Charles Coulombeau, head chef of Gravetye Manor in West Sussex, has carried off one of the world's most lucrative and revered culinary titles, Le Taittinger Prix Culinaire.
He scooped the €20,000 (£17,136) top prize after impressing the judges at the international final in Paris with two dishes.
The eight finalists from the UK, Belgium, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland had advance notice of a scallop dish which Coulombeau prepared with cabbage, truffle, butternut squash, caramelised shallots, walnuts and an Earl Grey and bergamot sauce. The second dish – a root vegetables pithivier with a caramelised onion and truffle jus – was revealed the night before the final on Tuesday.
Coulombeau, who has followed in the footsteps of past holders of the Taittinger Prix Culinaire title including Joël Robuchon and Michel Roth, told The Caterer that his success was only just sinking in. "When I see the list of previous winners I feel really humble.
"I wasn't sure at all at how well I had done. I was happy with my set recipe but the level was very high. I had a good feeling about the pithiviers as it was really inspiring."
As well as saving some his prize money for future plans, Coulombeau also intends to travel with his wife Roxane, the restaurant manager at Gravetye Manor, "to thank her for being supportive and catch up with her as she let me practice and work crazy hours during my training".
Vitalie Taittinger, who this month took over from her father, Pierre Emmanuel Taittinger, as president of the Champagne house, said that it had been an exciting year for the competition which had included a change in format, with the chefs celebrating a "hero" ingredient of king scallops at the heart of a signature dish.
She added: "I have had the honour of being part of Le Taittinger Prix Culinaire final for over 10 years and it never fails to amaze me how talented these young chefs are. This year more than ever, the competition allowed their creativity and inspiration to sing and we saw some exceptional dishes. "
A winner of an Acorn Award in 2019, Coulombeau said that he had been helped by many chefs as her prepared for the final. "George Blogg (executive chef, Gravetye Manor) helped me with the paperwork. Michel Roux was a mentor who was very positive and helpful. Olivier Brulard and Benoit Nicolas supported me with the technical and skills aspect, and John Argaud helped with organisation. I would also like to say a huge thank you to all my team who have been extremely helpful."
Coulombeau received a distinction in hotel and restaurant studies in Biarritz, France, before serving an apprenticeship at the two-Michelin-starred Le Relais de la and the one-Michelin-starred La Table des Frères Ibarboure. He then went on to three-Michelin-starred Les Prés d'Eugénie and Maison Lameloise, progressing from a commis to a senior chef de partie.
In 2016, he joined one-Michelin-starred Gravetye Manor near East Grinstead as junior sous chef and in 2018 was promoted to head chef under Blogg.
Le Taittinger Prix Culinaire was launched in 1967.
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