Michelin stars in their eyes

Every year, the Roux brothers give a British chef entrée to Europe's top kitchens.
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Indy Lifestyle Online

If Britain had more well-known chefs and took the profession more seriously, the loud-mouthed few would attract less attention. So says Michel Roux, who has in his time - and currently with the publication of his autobiography - encouraged and enjoyed plenty of attention.

If Britain had more well-known chefs and took the profession more seriously, the loud-mouthed few would attract less attention. So says Michel Roux, who has in his time - and currently with the publication of his autobiography - encouraged and enjoyed plenty of attention.

Not only for himself. He has done more than most to raise the profile of his profession in his adopted country. Roux never hesitated to criticise the state of food he found when he arrived here 33 years ago: "My brother Albert and I, we had to teach the British how to eat. All they cared about was that food must be hot and must be large," he claims. "We brought London a complete change of custom and attitude. A revolution."

Increasingly, Roux's eloquence and energy have been expended on ways to further improve our national reputation, by introducing young British chefs to French classical cuisine. The brothers have done this in their restaurants, including their original Le Gavroche, and for the past 27 years, the Waterside Inn at Bray.

Hundreds of chefs have passed through the kitchens, baptised and raised in the traditions the brothers grew up with in France. But Michel is particularly concerned to promote another of the brothers' contribution to training - the Roux Scholarship.

For the past 17 years, this route to the top for a hand-picked élite has been closely overseen by Roux himself. The Roux Scholarship gives one young chef a year (the competition is not open to amateurs, only to chefs aged between 22 and 28 who trained in Britain) a unique chance to leapfrog into the upper echelon of chefdom.

Nearly all past winners are now head chefs and respected among their peers. Sat Bains won last year, and has become head chef at Hotel de Clos in Nottingham. Martin Hadden, who won 10 years ago, is head chef at Ockenden Manor. The first scholar, Andrew Fairlie, holds a Michelin star at One Devonshire Gardens in Glasgow. Jonathan Harrison, the 1993 winner, runs a gastro pub, the Sandpiper Inn in Leyburn, North Yorkshire. Only one winner has been a woman, though not for lack of trying to attract women to enter.

In trying to attract people to aim for the top of the profession, the Roux Scholarship is working against the off-putting attitudes spouted by the likes of Gordon Ramsay. Even so, the Roux are committed to the foie gras and truffles, no luxuries-too-great, no-graft-too-hard culture of providing meals that attract Michelin-stars. Each scholar is steeped in this world. For the scholarship consists not just of prizes such as a trip to Tokyo, champagne and visit to the cellars, but the chance to work at one of the most rigorous kitchens in Europe.

Roux, as chef of the only Michelin three-star restaurant in Britain, belongs to an unofficial club. "On a European level, we [the Roux brothers] have a reputation as leaders," Michel believes. It means he can pick up the phone to any other chef in the same league and ask: will they take one of his scholars for three months? Only one has refused. Though the scholars could go anywhere in Europe, all but one have chosen France.

Frederick Forster, the current scholar, from south London, recalls the tension of the national final: "I was slaughtered, drained." He chose to work with Pierre Gagnaire, one of the most brilliantly experimental chefs in Paris, who thinks nothing of whizzing up foie gras with oysters, adding caviar, tuna and seaweed; of making rosemary marshmallows and crystallising aubergine for petits fours.

What the winners have in common, says Roux, is "they can make ingredients shine, bringing the best flavour to their dish so it is still alive."

Entries, in the form of a recipe, for next year's scholarship must be in by mid-January; the regional heats, in which contestants cook their recipes from scratch, take place before the final in April. Judges include The Independent's Simon Hopkinson, Gary Rhodes, and two more Roux: Michel's son Alain, and Albert's son Michel, work in their father's restaurants respectively and help choose the next scholar.

 

For entry forms for the 2001 Roux Scholarship call 020-8831 7660 or e-mail roux@golleyslater.co.uk. From the end of next week, the website is www.rouxscholarship.co.uk

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