“Oooh! Wotsthat??!” I exclaimed as the 476 bus whizzed through North London just the other day. A poster advertising what looked like a cookery telly show, thatswot. But Roux Jr’s lovely, smiley, dark-eyed face was strangely replaced by a frown, a glare – rather scary. He was joined by a terrifying looking Rick Stein and Angela Hartnett seemed grumpy as heck. What could this mean? All these amazing chefs judging one show together – gonna be a-MAZING, amirite?
The Roux Scholarship 2013 is a mish-mash of a programme. After the series opener it seems to be two parts Masterchef: The Professionals and one part The Apprentice. We return from each commercial break to meet our hosts, Roux Jr and his near incomprehensible uncle. For some reason they are at the top of the gherkin tower muttering “WHO will be the winner of the Scholarship for 2013?” and “only ONE can be declared our winner!”
I could talk at length about this but, as usual, Mr Danny Baker sums up correctly:
@watch_channel – I don’t give a fuck Whats Coming Up in Roux show. Just show me something that’s happening NOW for more than 10 seconds!.
TV has never been so cocaine driven. Endless frantic coming up trails followed by nervous recapping of what we’ve just seen. Just do a show!
Yes, it’s there. A tiny thin 4 minute bit of content dashed across 48 minutes of insecure public loathing meeting notes.
But I shall talk at (reasonable) length about this … What we have is a slight repeat of The Roux Legacy previously screened on Good Food Channel: a low budget love-in that looked at the careers of this legendary culinary family. There are even clips from that series included in this new show. Yes, it was quite sweet but, ultimately, it’s not something I want repeating on me. Is that what a food memory is?
The Roux Scholarship itself is open to any chef working in the industry under the age of 30. You can enter every year if you wish, even if you reached the final in your previous attempt(s). My initial thoughts were how the school of 2013 differs from the past 29 years. This year clearly has Masterchef undertones; the semi-finalists are split into groups of six and sent to a very cold Gleneagles and other top notch locations where they are taught how to make pistachio souffle or set a challenge of making a breakfast of haddock and eggs for chef Blanc who rocks up in a golf cart. Jeeesh!
So, did Sat Bains get to jet set around Great Britain or spend the final week in Thailand before he won in 1999? Would Rene Pauvert feel peeved that the Scholarship wasn’t televised in 1986? Still, the fact that Mercy Fenton is the only woman to have won thus far is no real change – out of the current 18 semi-finalists there are only two female chefs.
Our series gets going (eventually) when our judges leaf through pages and pages of recipes sent in by dozens of hopefuls. Based on a set list of ingredients the suggestions range from boring to bizarre and chefs Hartnett, Stein, Roux, Roux, Roux Jr, Turner, Martin and Fairlie finally make their decision … and promptly bring out the Champagne to celebrate – nice work if you can get it.
Jr’s next task is to personally call each contestant to give the good news:
“Hello, is that Ian? It’s Michel Roux Jr here! [pause] I really liked your recipe, very inventive.”
“We’d like to invite you to take part in the Scholarship this year!!!!”
[hangs up and turns to camera] “Wow! He was so happy, you could really tell. That’s amazing!”
Michel even called up Oliver Farrar like he didn’t know who he was. “I hear you’ve applied a couple of times for this, right?” Er, YEAH! Oliver not only popped up in the Roux Legacy series as a scholarship hopeful but he reached the final of Masterchef: The Professionals in 2011. Come on, chaps. I’m a cookery telly watching professional – nothing gets past me. You can do better than that.
In fact, the whole series can learn an awful lot from another mentor scheme over on BBC2, The Chef’s Protege
. I’d missed the first two weeks but my mam in law turned me on it, so to speak. Michel Roux Jr (AGAIN) joined Tom Kitchin and Theo Randall in training catering college pupils in England and Scotland. In a nice touch, after whittling them down to one protege each, the teenagers cooked for their mentor’s mentors. This was a welcome change from the aggression of Gordon Ramsay and the chumminess of Gregg Wallace. The chefs gave constructive criticism, much encouragement and general support. Hell, even Tom Kitchin seems to have had a personality transplant in the last 12 months. Someone must’ve had a word. Smiley, generous and praising, Kitchin was a good bloke. Not as nice a Theo though. I do like Theo.
The mentors to our professionals were Ruth Rogers (Randall), Pierre Koffmann (Kitchin) and Albert Roux (Roux Jr). Overall they were very complimentary to the up and coming chefs but there was a little, light hearted bickering over the vegetables: “they were cooked perfectly” “For me, the vegetables were under cooked. For a Frenchman. The Italians like things different, no?”
Someone to watch over me
Usually there can be only one winner and, actually, there was but surely everyone was a winner to some degree. The three finalists were each asked to “come and find me when you’ve left college [nudge, nudge]”. They were lovely kids and will certainly go far. Well, London and Edinburgh probably.
As one great series ends, a not so great one begins. There is certain room for improvement but I’m not convinced it will.
I shall leave you with this thought: what’s the gastronomic version of jumping the shark? Jumping the sturgeon? Jumping the gherkin? Leaping the salmon? Maybe it’s just galloping indigestion.