The Roux Scholarship has announced its 18 regional finalists ahead of 14 March heats of the prestigious culinary competition in Birmingham and London.
Alain Roux said: "The level seems to be very high this year. It's good to see so many first time applicants, which shows that - even after all the years the competition has been running - it is still regarded by the younger generation of chefs as something with high value. Getting to the regional final in a competition of this level is already a very high achievement and they can take a lot of out of it. Even if they don't go through to the final, they've worked hard and improved as a chef."
This year's competition will see them create a recipe to serve four people using one short saddle of hogget, along with four hogget kidneys, served plated with two garnishes or components, one of which must include a potato rosti.
Alongside Alain and Michel Roux Jr, judges will include industry figureheads like Brian Turner and Angela Hartnett, as well as former winners like Simon Hulstone (2003), Sat Bains (1999) and André Garrett (2002).
Brian Turner said: "The recipes across the board were marginally better than they are year on year, so I'm really looking forward to seeing them cook. A nice thing about the first-timers, is that all come from houses and people who understand the value of competitions such as the Roux Scholarship. It's important the chefs understand the classics and the value of the classics, and that they understand how things are balanced and it's not all bells and whistles. A lot of houses know that this is the competition to be associated with."
The six winners will then go on to participate in the national final on 1 April at Westminster Kingsway College, with judges including Australia's Peter Gilmore, who this year serves as honorary president, and Core's Clare Smyth.
Smyth said: "I really love hogget, it's a really under-utilised meat and there are some really delicious-sounding dishes this year. It's also nice to see a female chef among the finalists; once the identities were revealed, I realised she had one of my highest scores so I was excited about that. There are some great name houses in there - it's going to be a really exciting competition, a tough one."
This year's contestants:
Scott Braithwaite, L'Enclume, Cartmel, Cumbria
Scott Dineen, BaxterStorey Fine Dining, London
Adam Harper, the Cavendish Hotel at Baslow, Derbyshire
Spencer Metzger, the Ritz, London
Curtis Tonge, the Chester Grosvenor, Cheshire
Ricki Weston, Whatley Manor, Gloucestershire
Judges: Alain Roux, Brian Turner, Angela Hartnett, Simon Hulstone (2003 scholar)
Ryan Baker, the Ritz, London
Jordan Bayes, Tuddenham Mill, Newmarket, Suffolk
Bence Burai, Texture Restaurant, London
Olivia Catherine Burt, Claridge's, London
Michael Cruickshank, Bohemia, Jersey
Oliver Dovey, BaxterStorey Fine Dining, London
Patrick Frischknecht, the Clove Club, London
Ben Hobson, Galvin at Windows, London
Lewis Linley, Vacherin, London
Ioannis Mexis, Hide, London
Samuel Nash, L'Enclume, Cartmel, Cumbria
Luke Sutton, the Woodspeen, Newbury, Berkshire
Judges: Michel Roux Jr, Rachel Humphrey, James Martin, Sat Bains (1999 scholar), André Garrett (2002 scholar)
Reserves:Tim Kendall, Idle Rocks Hotel, Cornwall
Andrew Sleath, Restaurant 22, Cambridgeshire