“Be a sport: it’s a competition, so have a true sportsman spirit and be helpful if necessary. Most of all enjoy it! ”
Hrishikesh Desai won the Roux Scholarship in 2009, at the age of 29 on his first attempt. He staged at The French Laundry, Yountville, California.
Hrishi is currently Executive Head Chef, Gilpin Hotel and Lake House in the Lake District.
Raised in the Indian state of Maharashtra, Hrishikesh decided to become a chef during a visit to France, when he witnessed a crème brûlée being blowtorched. After initially training to work front of house, Hrishikesh’s fluency in the French language earned him a scholarship to train at the Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon, and so he decided to train as a chef. After working in France, Hrishi moved to Britain and worked as a commis chef at The Burford Bridge Hotel in Surrey. Prior to arriving in France, he worked as a KP/commis chef in a bakery in India.
Hrishikesh has a wealth of experience having attended the Institute Paul Bocuse, and worked at Les Maison de Bricourt (two-star Michelin), Le Chateau de Bagnol (one-star Michelin) and Lucknam ‘The Park’ (one-star Michelin). He is one of the few chefs to have won both the Roux Scholarship and the Craft Guild of Chef’s National Chef of the Year (2010). He was working as a chef de partie at Lucknam Park in Wiltshire when he won the Roux Scholarship, and was promoted to head chef shortly afterwards. Hrishi was the first Roux Scholar to stage in the USA.
Hrishikesh moved to The Gilpin Hotel in the spring of 2015, after winning BBC 2’s Alex Polizzi: Chefs on Trial, a programme that searched for a new head chef for the hotel after the owners, the Cunliffe family, failed to find the right person.
His hard work and dedication were rewarded soon after with a coveted Michelin star in the 2017 Michelin Guide for his restaurant HRiSHi, where his imaginative dishes combine great Lake District produce and classic methods to deliver modern British dishes with a twist of Asia. His food is influenced not just by Indian cuisine and his French classical training, but also Thai and Chinese food, using ingredients sourced far and wide - starting at the heart of Cumbria, where The Gilpin Hotel is located.
Hrishi took part in the 2019 and 2020 series of Great British Menu on BBC2 and twice reached the regional finals.
Where did you do your stage?
The French Laundry in California. The whole place just exudes confidence and a love and respect for the ingredient. From the garden across the road to every ingredient that comes in such as fish flown in from Japan everything gets broken down and cooked in a certain way and that is what I learnt, and it is an incredible lesson.
What did you cook in the final?
Brill cherubin with spinach croquettes. The dish was tough as we had to skin the raw fish without filleting the fish. We also had to prepare a tomato fondue, crispy parsley, hollandaise sauce and croquettes. The tough part was to bring all the elements together as they had to be balanced. I remember late Gary Rhodes asking me questions on cooking of the fish. The entire Roux family also inspected my work and asked me questions. As it was my first final, I was nervous because there were others who had been in the finals two or three times.
How many times did you enter?
I entered in 2007 but did not go to the finals. I lost track in cooking in 2008, but in 2009 I decided to give it another go as I was 29 years old and it was my last chance for the scholarship. 2009 was my first final and I am glad that I won it in the first attempt.
What do you remember most about the competition the year you won?
When my name was announced, I was surprised. I had tucked a few books under my arms to be ready to clap the person who would win but when I heard my name I was thrilled. For a few seconds I could not see anything in the room, all I could hear was clapping, I guess this was due to the fact of element of surprise that I was capable of winning a competition of such a high profile. It took some time to understand that I had won , once I had taken in the news, I enjoyed the feeling.
What advice would you give applicants?
Read the criteria two or three times; prepare and practice very hard; ask fellow chefs to taste your food; prepare and practice techniques that you haven’t done or mastered; prepare a day in advance before you arrive to the competition – time for travelling, equipment, ingredients etc. Also, be a sport – it’s a competition, so have a true sportsman spirit and be helpful if necessary. Most of all enjoy the competition!
Who are your culinary heroes?
Michel Roux Snr – like my grandfather who supported me a lot. He was so happy when Gilpin was awarded a Michelin star. Hywel Jones – my mentor and father figure. He took me as a child in his kitchen and made me a man that can stand on his own feet. Great person, great heart and an excellent teacher. Thomas Keller – Legendary chef and I am glad that I got a chance to train at the French Laundry and dine at Per Se.
Tell us about your current role?
Currently I am the executive chef of One-star Michelin and four AA rosette, HRiSHi restaurant at the Gilpin Hotel and Lake House in Cumbria. I also overlook Gilpin Spice, casual dining restaurant as well and I am very proud that it has been awarded a Michelin Plate and 2 AA rosette. Achieving the Michelin star was thrilling, but to push the HRiSHi restaurant from 3 to 4 rosettes was a great feeling too.
What have been your other career highlights to date?
I have thoroughly enjoyed winning the Roux Scholarship in 2009 followed by the coveted National Chef of the Year title from the Craft Guild of Chefs in 2010. I was also awarded the Paul Bocuse entrepreneur award in 2018. HRiSHi restaurant has won the Cumbria Life best restaurant of the year award in 2018 and I was the finalists for the Cumbria Life chef of the year in 2016, 2017 and 2019. Great British Menu was also a highlight, a competition I enjoyed doing on TV and achieving 10/10 in pudding and main course in 2018/2019. I have appeared in couple of television programmes but they did not air due to the COVID pandemic situation so looking forward to seeing them in 2021. I am the Chairman of Judges for the Young National Chef of the Year, it is an honour to set the competition for the youngsters and have enjoyed the success of it.