Winning the Roux Scholarship changed the life of local Head chef
Matt Tomkinson of the montagu arms reflects on his achievement
Who will be the 34th Roux scholar?
This week a young chef will hear the life-changing news that they are to become the 34th Roux Scholar. They will join an elite band of young British chefs who have fought their way through three rounds of competition to gain one of the culinary world’s greatest prizes – one that opens the door to a glittering career and a lifelong opportunity to learn more about their art.
New Forest chef Matt Tomkinson knows exactly how the winner will feel because, in 2005, it was him receiving the accolade.
“It changes how you see the industry and how the industry sees you,” said Matt. “Essentially you win the Roux Scholarship and you have a year where lots of things happen which is part of the prize; you spend three months in a 3* restaurant which, nowadays, could be anywhere in the world.
Matt, who is head chef at the Montagu Arms Hotel, went to New York, visited a coffee roasting factory, Champagne makers and met suppliers.
“It’s like an ongoing, semi-official club because you keep visiting and learning, I’ve been to Tuscany, Japan and most recently San Francisco,” he explained.
The Roux Scholarship was set up by the Roux brothers, Albert and Michel, 33 years ago to advance the cause of British gastronomy which was not highly regarded at the time.
When the annual contest is announced, entrants are asked to compose a recipe for a dish to serve four people including what Matt describes as ‘quite humble ingredients’. From around 100 or so entrants the recipes are whittled down to 20 contestants who are invited to come and cook their recipes at two venues.
“There’s always a box of mystery ingredients, usually for the dessert, and you have to use a minimum of 50% of each one although you are allowed to disregard one ingredient,” explained Matt.
The final contest takes place between six national finalists at a London venue who are given a meal to cook in front of judges who, in Matt’s contest, included Gary Rhodes and Rick Stein.
“It’s not to do with which restaurant you come from but it’s more a genuine test of a chef’s ability,” admitted Matt. “You could be asked to cook a stew or perhaps a braise, but it’s totally about the cooking.”
He entered the competition once before, got to the national finals and enjoyed the experience so much, he returned the next year when he won.
“I had absolutely no idea that would happen and so, when they told me, I’m sorry to say I said a very rude word!” he shared. That moment was 12 years ago but the impact of being a Roux Scholar will, he says, remain throughout his career and has certainly shaped his time at the Montagu Arms.
“It’s an experience that stays with you forever."