In the Taittinger Prix Culinaire UK contest, three chefs went head to head in a Paul Bocuse-inspired challenge for the glory of taking on the French in November’s international final. Emma Lake reports
Three chefs, five hours on the clock and nine industry legends waiting to be served dishes worthy of the great Paul Bocuse. The stage was set for the Taittinger Prix Culinaire UK final held at Roux at Parliament Square, London, on Saturday 14 September.
Tom Scade of the Ritz London, Quentin Plateaux of the Langham, and Michael Dutnall of the Royal Air Force Club went head to head preparing a Paul Bocuse-inspired whole Bresse chicken with self-serve home-style stuffing, poulette sauce and a side of mushroom and chicken liver ravioli in a consommé.
The chicken dish, selected by Taittinger Paris, was to be followed by a tarte aux
pralines roses, selected by chairman of the UK national jury Michel Roux Jr.
As the chefs prepared their technical dishes, Roux Jr told The Caterer: “I chose something in the same theme as the main course, a homage to Paul Bocuse and the Lyonnais region. I chose one of my favourite desserts, a tarte aux pralines roses, a pink praline tart. The pink pralines are emblematic of the Lyonnais region and of Lyon; they stick pink pralines in everything, in brioche, in croissants, in all kinds of desserts – they’re everywhere. The tart is to be served with pears or a pear garnish.
“A pink praline tart is not seen very often here in England and the problem is it can be very, very sweet, so the chefs will have to find how to balance it out with the pear and have a garnish that cancels out that sweetness.”
Describing the main course challenge, he added: “Although all three of our finalists have classic training and classic backgrounds. It is a certain skill being able to cook and serve a whole chicken, whether you bone it out or not. It’s a whole chicken and it’s not easy to do a classic stuffing and then a classic consommé.
“Five hours seems like a lot, but when you break it down, it’s a tall order.”
The dishes were tasted by a panel of judges including Brian Turner, president of the Academy of Culinary Arts; John Williams, executive chef of the Ritz London; and Romuald Feger, executive chef of the Four Seasons Hotel London Park Lane.
Points were given for factors including presentation, taste, seasoning, cooking and observance of the recipe. The chefs were also assessed on how they worked in the kitchen.
After all the scores were counted, Scade was acclaimed as the winner for the second year running and will go forward to represent the UK at the international final in Paris in November. Plateaux came second and Dutnall third.
Scade told The Caterer: “It was tough but enjoyable. It’s always good to test yourself and it’s great to have a classical competition like this with skills that may have been forgotten. At the Ritz London we still cook like this and it’s nice to showcase what we do.”
Scade said that in developing his main course he researched Paul Bocuse, taking one of his stuffing recipes and amending it. He stuffed it under the skin of the chicken, which was cooked en serviette – a process that sees the chicken wrapped in a serviette rubbed with butter and flour and poached in chicken stock. Scade then roasted the chicken to add colour, using Jura wine, the stock and roux from the serviette for a sauce. The dish was garnished with carrots, celery, mushrooms and leeks as well as stuffing, which was served in the shape of shallots and decorated with shallot petals.
The chef used a classic praline recipe for his dessert, which was set in a tart case with a ring of pear compote. A disc of bricelet topped the tarte, along with pears poached in verbena and vanilla and verbena leaves. It was also served with a vanilla crème chantilly.
Explaining the development of the dish, Scade added: “I talked to plenty of other people – that’s how you learn. I talked to the sous chefs around me and to John Williams – he’s been a big help not telling me what to do but showing me a direction and letting me find my own way.
“My dish a month ago was nowhere near that standard. Even in that month I’m a better chef because I’ve had to push myself. In competitions you really have to question yourself and look at yourself.
“My main goal was the flavour. I was 70% happy with the presentation, but the flavour I was 100% happy with, and that’s something I would say to anyone doing this competition: really concentrate on the flavour; it’s not always the aesthetics.”
As the results were announced Roux Jr told those gathered at Roux at Parliament Square: “Today was a fantastic day. We had three great chefs and fantastic judges. It was great to be hosting the competition here at Parliament Square again, and thank you to Taittinger for allowing the UK to have a go at knocking the French off their perch.”
Kevin McKee, UK director of Family Taittinger, added: “The competition was incredibly tough this year. All three finalists are fantastic chefs with incredible skills. Congratulations to Tom for an impressive win. I look forward to seeing him again at the Paris final.”
Scade will have his chance to “knock the French off their perch” in November’s final when he returns to Paris for the second year in a row. He said: “I didn’t know what I was getting into last year, I just got lucky and won and then I went to France and it was a disaster, so I felt I had to give it another shot just to put those demons to rest.
“I’ll go and give it my best. As long as I give it my best and know that I’ve left everything over there.”
Speaking of the international final, Roux Jr said: “Paris is very difficult; it’s tough. Moving away from home territory is always tough, and it’s a very Francophile competition because it’s in Paris and most of the judges are French – it’s daunting. They get the theme sent to them two weeks before so they get the chance to get their head around it, but last year the theme was ‘game’ – it’s pretty big. They know more or less what to expect but they don’t know until the night before exactly what it is.
“This competition has been around for so long – 52 years – and when you look at the roll call of the people who have won it, it’s a very, very tough competition.”