Female Chef Wins The Roux Scholarship for the First Time in 29 Years

Throughout the long history of The Roux Scholarship, which stretches back to Andrew Fairlie in 1984, there has only been one female winner. That was Mercy Fenton in 1994.

All that changed on Monday as 29 year old April Lily Partridge, Sous Chef at The Ledbury, beat five other finalists in a cook-off at Westminster Kingsway College in London. The year she was born was the last time there had been a female winner.

According to the Roux Scholarship it was the first time April had entered the competition and under the rules it was her last chance to do so before reaching the age limit.

Partridge said after being presented with the award: “I’m gobsmacked, this will change my life!”

She went on to thank her family and friends including winner 2020/21 Oli Williamson who encouraged her to enter and her chef Brett Graham. “Thank you, Brett, for making me feel like I can achieve anything,” she said.

For this year’s final, the six chefs were asked to prepare their own dish using a variety of ingredients, along the theme of Pâté Chaud de Lotte (hot monkfish pie) – a recipe originally created by the Troisgros family. At the start of the competition, the chefs were shown a table displaying dozens of ingredients that would allow them to interpret the brief as they chose. The only ingredients they were obliged to use were the monkfish and whole black truffle.

Partridge said: “It was really tough, a tough brief. Monkfish is tricky, it’s very easy to overcook. Once I got in to the kitchen I began to question my reasoning and interpretation of what was required in the brief. I began to change what I had planned and for the first hour I was still working out what to do. I wasn’t 100% happy but we are all hard taskmasters on ourselves!”

Michel Roux Jr said: “It was an exceptional final. I thought we were in for a good final and so it proved. We had six finalists, six styles and six very different dishes. The new format allowed the chefs to truly show off their skills and character on a plate. Given a wider choice of ingredients they all rose to the challenge and our guest judges said they’ll be taking some of the ideas back home with them to France.”

Alain Roux said: “It was a tremendous challenge, they had to do it all in their own vision as they wouldn’t have come across the dish before, so it was new to them all. Textures were so important in this competition and some of the six put a lot of work into it using a very large number of the ingredients. It was amazing.”

The judging panel was led by joint Honorary Presidents of Judges, Michel Troisgros and his son César, whose restaurant at Troisgros in the Roannais region of south-east France has held three Michelin stars longer than any other restaurant in the world. They led the panel alongside joint chairmen Alain and Michel Jr, who were joined by Brian Turner CBE, Angela Hartnett OBE, Rachel Humphrey, Sat Bains (1999 scholar), André Garrett (2002 Scholar) and Simon Hulstone (2003 scholar).

Michel Troisgros said: “It’s hard for the candidates. It’s hard for them to manage the time and not to know what the ingredients are until the last moment. It is a classic Troisgros dish but it’s a new interpretation of it. It was great to see new perspectives and creations. You have to work quickly too, and in a kitchen you are not used to, so we saw six very different styles and six very different dishes.” 

César Troisgros said: “The experience was great. It was great to take a step back and see what they could do and how they handled the subject. Everyone had a different version of the dish and the skills of working varied, and made them think differently.” 

April was battling it out against the following chefs:

Ben Champkin from The Newt in Somerset, Christopher Clarke from Core by Clare Smyth in London, Oliver Dovey from Baxterstorey in London, Sam Lomas from Glebe House in Devon, and Alex Rothnie from L’Enclume in Cumbria.

The winner was announced at an exclusive awards dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in front of a small audience comprising the finalists’ guests, sponsors and judges, with the ceremony live-streamed via the Roux Scholarship website and YouTube channel.

The winning chef receives £6,000, with an additional £6,000 awarded if they stay with their current employer for 15 additional months. They have the choice between two star prizes: the invitation to cook and train under the supervision of a leading chef at a prestigious three-star Michelin restaurant anywhere in the world for up to two months; or a bespoke training programme tailored to the chef’s ambitions, skills gaps and interests.