Chris McClurg, Paul Ainsworth at No 6: ‘It's some people's goal just to be asked to do GBM, lots of people are like 'that's a huge honour', myself included’

The  Staff Canteen

Chef patron of Michelin-starred Paul Ainsworth at No 6’s Chris McClurg has competed in Great British Menu twice, once in 2019 and again this year

Chris grew up watching Great British Menu, and in that time he saw the generation’s most celebrated chefs appear on it - from his mentor Paul Ainsworth to the infamous Tom Kerridge. But when he first started working in the industry, displaying his talents on television was the last thing on his mind.

In an interview with The Staff Canteen, he explained: “I was too focused on just learning my craft and honing my skills.” But in another sense, it was always at the back of his mind that one day he might make it on to the programme.

And after three years of working with Paul, Chris got his chance. The chef thoroughly enjoyed taking part in the show and even on the second time around, he was able to tap into the talent pool of the other chefs on the programme.

"I took loads out of being around those guys,” he said.  

“If you think about it, if you go the whole distance you meet three chefs in regionals, then another seven in finals week, so that's potentially 10 people that you can share ideas with, share stories with, help nurture and be on the receiving end of that."

Even though he had a great experience, Chris never quite did as well as he felt he could do, so when the possibility to take part again came up, it was too good to pass on.

'it's a fantastic platform for chefs to show a bit more of them and also pit themselves in a good level competition'

Like for many other chefs before him, appearing on GBM was a rare chance for Chris to step out of his kitchen.

"The thing for me that's fantastic about it is we're all guilty of being so involved in our own little world that it's hard to get your head out of the sandbox," he said. "Great British Menu is a fantastic opportunity to really pitch yourself against some of the country’s best - real up and coming talent.”

For him, the competition was a great chance to share and collaborate with the other chefs, as well as being “a really good barometer to see where you're at in the standings.”

Plus, he added, “it’s just a nice opportunity to show more people a bit of you, [to tell] people a bit of your story and show what you're capable of. I think it's a fantastic platform for chefs to show a bit more of them[selves] and pit themselves in a good level competition."

‘You’re out of your comfort zone’

While great fun, the chef stressed that the competition is by no means easy, in that it removes you from the environment you are used to and changes everything about how you work.

However, embracing upheaval and experimentation is the heart of how he works as a chef. "I love it," he said. "I think change is good I'm an absolute advocate for change. I'd sooner take a chance on 10 things and have nine of them fail and one really pays off, then don't take a chance on anything."

On top of everything else is the added pressure of the competition, which really strips back a chef to the very basics of their skills and the ingredients at their disposal.

“The competition's tight - you're out of your comfort zone, you're in an alien environment, you haven't got your team around you. It's just you, your ingredients, your ideas and a plan and it's just about executing that plan.”

What’s truly important

Despite the pressure, this year, chef made a point to consciously enjoy his time on the programme. "The important thing for me is that I went on there - yes, of course, I wanted to ultimately win a course, that was the plan - but more importantly, I wanted to go on there and represent my team well, because it's those guys that have got to, every single day, inspire and nurture and grow and develop.”

Taking part for the second time, the chef changed his approach to the competition, focusing more on what people outside of the show thought than what actually happened in the competition.

He said: "There's no bigger judge than 10 guests in the restaurant.”

"The big pressure for me is every day, 10 services a week, lunch and dinner."

So instead of focusing on what the Great British Menu judges thought of his cooking, he said, "As long as I went on there and my team, my family, Paul are proud of me then that's what's most important. Not necessarily what four judges in a chamber think of me."

Having that mentality was very helpful to keep him calm, and helped him remember that the competition is, in essence, “no different than cooking for four guests in the room."

His team at No. 6, he said, is like his ‘extended family’ and he hopes that his appearance on the programme will “show that we've created something here that is an environment that's forward-thinking, that's lovely to be in, that's nurturing, that's lovely to be a part of.”

His advice to other competitors?

"If you have that mentality, I think, going into [a] competition environment like the GBM kitchen, it helps you stay level and helps you keep perspective.”

Written by Harper McCarley

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 29th March 2022

Chris McClurg, Paul Ainsworth at No 6: ‘It's some people's goal just to be asked to do GBM, lots of people are like 'that's a huge honour', myself included’