The French Laundry in California is the next stop for Jonathan Ferguson, this year’s Roux Scholarship winner

He is one of Scotland’s best young chefs – and he is going to train in one of the world’s best restaurants.

Back in April, 26-year-old Jonathan Ferguson won one of the most prestigious prizes in food.

The junior sous chef from newly Michelin-starred restaurant The Glenturret Lalique in Crieff went up against five others, before taking home the 38th Roux Scholarship. He dedicated his award to the late Andrew Fairlie, who was the scholarship’s first winner.

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The prizes include up to £12,000, to support career development, and a selection of goodies and trips from the award’s sponsors, such as Champagne Laurent Perrier. However, one of the most exciting opportunities is an invitation to cook and train under the supervision of a leading chef at a three-star Michelin restaurant anywhere in the world for a period of up to three months.

Michel Roux Jr, Jonathan Ferguson and Alain Roux

Ferguson has been the second ever to choose somewhere outside of Europe, when he opted for a restaurant in California’s Napa Valley.

Co-chairman of the scholarship, Michel Roux Jr, says: “Thomas Keller’s restaurant, The French Laundry, is one of the world’s most celebrated restaurants and his interpretation of French classics is second to none. Elegance and lightness of touch in the kitchen coupled with chef Keller’s mentoring will definitely mean Jonnie will have the time of his career.”

The French Laundry is widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in the world, having held three Michelin stars since 2007, while Keller is the only American-born chef to have two three-starred Michelin restaurants. The other is per se in New York City.

Keller says: "The Roux Scholarship is an incredible mentorship opportunity for aspiring culinary professionals, and we're deeply honoured to continue our decades-long relationship with the admirable competition. We look forward to welcoming Jonathan Ferguson to begin his stage at The French Laundry in January.”

Customers dine at the Michelin-starred restaurant The French Laundry. Pic: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

We spoke to the chef before he made the trip to the USA at the end of January.

Are you excited?

“That’s an understatement. It’s somewhere that I've looked up to, since I was 15 or 16 years old. I've never eaten there, but I've always wanted to. I remember buying The French Laundry Cookbook after my first paycheck when I started working in kitchens at the age of 17. It’s always something that was in the back of my mind as somewhere to get to, then when this opportunity came about, it was a very easy choice to go. I’ve got accommodation sorted on site, which is very generous. It's amazing to be able to live basically next to the restaurant for three months, and be fully immersed in it.”

Any nerves?

Jonathan Ferguson cooking during Roux Scholarship

“I’m just excited to be honest. I'm at a stage now where I've been fortunate to work in some really good kitchens already with great people. So I've got used to stepping into new environments and you know that chefs are going to look after each other. I tend to settle in quite quickly. You apply yourself and you're kind of clued up. It's normal to be nervous about the unknown aspects.”

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What were your second choices?

“I was flirting with the idea of some of the three-star restaurants in Paris and some in the south of France, but to be honest it was quite a quick decision. A lot of people want to go somewhere a bit trendy or wackier, I suppose, for lack of a better term. But for me, it was more about finding a restaurant where I knew I would be exposed to how they manage people, how they mentor staff and how they run a business even more so than the food. The French Laundry is perfect because everyone knows it's that kind of kitchen.”

Will you get to spend a lot of time with Thomas Keller?

Thomas Keller. Pic: Toby Canham/Getty Images

“He's busy. He has a lot of places to look after, but I know he is at The French Laundry often. I've got a few friends who have worked there for them. Speaking to them has been good. They only ever speak highly of the place.”

Are there any of his dishes you’re most interested in?

“The signature dish is the Oysters and Pearls dish. It’s something that's world renowned. I’m looking forward to seeing them go through monumental amounts of caviar, which is always nice. The menu changes there pretty much daily.”

Do you hope to open your own restaurant someday?

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“I wouldn't want to be in this career if I didn't have that aspiration. I’m 26 now, I’d like to think in my early 30s I’ll be in a position to do that. It’s hard to pinpoint where it’s going to be, but my heart says Scotland, it always does, which is nice.”

Is this your first time in California?

“I've not been this far north of San Francisco and LA, but I'm excited to see that part of the country. I'm quite into wine though as well. Through being close friends with so many sommeliers, you become more exposed to wine, so I'm excited to learn a bit more about that as well. It would be a shame not to see a winery or two. I like the Californian style of food. There are loads of influences from Asian countries, because you're literally across the Pacific. It’s a very light style of cooking, which I really like. In a way it's kind of similar to what Mark Donald at The Glenturret Lalique cooks. It's the way I like to cook and eat.”

How will the team at The Glenturret Lalique cope without you?

“Everyone is replaceable. There are lots of strong cooks there, so it’s all good.”

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