Great British Menu 2014 blog by Danny Kingston: the North West heat

The  Staff Canteen

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

Before I crack on with the latest of what has been happening on the Great British Menu, may I just apologise for the lateness of this catch-up, as I really should explain what’s going on. We have of course just had the Easter break and on Sunday, a large part of the evening was spent on the sofa, catching up with GBM and everything was going swimmingly; until I started to reach for the chocolate eggs.

Mark Ellis Great British Menu 2014

Mark Ellis

Great British Menu 2014

You know what it’s like, once you start you just can’t stop and to my shame, I was found face down on the floor in a pile of torn cardboard and foil on Easter Monday morning (when this post should have gone live).

I honestly can’t remember what happened but after reading the ingredient labels on the sides of the boxes and doing some sums, I am laying the blame squarely at Cadbury’s feet and their insistence on putting cocoa mass in their products, I mean what is cocoa mass exactly? Maybe Chef Mark Ellis can tell me. And bang, we have a link for the rest of the blog! Albeit a rather tenuous, waffling one. So perhaps I’d better get down to business.

Yes, it was time for chefs from the North West to showcase their talents last week and the three that arrived in the kitchen to do battle this time were Mary Ellen McTague, James Durrant and previously mentioned Mark Ellis.

The mentor on this occasion was Mr Daniel Clifford, chef patron of Midsummer House and a chap who can be very tactile when the need arises. In the first round to deliver starters, after everyone showed off pictures of their grandparents, we had a classic game of ‘Snap!’ going on, when both Mary and Mark decided to name their dish “Dig for Victory” after that well known war effort campaign. At which point cheeky James tried to do some stirring with a bit of “You’re both doing the same, ner ner de ner ner” but that didn’t seem to bother them in the slightest.

Mary was probably more concerned with making her ‘National Bread’ palatable and Mark was far too busy squirting his rabbit mousse all over the shop.

Great British Menu 2014
Great British Menu 2014

James had other ideas with his interpretation of SPAM, that beloved pork stuff in a can. Using the acronym to construct a starting dish using spice, pork (pig’s head), allium and mollusc, he did get a raised eyebrow or two from Mr Clifford; who pondered to camera that pork and scallop paired together could be too sweet.

But Mr Clifford needn’t have worried about his teeth. Instead, the dish was too rich. He did give it a good score though whereas Mark and Mary’s efforts fell flat due to over-seasoning and rubber cheese. For the fish course, all three chefs came up with the triple whammy of serving up their twists on fish and chips. Given that they were representing the North West, with its roots firmly entrenched in this humble fried food, I thought that everyone was onto a winner with this one.

So you can imagine my surprise when it turned out that not one of them was going to serve up mushy peas or gravy with their efforts. What were they thinking?

Great British Menu 2014
Great British Menu 2014

No, James had to get all fancy with cod cheeks and celeriac chips, which are in fact not chips. Mary pressure cooked her black beans into oblivion and served up some anaemically battered megrim. And Mark started flinging purees and dried up potted shrimp on the plate.

This was not chish and fips in my opinion and Chef Clifford gave everyone a right mauling on this one. And rightly so. Thankfully, in the third show of the week, normal service resumed for the mains and everyone got back on track by making some outstanding looking dishes that represented some poignant stories.

Mark’s research trip to Liverpool took in the importance of the area when it came to getting supplies into the country, as well as covering his Nan’s infamous lobscouse. James cozied up to his wife to hear about her granddad’s tale of storming the beaches and Mary dedicated her dish of Ship’s Biscuit with Corned Beef and Pot Mess to her husband’s grandfather Bill. All personal tales which certainly resonated, giving everyone wobbly bottom lips. Including that big softy Daniel Clifford.

Great British Menu 2014
Great British Menu 2014

When it came to scoring though, it was James who hit the nail on the head with his succulent veal cheek stew and beans on toast to be shared.

Visibly shaking and emotional, Chef Clifford gave him a 10. The deciding pudding round did dip one more time though. Not quite plummeting to the depths of the dreaded fish and chips but the chefs did seem to become slightly complacent, especially Mark with his willingness to hang on to molecular gastronomy.

As he waxed lyrical to Daniel about apple gels and stabilisers, which in his opinion where natural and really, really did taste of apple, you could tell by the look of his face that Mr Clifford wasn’t buying it. As such, Mark’s Apple Orchard with Hedgerow just didn’t make the grade. Despite looking very good, his ‘chemical’ composition got him booted out.
 Up for the final then were Mary and James, who made a both made few tweaks along the way for judges Matt, Prue, Oliver and a very witty George Batt, a veteran from D-Day who had more than a twinkle in his eye.

He was certainly funnier than Mr Fort, who is just punny at times. Although

Great British Menu 2014
Great British Menu 2014

competition was in evidence between the two, with James questioning Mary’s reasoning to put snails on the plate for her starter – “My granddad wouldn’t eat garlic, let alone snails”- the atmosphere was light and perky in the kitchen, to cover the nerves. As such, it was hard to say who was going to go through.

There were certainly highs and low and the judges were critical in particular about James’ celeriac chips (see!) and Mary’s medicinal beetroot pudding. If one dish was going to be the clincher though, it had to be James’ veal cheek stew which charmed the socks off everyone in the room. In the words of George, it was “nothing short of miraculous” and with resounding 10’s on the score cards, off James sauntered into the final, a possible champion I suspect. For real food, if not the whole competition.  

>>> 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

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd April 2014

Great British Menu 2014 blog by Danny Kingston: the North West heat