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Scholarship is a very small club, but a very

rewarding one” Sat Bains

finalist on the home stretch whisk it in. He remembers making the dish 30 years ago with chef Peter Kromberg – indeed, this was the last time Nicholls cooked it.

“I think this dish is particularly tough on the

guys who haven’t come through this classic environment,” adds Nicholls. “Those who do understand it have a fundamental advantage over those who don’t. That said, it’s important to go out of your comfort zone. We all need a bit of disruption and chaos in our lives – with- out it, you don’t grow.”

To fox the contestants, the hares were smuggled into the kitchen in fish boxes, and because hare is not currently in season, the meat arrived defrosted. Bains is a big fan: “We often put hare on the menu when it’s in sea- son. I think it’s amazing, with a unique flavour and it’s wild, so we should all be celebrating it more. We make a consommé with the legs, which we serve with a few drops of chocolate oil, we make rillettes with the shoulder, and we serve the saddle with a kale purée and a black pudding made with the blood.”

Luke Selby, Roux Scholarship 2017 winner

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” grins Luke Selby, speaking the day after he scooped first prize at the 2017 Roux Scholarship. He celebrated like any young chef would – down the pub near the competition venue, London’s starry Langham hotel. So just why did he put himself through what is arguably the toughest chef competition out there? “It seemed like the right time in my career to enter,” says the 26 year old, who, it turns out, is rather good at winning chef competitions. In 2012, he won the kitchen category at the Annual Awards of Excellence, then in 2013 he won the Craft Guild of Chefs’ Graduate Award, and in 2014 he won the Young National Chef of the Year title. “I can’t get enough of competitions,” he laughs. “I think it’s important to keep challenging yourself. You learn so much in the process.” Born to a Filipino mother and English father,

Selby was brought up predominantly in rural Sussex. The eldest of four brothers, he often took on the responsibility of cooking for the family when his parents worked late. “I loved cooking programmes – couldn’t get enough of them,” he says. “I watched everything from Ready, Steady, Cook to Jamie Oliver.” As a teenager he started working part-time

at the weekends in a local restaurant called Wyatt’s, and he cites its head chefs Ben Goldsmith and Michelin-starred-restaurant- trained Stuart Dove as early inspirations. At 16 years old, he entered his first chef

competition, Rotary Young Chef, and came second, catching the attention of guest judge Raymond Blanc. “I wrote to him the day after, asking if I could come and do some work experience with him. He remembered me and said yes.” Selby went on to finish his A-levels before securing a full-time position as commis chef at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. “I was always going to work in a kitchen – I knew I was good at it. At first, dad was pushing me to

go to university, but when I insisted that I wanted to cook for a living, he told me to go for the top, so I applied for a job at Le Manoir.” He worked under Blanc and executive chef

Gary Jones for the next six years, working his way around the sections until he was promoted to sous chef. “It gave me such a great foundation,” says Selby. He then went on to spend time working under Clare Smyth at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. “It was tough. Every day was relentless, but I enjoyed every second. It was amazing to work with those people,” he says. From there, Selby moved on to Dabbous,

working under its creative, eponymous chef owner. “Ollie is one of the few chefs in London who actually owns their restaurant and that interested me. Plus he is ex-Le Manoir and he has a Michelin star – so I’m hoping to follow a similar career path,” he says. So where would Selby like to spend his

three-month stage? “I’ve not thought about it properly yet – maybe Japan? As I’m half-Asian I want to tap into that Asian influence. The food and the people in Japan fascinate me, so does their respect for produce and their work ethic.” And yes, Selby wants to own his own

restaurant one day. “Every chef wants that, don’t they?” he says. But for now he is focusing on his position at Dabbous, where he has just been promoted to head chef – two weeks before being made a Roux Scholar.

28 April 2017 | The Caterer | 31

But he is even more enthusiastic about the scholarship. “It’s a very small club, but a very rewarding one. I was 28 years old when I won. You don’t realise just how important winning it is until later. Yes, it opens doors, but you have this support mechanism there for the rest of your life. And that’s not to mention the trips, which are life-changing. And now I’m judging this – which is a massive accolade in itself.” But it was Selby who stepped forward to take the top prize, at a glitzy award ceremony at the Langham London on 10 April, attended by the great and good in hospitality. What would Selby say to other chefs out there, con- templating whether or not to enter the Roux Scholarship next year? “I’d say you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by entering,” he says. “Even if you don’t win, you learn a lot about yourself and the contacts you make alone are worth it. Plus, you get to spend time with other like-minded people. It’s a win-win,” he grins.

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