Great British Menu 2015 blog by Katie Pathiaki: The Scottish Heat

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th August 2015

This is the first instalment in a series of weekly blogs, rounding up each heat of Great British Menu 2015.

On Monday the Great British Menu 2015 entered its tenth season. To round off its first decade on our screens, top chefs from around these fair isles are competing to cook at a banquet to mark one hundred years of the Women’s Institute.

The WI in its one hundred years has earned itself a place in many Great British Menu 2015communities as a bastion of self-sufficiency, sorority, scones and summer fetes, and in order to honour this legacy the chefs must demonstrate the key values of the WI in their dishes.

We head to Scotland’s ‘wee bit hill’s and glen’s’ to kick off the first round. Fighting for a chance to represent Scotland and to proudly pin the thistle to their whites are Graham Campbell, Jimmy Lee and last year’s Jacqueline (Jak) O'Donnell, who you may remember knocked out double Michelin-starred Stevie McCloughlin but didn’t make it to the final banquet.

Stalking menacingly around the kitchen and judging the contestants is chef Michael Smith, the first Scottish chef to serve a meal at the banquet in 2006. Having been in the same position as the three contestants, the Michelin-starred Smith seems a fitting figure to score dishes and hand out criticism.

Great British Menu 2015The first episode of the Scottish heats kicked off with each chef bringing their own food memories in order to craft their starters. Last year’s Jak dished up her take on soup and a sandwich, creatively titled ‘Soup and a Sandwich.’

She filled her oat and barley bread with potted mutton, which was accompanied by lamb broth served in a percolator. Though, she encountered some problems with the blast chiller, which froze instead of jellifying her lamb stock, meaning a frustrated Michael had to wait.

>>> Read: Great British Menu 2015: What’s in a theme?

Jimmy chose to use his own experiences of learning to cook in his dad’s Chinese takeaway, delivering a starter of rice congee with a creamy century quail’s egg and Jerusalem artichoke crisps.Great British Menu 2015 Graham, the most outwardly confident of the bunch, cooked up a savoury twist on the fete table staple the Victoria sponge using brioche and blackberry compote accompanied by a jar of smoked potted rabbit, with Michael calling his dish ‘commendable, brave cooking.’

The fish dishes of episode two also had a familial connection, as Graham wanted to go diving with his father for fresh scallops, but couldn’t due to the weather. Despite the lofty ambitions of the dishes’ title ‘Posh Nosh’ (which had already been tried and tested in his restaurant for a month and a half), the course may as well have been called ‘Fish Dish’ as it was, by Michaels judgement, too simple and straightforward for a banquet. Graham wasn’t the only chef serving scallops, Jimmy attempted to claw back some points by pairing them with langoustines.

He used a variety of ingredients to ensure his ‘Let Me Do The Dishes’ was fit for a banquet. However, this didn’t work in Jimmy’s favour as all of the chefs found the dish too messy and over complicated. Jak spoke of how traditionally the member who brought the salmon to a WI meeting was ‘the lady’ of that meeting, perhaps she hoped to borrow some of that prestige by serving salmon poached with green tea, lime, honey and ginger. Great British Menu 2015

Jak also further tried to weave the WI into her dish by making her own lemon chutney, perhaps she should have named her dish ‘Chutney and Jeru-salmon’ instead of ‘Pretty Kettle of Fish.’ The nerves of the opening courses seem to have simmered down by day three, paving the way for the chefs to approach their main courses with confidence.

Graham was attempting to take the cake again by baking more savoury cakes, aptly named ‘Not Quite Afternoon Tea’, using venison to make meatloaf carrot cakes, topped with a mashed potato butter cream. If it scored high the first time… don’t fix what isn’t broken right? Also using venison for her ‘Heard at the Gathering’, Jak created a sharing dish. Following WI tradition, she coated the venison leg with a damson jam.

Although Michael was disappointed that the experienced chef wasn’t following the Great British Menu tradition by actually making the damson jam. She didn’t lack on the presentation, serving the venison to the sound of the WI ladies singing Jerusalem through a working gramophone, wrapped in the SWRI’s tartan.Great British Menu 2015 For his dish, Jimmy created a classic Scottish stew, called ‘Scottish Stew Surprise’.

Where the main surprise was when Jak realised Jimmy was presenting his dish using the same SWRI coloured tartan as her. Taking influence from his mother, who had learnt to create Chinese dishes with Scottish produce, Jimmy introduced Chinese ingredients into his stew, like oyster mushrooms and mooli, a bitter-sweet vegetable. Michael commented on the fantastic flavours and aromas in the stew. As the dessert course begins, tensions are high as one chef is chosen to leave the competition. At this point, Jak is comfortably in first place as Graham and Jimmy scramble for much needed points. Jimmy’s dessert ‘Flowers to touch Heart’ is a play on the word ‘dim sum’ as in Cantonese that means to touch heart

The Chinese influence here being the individually potted desserts, sort of a Bill and Ben by way of Beijing.Great British Menu 2015 Graham opted to serve a bee themed dish, plating up a beehive shaped chocolate mousse, a beetroot honeycomb and a bee shaped honey lollipop. Graham’s puntastic ‘All About the Beesness’ built on an ongoing campaign by the WI to save the British honey bee, with Graham hoping to save himself by creating a buzz at the judging.

Michael commented on his well thought out narrative though gave him some pointers on how to improve the dessert before the final judges swarm around the dish. Jak was looking to hold onto her lead by serving up a ‘clootie dumpling,’ which to anyone who didn’t grow up in Scotland is a type of pudding made from apples, pears, raisins and sultanas and looks a bit like a burnt potato. She served it with a whisky custard inside and serving the entire dish inside a miniature copper whisky still, titling her dish ‘Ladies Bake with an Angel’s Share.’

Ultimately, Jimmy didn’t quite do enough to save himself and was denied the chance to cook for the final judges.Great British Menu 2015 The final episode welcomed back Prue Leith, Oliver Peyton and Matthew Fort to cast their judgement over Graham and Jak’s menus. Joined by the WI’s Angela Baker, aka Miss February in their infamous naked calendar.

Following a week of having their dishes scrutinised by both Michael and each other, both Jak and Graham were aiming to refine their dishes before the judges could get the knives (and forks) out but Graham’s brioche Victoria sponge cracked (under the pressure?) and Jak was off to a, literally, shaky start. The judge’s comments were very mixed, and right up until the desserts course, it was unclear who would win the Scottish heat. Jak’s fish menu, which was served on a silver platter, was well received, whilst Graham’s second cake-a-like course just caused confusion amongst the judges.

>>> Read: What the judges think about this year's competition

In the end, newcomer Graham was beaten by returning chef Jacqueline who sealed the deal with her justly titled ‘Pretty Kettle of Fish’ although both Oliver and Matthew weren’t too fond of the chutney. Prue told the others to “open their minds and their taste buds, and try again”.Great British Menu 2015

Graham’s formerly high scoring ‘All About the Beesness’ dish caused an unset upset, as a last minute alteration meant that he had to serve a not quite set chocolate mousse. Thanks must be given to Jak's granny, who inspired and provided the recipes for most of her menu, not to mention the lovely WI ladies who made her jam, too. So that's Jak O'Donnell through. Next week, Great British Menu visits the South West.

By Katie Pathiaki

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

>>> Read more about Great British Menu 2015 here

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th August 2015

Great British Menu 2015 blog by Katie Pathiaki: The Scottish Heat