Great British Menu 2015 blog by Katie Pathiaki: The Northern Ireland Heat

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For the Great British Menu 2015 Northern Ireland heat I was really expecting a whiskey fuelled week. Boy, was I wrong!

Returning chef Chris McGown made it adamantly clear that he wasn’t intending on making friends during the competition, the opposite to any plan I have ever heard from an Irishman. And I’m not sure there was more than a couple of bottles of wine thrown about during the four courses.

Great British Menu 2015The mentor for this heat announced himself as banquet winner and double Michelin starred chef, Phil Howard. Last year, the Northern Ireland champion, Chris McGown (who used to work closely with the infamous GBM chef Richard Corrigan), received a measly 5 for his starter, and this year it was obvious he was going to push himself for more.

His dish “Shall I Be Mother?” re-created a WI gathering, promising no more than finger food and a consommé. However, he chose to abandon his sausage roll last minute; and an overcooked vol-au-vent was shunned by Phil. Newcomer Ben Arnold introduced himself as a mamma’s boy, and presented a starter that his mum would, probably, be proud of! Taking inspiration from packed lunches, his dish “Behind Every Working Man” presented a rabbit rillettes, a liver parfait and typically, a wheaten bread. Although, ironically, the bread let him down, being too heavy and undercooked.

>>> Read more on this year's Great British Menu here

Danni Barry, the first female chef since victor Jacqueline O'Donnell from the Scottish heat, and ex head chef to Simon Rogan, I feel didn’t really get her time in the limelight at all this week. “But First, Tea” was a dish inspired by the one her mum used to cook for farmers. Also creating a consommé and a treacle bread, Danni appeared to be in competition between both Chris and Ben.Great British Menu 2015 Unfortunately, her consommé was cold, and the twist of added bone marrow wasn’t flavoursome enough for Phil.

The fish course began swimmingly, as we are reminded that three years ago, Phil took his fish dish to the banquet. No pressure, then. Aiming for a lot less stress, Chris simplified his dish, “Imelda’s Fish and Milk 2015”, accompanied by a garden plant that the diners can snip off and eat as they wish. Well that’s one way to save time! Although, bugger me, it turned out that Phil’s favourite ingredients happened to be langoustines, which he passionately described as the greatest shellfish in the sea.

“The New Wave” was introduced by Danni, who was still hovering in the shadows of the two male chefs. Using a sustainably farmed halibut, Danni also took the obvious route of cooking Jerusalem artichokes, as every chef has done since the beginning of this series, in honour of the WI unofficial anthem. Making sure she used every part of the fish, Danni roasted the bones and the head to make a sauce. It was questionable if the dish was appropriate for a banquet, though. Taking Chris’ place as the chef with too much to cook, Ben attempted to create a dish from lobster, crab, cod and clams.

“Mrs Skillen’s Fish Soup” turned out to be a disaster. Over ten minutes late to the pass, Ben forgot to cook both the cod and the crab, which is prompted by Phil as he finally throws his plates onto the table. The Velouté was too thick, and in the end, this soup (that wasn’t really a soup) was marked a kind, five points. Great British Menu 2015By this point, I wasn’t really rooting for anyone to win. This week didn’t live up to any of my expectations based on both location and on the previous heats.

Where was the typical chef’s potty mouth? The drama? When I think of Ireland, I think of the folk tales starting “A man from Ireland, sitting in a local pub talking about his attempts to catch leprechauns”… nothing of the sort happened in this kitchen. The queen might as well have been present, for goodness sake, it was so tame. For the main course, Chris hit the brief with his, literal, tongue in cheek pie; “Pioneers and Pickles”. Bravely, Chris attempted to make three types of chutneys and relishes, for the WI, who pride themselves on this produce.

As Phil is tasting the piccalilli, Chris adamantly refuses that the taste of vinegar is too sharp, just before cutting to poor Ben who is chocking on the stuff, which really tickled my pickle. I can’t knock Danni’s researching skills. All of this talk about “home cooking” and “growing your own food” was really starting to drain my enthusiasm. Refreshingly, Danni had adapted an old recipe from a Golden Jubilee cooking competition, where the entrants were in to “Win a Pig”.

Cooking a pork tender loin which was stuffed with her own black pudding, she turned an old recipe into an interesting new concept, however lost points on the fact that she didn’t make her own pastry. What an outrage! What would the ladies of the WI say?Great British Menu 2015 Attempting to hit the brief, Ben came up with the idea of using three different types of lamb to represent the three classes of citizens coming together in one dish.

Sweetbreads, a rack of lamb and lamb shoulder for a shepherd’s pie. Although, he did call it “Lamb Revolution” which raises the question of if he actually knows what revolution means. Presented on a hand stitched plate, displaying the lyrics to the NI WI’s anthem ‘A Country Woman’s Song.” (WAIT, IT’S NOT JERUSALEM??)

As the desert course came into action, the chefs really began to push themselves. Danni, who hadn’t taken many risks this week gave herself the task of making her mum’s favourite dessert. A trifle with honey parfait, raspberry curd and champagne and hibiscus jelly. The idea was also to coat the trifle in pink chocolate, however when faced with a larger task, Danni faltered and ran out of time to add her finishing touches. It was probably just as well she didn’t go to all of the effort, anyway, as Phil shot down her dish immediately by saying even if the dish had been finished, it wouldn’t have been a banquet dish. Great British Menu 2015

Presented with a rather pointless apple tree, Chris’ dish “WI Apple Day” focused on a blown sugar apple which seemed like a lot of effort, just for one element of the dish. Taking almost the entire episode to perfect it, Chris plated up his dessert made up of apple puree, vanilla ice cream, a sponge with blackberry jam and deep fried brioche.

The resounding comment for every single one of his dishes this week though, is that it lacks ‘finesse’. I’m starting to think that was Phil’s word of the week. The last dessert left me dreaming of trifle up until this very moment. Ben’s “Summer Fayre of the Country Trifle” was a classic dish, and absolutely it hit the brief. Beginning with raspberry Swiss rolls, right through to the cucumber flavoured cream on the top, the trifle was praised, scoring him a 9. Finally, the chefs were able to enjoy a nice glass of Pimms, before Danni was excluded from the competition.

This week’s guest judge was Felicity Cloake, an award winning food critic, and WI recipe enthusiast. The first to pate up was Ben, on his mum’s advice he managed to prefect the wheaten bread, although Matthew seemed to think that it was still heavy enough to enter into a hurling contest. Chris’ starter was criticised for having ‘too much going on’. To be honest I am sure that, by this point, the judges are sick to death of seeing savoury tea parties.Great British Menu 2015

The fish course swung more in Ben’s favour, as he had perfected the sauce and executed his cooking times perfectly for the judging round. Chris’ lemon and fennel atomisers really baffled Matthew, who really isn’t keen on this new fan-dangled technology. The main course is where it really got interesting. First to plate up was Chris with his impressive pie.

All of the judges helped themselves to seconds, especially Oliver who could not stop talking about the kidney sauce. Also, in contrast to the mentoring, Prue loved the more refined piccalilli. Unfortunately for Ben, his main course had to follow something which I can only describe as a food orgy.

The judges were all drunk on joy eating that pie, it was almost uncomfortable to watch. Sounding quite disappointed, Matthew does comment on there being a lot of good things to say about ben’s dish, while Felicity tucks into her new found “perfect shepards pie”.

As the deserts rolled in, it was pretty clear that Chris was going to win after the pie saga. However, his dessert didn’t compare to Ben’s trifle, throwing everything off balance once again. ben dessert

As the chefs entered the judges chamber, Oliver tells them both that they have eaten two of the finest dishes they have ever eaten in a competition. I really wish I could have had some of that trifle in a doggy bag! Stealing the gold was dessert-king Ben, much to second time contestant Chris’ displeasure.

>>> Read more about Great British Menu here

>>> Read more about Great British Menu 2015 here

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Editor 7th September 2015

Great British Menu 2015 blog by Katie Pathiaki: The Northern Ireland Heat