Chef Jérémy Desbraux from L'Hotel de Ville à Crissier in Switzerland has won the 49th annual Le Prix Culinaire International Le Taittinger, held in Paris yesterday afternoon (Monday 23 November), judged in part by Le Gavroche chef Michel Roux Jr.
Desbraux competed for Switzerland against six other contestants, including two from France, and one each from Holland, Belgium, and Japan, for a first prize of €10,000. The UK candidate, Rajkumar Holuss, first sous chef at the three-Michelin-starred Waterside Inn in Bray, Berkshire, came second, an unexpectedly high position given that this was the UK's first time back in the contest after a 10-year break. He took the second prize of €4,800, while Alexandre Fabris from the restaurant Le Grain de Sel won €2,500.
The final results were announced at a Taittinger celebratory dinner on Monday evening at the Parisian club the Cercle de l'Union Interaillée, in part by the Taittinger family - including daughter and marketing director, Vitalie - and with the president of the Jury, the three-Michelin-starred chef of Mégève restaurant Flocons de Sel, Emmanuel Renaut.
Holuss, originally from Mauritius - and finalist in the UK regional Bocuse d'Or selection earlier this year - won through to the international contest after winning the UK regional final in September.
Hosted at the revered Parisian cookery school, Ecole Ferrandi, in the 6th arrondissement, the Taittinger contest is open to chefs of any nationality working in France, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland or the UK, aged between 24 and 39, with over five years' experience.
This year the contestants had five hours to prepare a dish of a saddle of lamb with kidneys, plus two garnishes including one set dish of an autumn vegetable "chartreuse", with lamb offal, and another that was free choice, as long as it was prepared with potato. The dish was also to have a sauce or a jus served in a gravy boat.
Contestants were told in advance that they would be cooking lamb with autumn vegetables, but only learned the specifics of the contest - that it would be a saddle of lamb with kidneys - yesterday night.
They were also told three weeks in advance that the dessert would be a "Conversation" tart - a traditionally-French, 18th century tart made with thinly-rolled puff pastry, ground almond cream, and thin royal icing on the top. The moulds for this needed to be exactly 8cm in diameter and each of the six cakes prepared needed to be as identical as possible.
The prestigious line-up of tasting judges included Le Gavroche chef Michel Roux Jr, Michel Roth, Christophe Bacquié, Arnaud Lallement, Pierre Resimont, Lars Van Galen, Hiroshi Hirota, Gérard Boyer, Ulf Wagner, Pekka Terava, Stephanie Le Quellec and Virginie Basselot.
Chef at London hotel the Rosewood, Amandine Chaignot, was also one of three judges in the kitchen (alongside Bernard Leprince, and Christian Née), judging the contestants on cleanliness, kitchen etiquette and organisation.
Speaking after finding out he had won, Desbraux said he never expected to win, adding: "I feel great, it's a good result. Now all I can do is carry on improving and entering even more competitions."
Michel Roux Jr joined Renaut in saying that the most important judging criteria for this contest was the taste and cooking quality, rather than any glamorous presentation.
Roux Jr said: "Winning this means an awful lot. You only have to look at the list of previous winners - to be rubbing shoulders with them, for example, Joel Robuchon - and realise it means a lot for their future. It doesn't just open doors, it opens gateways!" He also added that he had been very impressed with Holuss's calmness and composure ahead of the competition, and congratulated him on his 2nd place.
Holuss simply said that the time had gone very quickly, and that he had been very pleased with his plates and his result, and had been thinking he would aim for third position, not second.
Taittinger's sole distributor in the UK is Hatch Mansfield.