Roux Scholarship Insights: Martin Carabott Chef Interview (Jan 2019)

Winner of the Roux Scholarship 2018 Martin Carabott has completed his stage at Eleven Madison Park in New York, USA. The three-month placement, with all expenses paid, is the star prize of the annual competition, with winners able to choose any 3 star Michelin kitchen in world.

Martin’s choice was Eleven Madison Park, one of the world’s most revered restaurants; it has held three Michelin stars since 2011 and was named number one in the World’s Best Restaurant guide in 2017. It has been owned by Chef Daniel Humm and Restaurateur Will Guidara since 2011 and it is set in an Art Deco building overlooking Madison Square Park, one of Manhattan’s most beautiful green spaces.

Martin hails originally from Malta, where his formative training was studying a four year course at catering school through the national Institute of Tourism Studies. He was always drawn to creative arts including cooking so the course was a natural fit. Martin’s first hotel restaurant experience was via a placement in the third year at Gleneagles.

While this wasn’t specifically in Andrew Fairlie’s kitchen (the first Roux Scholar from 1984, receiving the scholarship certificate from the Roux bothers above), Chef Fairlie’s brand of beautiful Michelin starred, creative fine dining, proved an early inspiration.

Later, Martin moved to London to Heinz Beck’s Apsley’s at the Lanesborough before joining The RAC under Executive Head Chef Philip Corrick and Head Chef Rob Chambers (subsequently of Luca restaurant). Over four years career development at The RAC saw Martin work his way up from chef de partie, through junior sous, to finally senior sous chef. In context, the kitchen provided Martin with the perfect balance – beautiful food with the best of both classical and contemporary cuisine. The management philosophy of that kitchen was also appealing as it meant there was great scope to learn, grow and collaboratively create dishes. The culture was also to encourage entry in competitions and to open up a network of contacts in the industry, indeed it was here that Martin first experienced the Roux Scholarship.

Having made the final in 2016 and 2017, Martin made the ultimate step of winning the Roux Scholarship in 2018. Martin describes the process as starting with a paper recipe entry based on guidelines; such as using a main ingredient of Hogget (2019 competition) garnished with globe artichoke plus a garnish of your choice together with a sauce to accompany the dish. The entrant must also provide costing of the dish to demonstrate more than just creative and technical ability but to also demonstrate the pragmatism associated with business acumen.

Martin strongly advises anyone applying to take great care in making the paper submission as accurate and high quality as possible, to also include good quality photographs, as this is the first hurdle to get to the regional cooking sessions in London and Birmingham. Everyone is on the same platform, with equality of opportunity and this comes across throughout the competition. The potential finalists have to cook their dish in a set time for four people plus a dessert from a hidden basket that the chefs are given on the day. This provides a true test of every aspect of cooking. Six finalists are chosen after everything is scrutinized during the process – the way you cook, think, your creativity, the way you work, manage time and budget and so on.

When the final comes the only preparation a finalist can do is to study as many classical recipes as possible and be equipped with as many classical chef techniques as possible. On the big day, finalists are given a recipe – always classical and very challenging – everyone has exactly the same equipment to use, the same ingredients and a commis chef (a student or apprentice) with three hours to complete the dish.

Having completed the process and awarded the 2018 Roux Scholarship, Martin found it hard to take in, “it was amazing, quite unbelievable. The biggest aspect is being welcomed into a sense of family. An almost overwhelming feeling of pride, belonging and security comes from the association with the founding fathers of gastronomy in this country.”

Immediately after being awarded the scholarship, there were some sponsors prizes on top of a cash prize, as the gravity of what Martin had achieved at the start of a journey that he hopes will reflect well as an ambassador for fine dining and cooking.

As examples of the prizes that Martin experienced, he enjoyed trips to Laurent Perrier in Champagne, a L’Unico arranged visit to the Caffe Musetti factory in Milan, Balvenie Whiskey provided a rare bottle and Udale Foods offered a shooting trip in Scotland. The full range of prizes can be found here:

The opportunity which originally inspired the birth of the Scholarship in the mid 1980s, came from the idea of providing a platform for up and coming British chefs to experience the great kitchens of France. The top end culinary scene in Britain was in its infancy back then and due to the cultural barriers of the age, chefs had little scope of opportunity to stage abroad. The new and enhanced knowledge gained by these scholars would grow the profession back in Britain, (as these chefs became ambassadors for the profession in Britain). Nowadays the scope of culinary opportunity is global and The Roux Scholarship has spread its wings to reflect that for its scholars.

During Martin’s stage at Eleven Madison Park (EMP) in New York (above), a significant part of the restaurant culture was to encourage the creativity of the whole team, in fact “it was a real collaborative effort among chefs who were trained to follow Daniel Humm’s ethos, philosophy and style.” They had a four man development team in the kitchen but also one of the dishes on the menu was provided by the quarterly ‘cook battle’ where every chef gets to submit a recipe from which the senior chefs and development chefs select ten dishes. Each are cooked and judged on their merits with dishes placing first, second and third. Martin’s Carabott’s dish placed second.

The winning dish was put through to Daniel Humm to decide whether it should go on the menu at EMP. At every step of the way, Brian Lockwood (Head Chef), made Martin feel part of the team and after two weeks as a commis, put him through his paces across various stations, so he was properly tested and learned so much during his stay.

Martin has had a great year at Hide Restaurant, having worked since the development stage in building the menu with recipe’s from Ollie Dabbous, Josh Angus and Luke Selby (another Roux Scholar). He has enjoyed the role as Senior Sous Chef at Ground in Hide restaurant (below) and the building gaining a Michelin star so quickly has provided a boost to all the team.

Thinking of the Roux Scholarship, to anyone thinking of doing the competition, Martin’s advice is do it! A chef must do their absolute best at every stage, paying best attention to the paper entry right from the start, get it absolutely right and put as much effort as possible into the dish as it should reflect something of yourself and be authentic. Finally, if at first you don’t succeed you are likely to have got the Roux Scholarship bug and will try and try again! Every step of the way it is a learning experience and you will get better and better as a chef. 

from Fine Dining Guide