Great British Menu 2014 blog by Danny Kingston: Northern Ireland heat

The Staff Canteen

This is the first in our series of weekly blogs by food blogger Danny Kingston aka @FoodUrchin looking back on each heat of Great British Menu 2014. 

The ninth series of Great British Menu kicked off last week (yes, I know, nine years of GBM!) and this time around, the nation's top chefs are jostling for a space to cook at a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
Given the gravitas of such an occasion, this is obviously serious stuff indeed and I must admit that prior to airing, I did wonder how it was all going to pan out.

Great British Menu
Great British Menu

How were the chefs going to handle the pressure of delivering dishes which were quirky and fun yet conveyed solemnity at the same time? How do you go capture that war time spirit of slapping your thigh singing “Pack up yer troubles in yer ol’ kit baaag” one minute and then remembering the dead in the next? I know I drew a sharp intake of breathe when thinking about it all.

So gawd knows what has been going through the chefs’ heads when approaching this challenge. But the whistle has been blown and the Great British Menu has got off to a flying start with three chefs from Northern Ireland coming out of the traps, namely Raymond McArdle, Will Brown and Chris McGowen, protégé of Richard Corrigan.

And throughout the week, we are reminded several times that Chris works for the ebullient Corrigan, lest we forget that too. The chief in charge
of proceedings, for handing out the criticism and the scores was none other than Mr Tom Kerridge, sponsored by Reebok Classics. So here is a brief, irreverant overhaul of just some of the things that happened. The bonhomie in the first episode was quite sweet as all three chefs got down to the nitty gritty of nailing it with their slogan starters. I say sweet, I can only presume when they were talking down through their noses, that they talking nicely to each other.

Tom Kerridge, Great British Menu 2014
Tom Kerridge, Great British Menu 2014

Only Chris (protégé of Richard Corrigan) was decipherable really, I couldn’t understand a word the home grown boys were saying. One thing that was very much apparent was that all three were big fans of beetroot. Beetroot was to feature everywhere. Beetroot came alongside Raymond’s dead carrier pigeon, complete with a message clasped in its rigid claw. Beetroot was served up with Will’s ham terrine and over-cooked quail scotch eggs.

And smoked beetroot accompanied Chris’ ‘Digging for Victory’ which really should have been called ‘Fishing for Victory’ because you can’t dig for mackerel. In the second episode the stakes were upped not just by the introduction of fish but also by the presence of Marcus Wareing, who was fairly quiet throughout and simply stalked around in the background like Darth Maul.

Raymond, with memories of a trip to Normandy resounding in his head, decided to pair up halibut with Camembert. His reasoning being that this would have been the sort of food that the soldiers wandering off the beach would have been introduced to.  I can only imagine a Tommy recoiling in disgust though at this “foreign muck”. Chris strayed even further into dodgy territory with his plate of Dover sole and clams, which looked divine to eat but the title he gave it was something else – “Captains of our soles”. It was a great nod to Winston Churchill but one slip of the tongue and that name could mean something very

Chris McGowan, Great British Menu 2014
Chris McGowan, Great British Menu 2014

derogatory indeed. The name that Will gave for his fish course was much simpler – “Smoke on the shore” – but in its construction, it was nothing close to simple.

His barking and asking of “one more minute” when plating up, amounted to at least five, which certainly frustrated Tom and Marcus. The main courses in episode 3, again, all had great sounding titles but didn’t live up to full expectation. Chris (who incidentally works for Richard Corrigan) in keeping with the whole food waste theme, went for the nose to tail approach with his ‘Pig Club’ dish but his onion ash was too bitter and his crackling did not crackle.

Will showed great presentation skills with his ‘Run Rabbit Run’ but alas the flavour was lacking and there was not enough crisp textures for Tom to get his teeth into.

Only Raymond’s ‘Officer’s Mess’ hit the right Great British Menu 2014note, delivering a handsome oxtail hash and melting brisket but for one serving, there really was way too much going on. School boy errors all round really. Coming into episode 4, Will really needed to pull his socks up, as on the board he was trailing well behind on the points and his suggestion of eggy soldiers did sound like he was going to meet the remit.

>>> Everything you need to know about Great British Menu here 

But then strangely, he went all spherification on us and with great big shards of pink rhubarb, gave Tom an acid flashback at Stonehenge to tuck into. Chris’ dessert sort of went wide off the mark for me too as he introduced a tin of pineapple, chilli and lemongrass
which didn’t exactly scream WW2. But at least Raymond hit the spot with his gingerbread and parsnip as I remember my Nan talking about using parsnips as substitutes for bananas in the war.  It was certainly enough to take him through to the judges, along with Chris. Will will just have to try harder Great British Menu 2014next time around. For the last show of the week, the familiar faces of the judges turned up onto the screen, characters that we’ve all come to love i.e cheeky Matt, matron Prue and serious Oliver.

But for this series, there is to be an additional judge, so Raymond and Chris also had to impress Winston Churchill’s granddaughter, Celia Sands. There was a classic moment actually when she wandered into the kitchen to chat to the chefs and revealed who she was. Raymond and Chris’ eyes visibly popped. “What sort of food did he like?” they asked and when she replied ‘Irish stew’ you could see them both thinking ‘how quickly can I knock up some frigging Irish stew?’ Having been subjected to Tom Kerridge’s comments during the week, the dishes served up for the judges were a lot more polished for the judges, with a couple of changes here and there. Chris
transformed his starter, introducing duck calling it ‘Flying for Victory’ and Raymond took heed of the big man’s advice to thicken up his custard for his dessert.Great British Menu

As such the judges were fairly complimentary throughout, with only a few glib comments and when it came to the deciding who was to go through to the final, I got the impression that it was fairly close. Ultimately though, Chris just nipped it with his Captain of Arseholes and delightful rice pudding ice
cream. Both dishes that would have appealed apparently, to Winston Churchill’s palate and sense of humour. Although the fact that he works for Richard Corrigan might have also swung it. This week, bring on the North West!   Who do you think will win this week, vote on our Facebook poll here        

>>> Read more about Great British Menu here

>>> Read more about Great British Menu 2014 here

Danny Kingston (Food Urchin)   Danny is a food adventurer, enthusiastic allotmenteer, supper club host and writer of the entertaining and quirky epicurian blog, Food Urchin. He also writes for Great British Chefs and past credits also include writing for Delicious Magazine online and MSN Food and he is an absolute sucker for East End pie and mash (with loads of liquor and vinegar).

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The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th April 2014

Great British Menu 2014 blog by Danny Kingston: Northern Ireland heat