Roux Scholarship and beyond

Posted on Back of House Jan 2010 - by Tandoori Magazine
Roux Scholarship and beyond

Head chef of the renowned Brasserie at Lucknam Park, and hugely talented, Hrishikesh Desai talks to Humayun Hussain about the Roux Scholarship and more.
Ever so often you come across a young chef you know is destined for great things. Hrishikesh Desai is, without a doubt, one of them.


He’s the head chef of the Brasserie at Lucknam Park - the stately five-star luxury country house hotel - and, under the guidance of executive chef Hywel Jones, sous chef of the hotel’s Michelin-starred The Park restaurant. Suffice to say, 30-year-old Desai may be Indian, but bar the odd Indian flourish coming though into the brasserie menu, he is responsible for some extraordinarily good seasonal modern British cooking.

“When you are in as creative an environment as the kitchens of Lucknam Park,” says an astute Desai, “you come to realize that cooking is a constantly evolving process because you are always coming across new methods of preparation and ingredients. On a more personal level, I’ve also come to realize that if I can learn more about other cuisines and cooking than Indian, then compared to my contemporaries I will have the upper hand.”

 

Born and educated in a middle class family in Pune, very much the cultural capital of the state of Maharashtra, India, Desai notes that as a youngster he had no inkling he would ever enter the world of professional cooking. Except that he would often say to his elders that he would love to own a five-star hotel one day, which he regarded - for all its seductive charm and good hospitality - as being very attractive.


So he did a diploma in hotel management and catering technology before gaining a scholarship to the world renowned Paul Bocuse Institute, in Ecully, near Lyon in France. There, states Desai, having learnt and gained so much knowledge in fine cooking, his fate to become a chef was sealed. Though he returned to India soon after, he was back to the Institute for two years for an Advanced Diploma in Culinary Arts and Management.


Having then gone back to India again and successfully applied for work in the UK, he was given a post as a commis chef at a hotel in Dorking, Surrey, before joining Lucknam Park, where he has been for five years. Then the chance to enter the Roux Scholarship competition came up last year.


“It was one of those things that I very much wanted to conquer,” admits Desai. “As my senior, Jones was very encouraging and felt I needed to get out of my comfort zone. I really wanted to achieve something and even make my parents more proud of me than they were already.”


With strong competitors and judged by such elite chefs as Albert, Michel, Michel Junior and Alain Roux, Heston Blumenthal, Gary Rhodes and others, Desai won. His winning dish in the cook-off was wood-roast rump of Wiltshire Downlands lamb, savoy cabbage and coconut roulade, lemon crushed potatoes and sambar salsa.
To take up his prize, Desai is off this month for an all-expensespaid three-month stint at the world famous French Laundry, chef Thomas Keller’s Michelin-starred restaurant in California.


“I feel very lucky to be getting all these opportunities and working with such hugely talented people,” notes Desai. “I want to keep on building on what I know and what I can learn. One day when I have decided which direction I will take specifically, with spices being my strength, I would love to achieve harmony between Indian food and western cooking.”

 

Sample Menu

Starters

Local goats cheese terrine, mixed leaves, roast beetroot, marinated raisins and walnut vinaigrette

Spiced fillet of Cornish mackerel, wood roast vegetable salad and yoghurt dressing

Mains

Saffron marinated free range local chicken, Tony Eades vegetables, rich tomato gravy, cumin basmati rice

Roast fillet of Loch Duart salmon, fricassee of Fowey mussels, potato gnocchi and chorizo, lemon grass broth

Desserts

Cinnamon roast plums, vanilla crumble ice cream

Roast pineapple and lime soup, coconut sorbe

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