
There are a lot of memories, but the one thing that sticks in my mind is the day I sent in my application: am I good enough? Will I make myself look stupid? But you've got to be in it to win it… believe in yourself and try your best, and if that doesn’t work, you can’t say you didn’t try. I remember the day of the final and the people I met. That, for me, was priceless: cooking for chefs I never ever thought I would. Don’t enter, and you’ll regret not giving it a go! Believe in yourself and enjoy the experience. I'm getting goosebumps now just thinking about my day!
What advice would you give applicants?
The dessert box was my biggest nightmare, as I have said previously, get all your recipes, and learn them inside out, put the recipes up on the wall and get your team to test you on the build up to the regionals, anyone can cook with the recipe bible, but can you do it without it?
What is it like to be a Roux Scholar?
I feel humbled to be part of such a great family of chefs. Being a Roux Scholar makes me extremely proud, and I know I always have support there if I ever need it.