Entries for the Roux Scholarship 2020 close on 31 January. In anticipation of this year's competition, Tom Vaughan catches up with six past winners who now work abroad, to discover how their victory and three-month stage has influenced their globe-trotting careers
1987 scholar, now assistant vice-president (culinary), Galaxy Entertainment, Macau Stuart was a demi chef de partie at the Garrick Club in London when he became the fourth scholar, in 1987. Since winning, his career has taken him from London to Shanghai, Dubai, Turkey and now Macau, where he is assistant vice-president (culinary) at Galaxy Entertainment. In 2016, he won a Michelin star for the Terrazza at the Galaxy Macau.
"When you win the Roux Scholarship, it's with you every day. You feel special – like you are part of an elite team. For my stage I went to Marc Meneau, who was a three star at the time at a restaurant called L'Espérance [in Vezelay, France]. I just felt the environment, the setting, the village life, the fact that Marc had recently won three stars, made it the right move for me.
"You have to prove yourself. I started on menial jobs. One of my first was picking watercress leaves for an oyster dish at the restaurant. From there I moved to whipping the cream, chopping the oysters and cooking some shallots, until I was making the whole dish. It's a dish I've taken on board with me, enhanced slightly and put my own name to it.
"Before going into a kitchen like that, you need a strong knowledge of classical cuisine. That was always my strength. If you know classical cuisine and the foundations, you've already got an advantage when you walk in.
"Knowledge is always power. When I came out here [to Macau], our goal was to win a Michelin star. What did I do? I drew on all my experience from my mentors, including from Marc Meneau, and we got the star in that first year."
1996 scholar, now seeking a new restaurant site in Tokyo Blyth, the winner in 1996, completed his stage with Michel and Jean-Michel Lorain at La Côte Saint-Jacques in Joigny, France. He went on to work at Mallory Court hotel in Leamington Spa and Pelham Street in London before relocating to Japan, where he worked at the French/Asian fusion restaurant, Kayumanis in Tokyo. In 2006 he opened his own restaurant, the White Fox, in the north of the city. The restaurant closed in 2015 and Blyth is currently seeking investment to open a site in central Tokyo.
"A Roux Scholarship is with you forever. It never goes away. Even in Japan, people might not have heard of it, but when you mention it they will Google it, and next time you see them, they are impressed. The food culture in Japan is so strong that something like the Roux Scholarship holds cache. I won it on my fourth attempt and went to work at La Côte Saint-Jacques in France.
"I was lucky because I had worked for Michel Guérard at Les Prés d'Eugénie [in Eugénie-les-Bains, France], so I was – and may still be – the only scholar to have already worked in the country in which they completed their stage. In a way I knew what to expect from a French kitchen. Returning to being a stagiaire when I was in my late twenties wasn't something I had a problem with – it hasn't ever been, all through my career. Being a chef de partie in a one-Michelin-starred restaurant is different to being a chef de partie in a three-Michelin-starred restaurant, so it's not a drop to take a lower position in a better restaurant. The food is more complex; everything is on a higher level.
"Having won the scholarship on my fourth attempt, I'd tell any wannabe scholar that perseverance is the key. It can be a scary experience the first time around, but the more you enter, the more you come to know what to expect. Michel [Roux] describes the scholarship as a family and it really is. There's not just the Roux family behind you, but all the scholars, all of the time – and that's an incredible power base. So if you don't win it, you should enter it again and again and again until you do."
1997 scholar, now private chef, Monaco Love won the scholarship in 1997 while working as a sous chef at Ettington Park hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon. After completing his stage at Alain Ducasse in Paris, he worked at Waldo's restaurant at Cliveden House, Taplow, Berkshire, before opening Love's restaurant in Birmingham with his wife, Claire. Since the restaurant closed in 2015, the couple have run Love's Consultancy, while Steve also works as a private chef aboard yachts for high-networth individuals in Monaco.
"The scholarship took the blinkers off," he says. "I went from a hotel, where one minute you were cooking breakfast and the next you are preparing a buffet, to three-Michelin-starred Alain Ducasse in Paris. I'd never previously stepped foot in a Michelin-starred restaurant, but just seeing the way Alain worked, and the produce he worked with, opened my eyes.
"It was tough at times – the language barrier was hard. I was the first English guy to go into his kitchen and a few chefs didn't understand why I was there. Michel [Roux] told me to go in there, keep my head down and do the jobs they give me. ‘Eventually they'll run out of giving you the easy jobs and give you something better,' he said. ‘They'll test you and you need to prove yourself.'
"It took a couple of weeks, but slowly I gained their respect. They offered me a position, but I had to return to England for my daughters.
"Winning the scholarship was the key turning point in my career. It opened so many doors – it still does. For example, I've been backwards and forwards to Monaco [as a private chef] for four years now. You get to see some incredible produce, which is why I do it, and it's an enjoyable lifestyle.
"It all came about mainly from my connections to the scholarship and the Roux brothers – getting a reference from Michel does wonders for a job application!"
2004 scholar, now executive chef, Sugar Beach, a Viceroy resort, Soufrière, Saint Lucia Jones, the 2004 winner, was sous chef at Claridge's at the time of his win. He went on to work at the Westbury hotel, London, as executive chef before joining Chamberlain's of London as chef-patron. In June 2019, he took up the role of executive chef at the Sugar Beach resort in Saint Lucia.
"When you win the scholarship you become part of a family – an exclusive club. I talk to a lot of the scholars all the time. We go on educational trips together – since I won, we've been to Italy, Dubai, Germany, New York, San Franscisco and Japan. The doors that are opened and the places we get to eat and see are impressive. Without the scholarship, we wouldn't be able to do it.
"For my stage, I went to Michel Bras in the south-west of France. It was an amazing experience – hard work but inspirational. The ethos of the restaurant and the way they invited you into the family was incredible. Even though I was a sous chef at the time, you couldn't walk in with an attitude – you needed to be humble. Yes, it was a step back from my role at Claridge's – you're expected to sweep the floor and clean the dry-store shelves – but that is part of the experience. You are there to learn and grow. You can't go in there with an ego. It opened my eyes to different approaches to food – that something very simple can be an exquisite dish. You don't need to overwork something to make it incredible.
"After 25 years working in London I decided last year that it was time for a change and a new challenge. I've loved my time in London, but now I live 15 minutes from work, I get to drive through a rainforest and past a volcano on my way to the resort, and it's spectacular. The weather is a bit better too."
2007 scholar, now corporate chef, Dining Concepts, Hong Kong Sablon, a winner in 2007 while sous chef at Galvin at Windows in London, went on to work at Hotel Café Royal – first as head chef then executive chef – before relocating to Hong Kong in 2019 to work as a corporate chef for restaurant group Dining Concepts.
"My stage was an amazing, amazing experience and I still keep in contact with the people I worked alongside – 12 years later. When you work in London it's so important to broaden your horizons and go abroad. My background was in French cooking, but I'd always worked in a city, so going to work with Marc Haeberlin at Auberge de l'Ill in the Alsace countryside was completely different. And it was a family-run restaurant, also completely different from what I knew. Some of the dishes hadn't changed for 35 years, so I got to learn about traditional French cuisine.
"It was my second stage abroad – and the first one also came about because of the Roux Scholarship. The year before I won, I got to the finals and I met the executive chef of the Four Seasons hotel in Hampshire. He offered to arrange a stage for me at the George V, the Four Seasons' hotel in Paris, and while I was there I also met Pierre Gagnaire and did a day in his kitchen.
"Once you enter the scholarship you begin to build contacts that you could never dream of. I've always wanted to work abroad full time, but never really had the opportunity. When this position came up in Hong Kong, I spoke to Alain [Roux] for advice and he encouraged me to go and broaden my horizons and experience different ingredients.
"Now, I'm here, the sushi and dim sum is on a different level and I've had a chance to learn and to bring that into the restaurants I look after. "The scholarship is the best competition for chefs. To win is amazing, but even if you don't, it's still a great opportunity – it's about the experience of working under pressure and the chance to meet incredible chefs. If you are not successful, try again and again."
2015 scholar, now head chef, In Situ, San Francisco, the US Scaramuzza had been head chef at Claude Bosi's Hibiscus restaurant in London for five years when he entered the scholarship, winning it on his first attempt in 2015. He completed his stage at Corey Lee's Benu in San Francisco, before staying on as a head chef at Lee's nearby restaurant In Situ.
"The scholarship is one of the best training programmes there is – its is all about investing in your future. It puts your career in the limelight," he says. "I chose to go to Corey [Lee] because I'd followed his career, right back to when he was at the French Laundry. He was doing something completely different – he'd been working in French fine dining for all those years and was opening something with his own identity – a little bit Asian, Chinese. It was really out there and original – no one was doing anything like it.
"There was lot of things in terms of technique and ingredients that I had never been exposed to, so I learned a ton. I was a head chef at a two-Michelin-starred restaurant at the time, so going in as a stagiaire was certainly humbling. You might have more experience than lots of the chefs in the kitchen, but that's not the point – you are there to learn. By the end I was on the pass, which is pretty rare for a stage.
"After three or four days, Brandon [Rodgers] – who was head chef at the time and is now executive chef of the group – asked me what my plans were. I told him I didn't have any as I had left Hibiscus before my stage. Very quickly, they got the ball rolling on keeping me and arranging my sponsorship. The Roux Scholarship was a huge factor in me getting a Green Card. A lot of chefs can get a J-1 visa for the US, which is a one-year working visa, but the press and all the stuff that comes with the scholarship helped me enormously.
"Whatever level you are at, to get an opportunity to have a three-month stage somewhere overseas is incredible. And to have that set up for you at a three-Michelin-starred restaurant – without the scholarship, it's not impossible but it's very, very difficult."
How to enter the 2020 Roux Scholarship
Candidates for the 2020 scholarship must be in full-time employment as a chef in the UK and aged between 22 and 30, with their 30th birthday no earlier than 1 February 2020.
Those eligible should submit a recipe for four people using one whole fresh MSC-labelled hake and 600g live whole grooved carpet shell/palourde clams, accompanied by a leek and one other garnish, together with a sauce.
The chefs who create the 18 best recipes will be invited to cook their dish and a dessert from a mystery box of ingredients at the regional finals in Birmingham and London on 19 March.
The final will be held in London on 6 April and the winner will be announced at an awards ceremony that evening at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London.
Deadline for entries is midnight on 31 January. To enter, go to www.rouxscholarship.co.uk/entry-landing