It was third time lucky for Steve Drake, head chef of newly opened restaurant Drakes on the Pond in Abinger Hammer, Surrey, when he won the prestigious Roux Scholarship held at London’s Claridge’s hotel last week.
Drake, who was unplaced when he competed in the 1999 and 2000 finals, was a clear winner of the 18th staging of the scholarship, according to the judging panel headed by the event’s renowned co-founders, Michel and Albert Roux. This year was the last in which Drake, now 28 years old, was eligible to compete, as the event is open only to British-trained chefs aged between 22 and 28 on 1 February of the appropriate scholarship year.
“I thought I’d done OK, but wasn’t sure if I’d won. It really helped having competed before. I knew when to take things slowly and really focus on the recipe I was cooking,” commented Drake after his triumph was announced.
The six finalists – all drawn, for the first time, from establishments outside London – were required to cook a classic Escoffier dish revealed to them just 45 minutes before the two-hour cook-off started. This year’s test was a timbale of langoustine tails served with a Nantua sauce – timbale being interpreted in its original Escoffier sense as a vol-au-vent.
Judge Simon Hopkinson, joint proprietor of Bibendum in London, summed up the collective opinion of the 10-strong adjudicating panel when he stated: “His [Drake’s] sauce has loads of flavour, the quenelles are light and the pastry underneath is cooked properly, which is fantastic.”
Drake’s prize includes a three-month stage at a three-Michelin-starred European restaurant of his choice, a £2,500 cash prize, a four-night trip to Japan, courtesy of Global Knives, and a trip to the wine cellars of Champagne house Gosset at Ay, France. “I haven’t chosen where I want to go for the stage yet, but I’m pretty certain it will be somewhere in France,” said Drake.
Leo Lehtimaki, junior sous chef at the soon-to-be-opened Consensus restaurant in Brighton, clinched the runner-up spot and a prize that includes a cheque for £1,500 and two weeks’ work experience in either of the Roux family restaurants – the three-Michelin-starred Waterside Inn in Bray, or the two-Michelin-starred Le Gavroche, London.
The event was set up 17 years ago by the Roux brothers in order to encourage young UK chefs and showcase their talent abroad.
By Joanna Wood