James Hood meets sussex resident Paul O’Neill, the winner of this year’s esteemed Roux scholarship.
The Roux Scholarship is one of the hospitality industry’s most acclaimed cookery competitions and has just celebrated its 30th year. Not only is the scholarship run and awarded by three of the world’s most esteemed chefs and televised on a popular ITV show, but this year, it was won by someone from Sussex. Congratulations to Paul O’Neill from the Ashdown Park Hotel who was crowned the king of the Roux kitchen for 2013.
Those who entered were required to submit a recipe before finding out if they were able to take part in the competition. After making it through, Paul was shortlisted from hundreds of entrants along with 17 others for the semi-final. Each of the finalists were asked to prepare a dish for the Roux family – chefs Michel and Albert Roux and their sons Alain and Michel Jnr. In addition, they were given a mystery box, containing ingredients from which they would have to prepare a dish with the wow factor.
Speaking about the competition, Michel Roux Jnr said: “The recipient of the Roux Scholarship is a chef that has got all the skills but also something that separates him or her from the rest. They have to be somebody special.” So what makes Paul O’Neill a winner? The Sussex resident told us: “I really don’t know what Michel and the Roux family saw in me above anyone else. The rest of the finalists were all great chefs. I think if I had to pick anything it would be that I’m always calm and everyone told me I’m always smiling. So I’m quite relaxed in the environment, which helps.” Speaking about winning the competition, O’Neill told Fine Sussex: “It’s incredible and hard to put into words. It makes the last decade worth all the hard work. You do give up a lot in this industry, like time with your friends and family. It’s nice to be rewarded for all the effort and sacrifices. I’ve lived to work for the last 13 years.”
As tough as that sounds, the star chef explained that he does his job for the love of it. “All the hard work is really rewarding. From the moment I started all those years ago I knew it was a career I could do well in. I didn’t do the best at school, but when I started cooking I just loved it.” After attending college he went on to work at The Felbridge and Claridges in London, which, he says, stood him in good stead for the future. He has been at The Ashdown Park Hotel for three years. The hotel has allowed him time off to train in Paris under the Roux Scholarship for three months, after which he will return to his position.