Louise Roberts, 21, apprentice chef at Lexington Catering, won this year’s Chef Stagiaire award, beating runner-up Andrew Leonard after a seven-day final at two-Michelin-starred Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. She speaks to Hannah Thompson about competition nerves, her dreams for the future and the contest’s prizes
How did it feel when you won?
I couldn’t stop giggling. It was just shock and happiness. I didn’t expect to win, so it was a really nice surprise.
What swung it in your favour?
I’m not sure, but they said I was a clear winner, and hearing that from Michelin-starred chefs is amazing. I think it was my attitude as well. We both worked hard, but I think it was my enthusiasm in what I was doing.
What was it like working in that kind of operation?
It was amazing – just being in that kitchen. Everything was perfect.
What did you learn?
So many things: how to discipline myself, and that there was a different side to cooking that I enjoyed.
What’s the main difference between your contract catering role and a Michelin-starred place?
We’re all trying to make nice food, but it’s a different scale. Contract catering isn’t different, but the stuff that Dinner was creating was just beautiful. I tasted everything. I was wide-eyed and full the whole day, always asking questions.
What’s next after Lexington?
Lexington is my family. Rob Kirby is so supportive, and the executive chef there, Matt Jaynes, helped me practise and calm down, even though he had so much on. But I’d love to do a Michelin-starred restaurant. Working at Dinner opened my eyes, big-time.
Your prizes are amazing – an all-expenses-paid trip to the three-Michelin-starred Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas and the Six Senses Zighy Bay in Oman.
I know! I don’t think it will hit me until I get there. I’m so excited.
In terms of the cooking, are you looking forward to seeing a three-Michelin-starred kitchen?
It’s daunting. I’ve been looking at their menu, but it’s all in French, and I’m thinking, I’m from Essex, I don’t understand this! But I can’t wait to get in there and see what it’s like.
What has the competition helped you with most?
Calming my nerves. I got such good feedback from such good chefs that I have no need to be nervous any more. If I can do that, I can do anything.
Has the experience given you the competition bug?
I’d like to try for the Craft Guild’s Graduate Awards or the Young National Chef of the Year.
Does it make a difference being a woman in a mainly male arena?
It is hard. When I was at Dinner, there was only one other girl in the kitchen. I don’t want it to be like that. Many women want a family, maybe a nine to five job, but obviously when you’re a chef, you don’t get nine to five.
What’s your dream career goal?
I don’t know! Just to be successful. I’m 21, I want to qualify as I travel. I want to go round the world and see everything. I’d love to go to India, Thailand, Australia… I’d love to work with Tom Kerridge too, and to work with Jason Atherton in Asia would be amazing.