I don’t know if I’m in the mood for this right now…
It might feel odd to tear your eyes off the news for an hour, but right now we could all use a positive distraction. These are tough times for hospitality and it’s heartening to see the creativity and talent in the industry on display in Great British Menu.
That’s true, so what’s different about the series this year?
As in previous years chefs from a different part of the country will compete to represent their region in the national finals, the winners of which will serve a dish at a four-course banquet. But there’s now four chefs from each area in the running, instead of three, meaning one person will go home after the starters and fish course each week. On day two the remaining chefs will battle it out over main courses and desserts, and the two highest-scoring will make it to the finals. They are also tasked with serving two extra mini-courses this year, an amuse-bouche and pre-dessert palate cleanser, so the challenge reflects a typical tasting menu.
What’s the theme this year?
In previous years the show has celebrated British traditions such as the Women’s Institute and the Wimbledon tennis championships, but this series the focus is children’s literature. Plenty of scope for inspiration, from the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party to Oliver Twist’s gruel…
The first episode has already aired, is anyone channelling their inner Willy Wonka?
Yes, last night saw chefs Sally Abe (The Harwood Arms, London), Niall Keating (Whatley Manor Dining Room, Cotswolds), Alex Claridge (The Wilderness, Birmingham) and Dom Robinson (The Blackbird, Berkshire) compete for the Central region. There were three 10/10 dishes on the fish course alone - for Abe’s cod in a shellfish sauce, paying homage to Captain Hook; Keating’s lobster and scallop-filled black tortellini served in cauldrons in reference to the witches in Philip Pullmann’s Northern Lights; and Robinson’s ‘My Previous Rivers’ inspired by Smeagol from Lord of the Rings, which saw zander and crayfish garnished with pickled mushrooms, pine nuts and crispy wild rice. Claridge won praise for his gothic dish of scallops and white chocolate skulls filled with caviar and apple ponzu (which gained an 8/10), but it wasn’t enough to stop him from going home.
Is Great British Menu still a recipe for stardom?
Despite an increasingly saturated market for cooking TV you still can’t beat a bit of exposure, and the show has helped propel many successful restaurant chefs such as Tom Kerridge, Marcus Wareing and Richard Corrigan to household name status. It also helps with bums on seats in dining rooms. Richard Bainbridge joked that the trifle he created for the 2015 series paid for his Norwich restaurant.
Do chefs get sick of serving the same dish at their restaurant after the show ends?
Some do. Birmingham chef Glynn Purnell won a perfect score for his burnt English custard surprise in 2008 but later took it off his restaurant menu after repeated orders. He told Restaurant magazine: “Sometimes you feel like Elton John must feel when people ask him to sing Rocket Man”. The dish eventually went back on, alongside two others featured on the show.
This year’s theme could be a bit hit or miss, could it descend in to Revolting Recipes?
You’ll have to watch and find out. Great British Menu is on BBC Two at 8pm every Wednesday to Friday, with repeats at weekends.