“ To have the chance to be an executive chef in such a prestigious property as Cliveden House is something I never believed possible and I owe everything to the Scholarship and Roux Family.”
Paul O’Neill won the competition in 2013, the Roux Scholarship’s 30th anniversary year, at the age of 27. He did his stage at Pierre Gagnaire, Paris.
Paul started his career in professional kitchens aged just 15 and got his first big break on a training placement in their kitchens at Claridge’s (working under the then Executive Chef John Williams) after he sent his CV to numerous hotels. By the age of 22 he was working as a Senior Sous Chef for Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club in East Sussex, an AA 4 Red Star Property with 2 rosettes.
His career has also seen him take on roles of head chef at Felbridge in East Sussex, and at The Ostrich in Colnbrook, Berkshire. It was during his time at Ashdown Park Hotel in Surrey, during which time Paul decided to take part in the Roux Scholarship competition.
That year, the competition’s anniversary year, came with the prestige of being filmed as a TV Series screened on Watch TV. The format of the competition was changed for the series and viewers saw finalists spend time at different establishments across the country for different masterclasses. Paul travelled to Lime Wood Hotel with Angela Hartnett, Luke Holder and James Martin (other finalists went to Gleneagles with Andrew Fairlie and Rick Stein’s Cookery School in Padstow), as well as The Waterside Inn, and Le Gavroche and even to Switzerland with Michel and Robyn Roux. The final was an even more glittering affair than usual, with a gala dinner taking place at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park where he was crowned Roux Scholar 2013.
After staying a further year at Ashdown Park, Paul joined the team at the luxurious Berwick Hotel, Bristol as Head Chef of Hattusa restaurant in 2014, and then in November 2017 he joined the kitchen of fellow Roux Scholar André Garrett as head chef at Cliveden House, Taplow. When André left in 2019, Paul took the reins as Executive Head Chef where he leads a brigade of 26 covering lunch and dinner services in the main dining room, and elaborate functions such as weddings. He creates menus that draw their beauty from natural flavours, and is completely led by seasonality of his ingredients.
Where did you do your stage?
Pierre Gagnaire in Paris. It was an amazing experience and the opportunity to work in his other one-star restaurant [while the three-star was closed for a week] really helped me gain respect and have more opportunities when going back to the three-star restaurant in Hotel Balzac.
What did you cook in the final, and how did it feel to do it for TV?
Salmon Chambord style with Sauce Genevoise. We had spent so much time with the TV crew leading up to the final it was actually really relaxed and kind of forgot you were being filmed for TV sometimes.
How many times did you enter?
I entered the Roux Scholarship for the first time in 2012, but didn’t get past the paper judging round. I entered again in 2013 and won!
What do you remember most about the competition the year you won?
The experiences leading up to the final were a once in a lifetime opportunity like the three days with Michel and Robyn in Switzerland and the days at Le Gavroche, The Waterside and here at Cliveden, even being able to spend time with all the Roux family and some great chefs made it so special even if I hadn’t have won, so that took the pressure off the final but was a massive bonus that I did win.
What advice would you give applicants?
Base your recipe on what you believe in, not what you think the judges will want, and you will have far more chance of succeeding. If you are cooking something from your heart with passion, rather than something you do not believe in as much, you will do well.
Who are your culinary heroes?
The Roux Family changed food in this country for everyone, which opened up opportunities for chefs like us to develop, learn and succeed for me they will always be the Godfathers and my heros.
Tell us about your current role and career highlights?
To have the chance to be an executive chef in such a prestigious property as Cliveden House is something I never believed possible, and I owe everything to the Scholarship and Roux Family.