Great British Menu 2014 blog by Danny Kingston: The Wales heat

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

The last leg of the regional stages is now over and I am betting that prop makers and food stylists across the land can now breathe a sigh of relief. No more frantic phone calls in the dead of night asking for canteen cans and mess tins.

No more commissions for wooden ration boxes and poppy flower shaped David Kelman Great British Menu 2014plates. And no more intricate drawings sketched out on the back of a fag packet and sent in the post. It has impressed me actually the lengths some of the chefs have gone to in bringing their vision to the table. Some of the props have been amazing but I do wonder if there have been any mishaps along the way.

I can’t help thinking of that infamous scene in Spinal Tap, where David St Hubbins draws plans on the back of a napkin to recreate Stonehenge for a set and the polystyrene monoliths turn up standing 12 inches small, instead of 12 feet high. And all because the hapless guitarist got his measurements mixed up. Imagine that happening on the Great British Menu! How would David Kelman, head chef at Ellenborough Park, reacted if the rabbit hutches for his ‘Run Rarebit Run’ had turned up full size.

Oh I would have liked to have seen that. But that didn’t happen, so there we go. Yes, the last of the bunch battled it out last week, namely newcomer Andy Beaumont, seasoned veteran Mary Ann Gilchrist and the aforementioned David Kelman, all representing Wales with a vast array of bells and whistles. All hoping on this occasion to impress the formidable and imposing, Angela Hartnett.

Angela Hartnett Great British Menu 2014I do feel for Angela sometimes, regarding this public perception or persona that seems to have been cultivated out of nowhere, that she is meant to be some kind of hard-nosed… you know what. I reckon she could be as sweet as a kitten once you get to know her. Nevertheless Angela still managed to reduce Mary Ann to quivering wreck when she entered the kitchen to introduce herself as this week’s mentor.

“I am petrified,” she quaked. But of course that must have been more nonsense for the camera because throughout the week Mary Ann showed that she could more than hold her own. Mary was (or is rather) quite the character and deserves a show of her own I reckon. Anyway, on with the starters and what did they do? Well, by the now the brief was well and truly worn thin as we saw yet another interpretation of a rabbit dish based upon that well known song.

David’s rabbit hutch, though small, was in my opinion an ungainly vessel to house his pie, rarebit and pickled vegetables and amounted to a bit too much style over substance. In turn, Andy’s ‘Tongue to Tail’ was downright phallic. It was a great idea to use cheaper, wartime cuts of meat such as oxtail and tongue but forming the ingredients in to cannelloni; well the dish amounted to a penis in a tin, with a scant scattering of veg.Andy Beaumont Great British Menu 2014

Mary’s familiar sounding ‘Woolton Pie’ was uncomplicated, tasty and simple but uninspiring. I am glad that she pepped it up with parsley sauce on the day though, the sauce she made back at her restaurant resembled cat sick. The fish round was also a mixed bag, full of ambition, complexity and um sandwiches.

Andy’s remembrance sanger was a bizarre one and I couldn’t quite see where he was going with his wonky melba toast and sea bass effort. He seemed more concerned with getting a cup of tea most of the time to be honest. David, who was an army cadet FOR FIVE YEARS, came up with a very elaborate sounding dish called ‘Deadly Catch’ which comprised of sea bass, lobster, clams, mussels and squid ink jelly.

And everything seemed to be going so well (his potato net looked great) but alas he left his squid wobbly jelly on the hob for too long and they went and melted on him. Mary, gawd bless her, decided in her infinite wisdom to use herring, cooked three ways, as a centre piece for her course; a fish that apparently she can’t stand because it gave her wind. But to Mary’s credit she cobbled together a plate of tasty, if somewhat disparate elements.

Mary Ann Gilchrist Great British Menu 2014Thankfully things for the mains round looked up. Mary, ploughing forward with her ethos of delivering simple yet delicious food, rustled up a humble rabbit in beer stew with bubble and squeak and whilst it tasted good, Angela had reservations as to whether it could be classed as banquet food.

Andy also went down the rabbit route and had a stab at Woolton pie too and his stuffed saddle and rack certainly looked very appealing but his nettle puree let him down a bit as it was served too cold. And plus his pie wasn’t as good as Mary’s (in her own humble opinion).
David though was the one who was to really shine in this round though, concocting an unusual main dish based around chicken and banana curry. Despite Angela visibly blanching at the notion, along with his use of coriander, David surprised her with a plate that came straight from the heart.

For this was a plate inspired by David’s Nan, who sadly passed away two weeks prior to his entering the competition. And yes, the tears flowed on and in front of the screen. The desserts round throughout GBM have become a bit of a hair-raising eliminator, often with one chef surging in the lead and with two chefs battling neck and neck. In this case it seemed plainly obvious that David was going to get through with his ‘Lemon and Poppy Remembrance’ which was an extremely good looking dish created using lemon mousse, evaporated milk ice cream and edible poppies.Queen of Puddings Great British Menu 2014

Taking it to the wire then were Mary and Andy and despite taking three attempts to make her tuile baskets, it was Mary who triumphed with her take on Queen of Puddings. Andy just seemed to overcomplicate things by piling soufflés, sorbets, panna cottas and summer pudding on the plate so off he went, in search of a cup of tea.

The guest judge on for the finals round was war correspondent Martin Bell and I did wonder how the venerated reporter was going to fare with that that pale suit of his. He has been all over the globe, in the most dangerous of hotspots and not once have I ever seen that suit blemished. Would he get a stain down his tie on this occasion? No, he didn’t. Amazing As usual, as the judges went through the tasting of the courses, there was no clear idea of who was going to come out on top.

One thing I have noticed in this series is that there has been a fair bit of fence sitting at this stage of proceedings and it would have been nice to see at least one chef hammer the opposition. End of Rationing Great British Menu 2014I digress. So David impressed with his ‘Run Rarebit Run’ and ‘End of Rationing’ (the chicken and banana curry dish) and Mary won hearts and minds with her rabbit stew and ‘Queen of Puddings’ (especially Martin’s heart). However, Mary’s fish dish was deemed a disaster. “The whole thing is terrible,” said Oliver.

Fish it seems is the one chink in her armour. David however was thoroughly ebullient on hearing that he had got though and I suspect got on the phone to his family to announce the news straight away. Or maybe he called his carpenter to put in an order for more rabbit hutches.  

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>>> Read more about Great British Menu 2014 here

Danny is a food adventurer, enthusiastic allotmenteer, supper club host and writer   of the entertaining Danny Kingston (Food Urchin)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 3rd June 2014

Great British Menu 2014 blog by Danny Kingston: The Wales heat