Chef in prestigious Roux Scholarship regional final hoping to ‘win it for Hertfordshire’

Nico Fitzgerald

Nico Fitzgerald is one of 18 chefs competing in the Roux Scholarship regional final on March 24. - Credit: Nico Fitzgerald

A chef from Woolmer Green competing the regional final of the prestigious Roux Scholarship is hoping to ‘win it for Hertfordshire’ as he looks to launch his own restaurant company.

Nico Fitzgerald is one of 18 chefs who will try to impress on March 24, when they cook for esteemed judges including Michel Roux Jr, Brian Turner and James Martin.

The 29-year-old was selected for the final after showing off his skills in the early rounds, which were done at home due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“We were set a challenge to create a dish using Dover sole and brown shrimp, so really championing British produce,” he said.

“It needed to reflect our personalities, but because the competition is so rooted in French cuisine it needed to show off those key skills.

“We had to create this dish at home and submit them online for a panel, made up of some of the best chefs in the UK, to judge.

“For the final, I have to recreate this dish in two-and-a-half hours, and there is also a mystery dessert which is revealed to us on the day.

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“The dessert side of things is something chefs often find difficult so it will be a real test of our skills.”

Nico Fitzgerald

Nico will hope to impress the judges with his Dover sole and brown shrimp dish, as well as a mystery dessert. - Credit: Nico Fitzgerald

Nico is used to the pressures of the kitchen, having worked in a number of London restaurants and appeared on the BBC’s MasterChef: The Professionals series.

But he admitted to feeling a mixture of emotions ahead of the final, and hopes that he thrives off the pressure of the day.

“It’s mixed emotions going into it,” he revealed.

“Last year I was on MasterChef: The Professionals, and that was a completely different challenge, but it’s all about the pressure of the kitchen.

“Everything boils down to the day and those few hours. It’s exciting, nervous, and it’s something we do as chefs every day in the kitchen. We are under pressure all the time and I thrive on it.”

The Roux Scholarship was founded in 1984 by brothers Michel and Albert, both renowned chefs who opened Le Gavroche, which later to become the first three Michelin starred restaurant in Britain, and The Waterside Inn, which was the first restaurant outside France to hold three stars for 25 years.

Now run by their sons Alain and Michel Jr, the winner of the competition earns a three-month placement in a Michelin starred restaurants including the French Laundry and Maison Pic.

Previous winners of the prestigious Roux Scholarship include Michelin star chefs Sat Bains and Steve Drake, with Nico hoping to add his name to that list this year.

“In terms of the hospitality industry and chefs, this is as big as it gets in the UK,” he said.

“I don’t know if it has the same sort of feel outside the industry as MasterChef, but it’s a really prestigious competition. The history of it is quite amazing and it is really impressive.”

It’s been quite the journey for Nico to reach this point.

Having opened a restaurant with friends in London, health complications caused by COVID-19 led to the talented 29-year-old leaving the capital.

He settled in Woolmer Green and began setting up his own restaurant company, a dream he hopes can made into reality if he impresses during the Roux Scholarship.

Nico Fitzgerald

Nico believes winning the Roux Scholarship would be boost as he looks to set up his own restaurant company - Credit: Nico Fitzgerald

“I contracted COVID and I developed long COVID, so I was out of action for six months and could barely walk,” he said.

“I had to give up my job and that led to me leaving London and coming to Hertfordshire.

“Fine dining is relatively less common in the county, so finding jobs was difficult. I decided to open my own restaurant company and I’m the process of opening my first restaurant.

“I was actually looking for investors when I was selected for the regional finals, so that’s all been on hold because it’s a massive opportunity. 

“If I do well in the final that will put my name out there.

“To win the Roux Scholarship is what I’ve trained to do for so many years. When you’re trying to set up a restaurant, you often question if you’ve got what it takes. It’s a really difficult industry, so to win it would show me I am a great chef and I have what it takes.”

Gibraltar-born Nico is also hoping to win the competition for Hertfordshire, adding: “It is like a home away from home for me. It has so much to offer.

“I came here every year since I was a baby, so now that I live here, I want to do something to put it on the map and win it for Hertfordshire.

“Hertfordshire has no Michelin stars at the moment and I would love to win one for the county, to show that we can do fine dining. Hopefully we can do that.”