Great British Menu 2015: What the judges think about this year's competition

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 30th July 2015

The BBC's Great British Menu is judged by Prue Leith, Matthew Fort and Oliver Peyton. The cooking competition for professional chefs, will hit our TV screens next week and promises to serve up something special.

The Staff Canteen spoke to the judges in charge of picking the winning chefs to find out what they are looking for this year.

prue_leith_1x1It began ten years ago as a celebration of the Queen's birthday but due to it's success the BBC's Great British Menu has become an important competition among chefs and must-watch viewing for avid foodies.

>>> Read more on Great British Menu

Prue Leith, OBE, one of GBM's three judges explained how no one thought the concept would work. "It was so successful the producers thought we could do this annually with different banquets," she explained. "I didn't think it would work. The Queen's banquet's special. But it's been extraordinary - they always think up something brilliant." Past winners of the cooking competition include Marcus Wareing, Sat Bains, Jason Atherton and Tom Kerridge - to name a few!

This season the producers have selected another milestone, the Women's Institute's (WI) UK centenary, as this year's theme. The WI, founded in Canada in 1897, came to Britain in 1915 during World War One, to revitalise rural communities and encourage women to produce more food for the war effort. One century on the WI's thriving and the international headquarters in London reflects its strong British ties.

>>> Watch our video with Featured Chef Marcus Wareing

Prue, together with fellow judges, British food writer and critic Matthew Fort and Oliver Peyton, an Irish restaurateur, have chosen every year's winners something they all relish. "We all get on. We're all different but I really love Matthew and Prue," said Oliver. "I've always enjoyed doing it and I've met many interesting chefs, tasted interesting food and GBM's played its part in the farming revival."Great British Menu

Prue's similarly enthusiastic, she said: "It's relaxing for me as I work pretty hard most of the time. On GBM I'm not cooking so don't have to think about the meal I'm going to prepare for a cooking programme. They treat me really nicely and you then judge the best chefs in the country who cook for you - I mean what's not to like? I also enjoy Matthew and Oliver's company. They're good friends and make me laugh."

With top chefs all vying to represent various chosen UK regions, once again there are high expectations for this year's entrants. "There's two or three chefs this series, I won't say who, I really believe they'll become household names. They're 'stormers' - completely without inhibition," said Oliver. "They're not worried about cooking up foie gras three ways - they don't give a damn about that. They care about what's inside them. In this competition, particularly in relation to the WI, chefs are really cooking from their soul. It's going to be a good one."

Great British MenuPrue feels some series initially seem they will be better than others, but clearly loved them all. "Many themes I've thought will never work, but they think of excellent angles," she said. "I was rather unhappy when we started doing the Normandy landings last year. I thought that was slightly tasteless - you can't have something where so many people died as a reason for cooking a meal but it was wonderful.

"All the chefs' parents or grandparents were in the war, many part of the landings. We also had judges, who as 17-year-old boys were on the ships. It was really interesting with amazing food."

Both agree the WI's an important part in British cooking and using its centenary as this year's theme, will contribute to what they are confident will be a season to savour. It will show, contrary to stereotypes, the WI's crucial role in British culinary history, one big reason Britain punches above its weight producing world-class restaurants and chefs.

"I hope the strong sense of community the WI's generated comes out. I was really surprised to learn how many urban WIs are opening. I certainly think if we had many more WIs in urban areas they'd be an enormous social force," said Oliver enthusiastically. "People will see they haven't ruined British cooking because what separates British cooking from other cuisines is home cooking. British baking's home cooking. Except for the WI, many things like Britain's baking culture, which I'm passionate about would be dead."GBM judges

Although initially more cautious than Oliver, Prue's enthusiasm for the WI and its involvement is equally evident. "I was sceptical when they suggested the WI, due to prejudices about grey haired old ladies making cakes. I knew better: I often talk at their meetings and events - they're the most intelligent interesting people and some branches, the average age is mid-30s. I thought it wouldn't appeal to younger audiences, but it's been great," she said.

With so many cooking programmes on television compared to ten years ago, what's kept GBM so popular and can it continue to compete?

"What's obvious is GBM's been a great incubator for cooking talent and a big influence on producers and young chefs particularly regarding ingredients," said Oliver. "Food programming's mixed but GBM gives a snapshot of current British food. When I started the only food reference was France because the only people training chefs in this country were from French restaurants. Some of this year's GBM chefs may have never even been to France, nor consider it their culinary cornerstone. Their food reference is currently British, Indian, whatever. Young chefs' inspiration's completely changed in a generation - I really like our indigenous cooking culture embedding itself in new chefs.

Great British Menu"The national focus is great - taking things away from London's very important. Many chefs recognise if they're on GBM, win or lose, their restaurants will become busier. It's important to many restaurants outside London, more if they're good and get through."

Prue also praises the show. "Look at how it's developed - it's amazing! GBMs helped promote farmers, local produce, cooking innovation etcetera. This year's an excellent example. Inspiration came from the WIs origins, history and campaigns, food like: pigeon; rabbit; offal; herring; mackerel, which was lovely for me," Prue said. "I think it's a little different to a lot of food shows in that it's not just a competition it's also the best chefs in the country and as a tribe chefs are very engaging people. I'm not really sure why it works but it certainly does."

>>> Read more about Great British Menu 2015

By Rob Whitson

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 30th July 2015

Great British Menu 2015: What the judges think about this year's competition