A 30-year old chef who was brought up in the South Hams has made it through to the finals of a prestigious competition to find Britain’s best young chef.

The Roux Scholarship has been running more than 30 years and is judged by Michel Roux Jr (BBC Saturday Kitchen, Kitchen Impossible, Masterchef), Brian Turner CBE (BBC’s Ready, Steady, Cook and Saturday Kitchen) and James Martin (BBC Saturday Kitchen, This Morning and Saturday Morning with James Martin) among many other Michelin-starred chefs.

Brimming with energy and enthusiasm, Nicole Benham-Corlette was born in Plymouth but grew up at Hope Cove near Salcombe. She went to Malborough Primary School then Kingsbridge Community College before going off to boarding school

She told me: “When I was growing up I loved Ainsley Harriot on Ready Steady Cook. He really inspired me especially as I am of mixed-race. I really wanted to become a celebrity chef.”

“My dad was in the Navy and had to be away for long periods of time so my grandparents brought me up. My nan did the cooking and I spent hours watching her and learning what she did.

“When I was sent to boarding school I stopped cooking as there were many other things to do and it wasn’t hugely encouraged.

When Nicole left school she didn’t want to follow her classmates into academia or the professions.

Her nan said she needed to get a job so she ended up as head chef at a restaurant on the Isles of Scilly. She did that for a while then Covid came along and she didn’t want to get stuck on a small island so she moved to Portsmouth and got a job Covid testing. She was twice promoted and became the manager but after the Covid testing stopped.

Nichole said: “I signed on at an agency but everyone was after the same jobs. Then I managed to get a job at a restaurant in the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.”

She met Great British Menu 2020 finalist Ruth Hansom who provided her with more inspiration.

Feeling fired up Nicole decided to enter for the Roux Scholarship which involves cooking classic French cuisine. She was beyond excited when she passed the blind-judged recipe applications and was selected for the regional final to be held in London on March 9.

Following a push for more diversity at the launch of this year’s competition, with the Round Table discussion and publication of the White Paper, Woman Chefs and The Roux Scholarship, the Roux Family were delighted to see an increase in applications from female chefs with four qualifying for the regional finals.

The 18 chefs, and two reserves, were selected from their written recipes written that used strip loin of dry-aged beef, a beef offal ingredient and Belgian chicory.

Michel Roux Jr said: The standard in general of this year’s entries was superb and it was great to read so many recipes that showed very imaginative ways of using offal.”

Alain Roux added: “It’s great to see that our regional finalists come from all over the UK and a variety of different establishments. Regarding the recipes, I’m pleased to see so many chefs choose to cook the ox heart as part of their recipes, I really like that ingredient. In general, there was a really high standard and I can’t wait to taste everything.”

Simon Hulstone said: “It’s great to see some great female competitors in the list, some are ones that I’ve seen come through Future Chef competitions and so to see them now, getting into a competition at this stature, is fantastic. But also, it’s great to see some previous finalists that have come back from over the years to have another go and to see some new names and new establishments getting involved.”

James Martin said: “Speaking with the other judges, it was clear that there were certain recipes that really did stand out for all of us. And that’s great because we don’t know the name, we don’t know where they work. All we get given is a number, and it’s exciting to find out at the end, once they’re all chosen, who they all are.”

Nicole’s friend Ruth Hansom competed in last year’s competition and will be taking part in the other regional finals in Birmingham.

Whatever the outcome Nicole is a step closer to realising her ambition of becoming a celebrity chef.