Great British Menu 2019 chefs: Benedict Read, Scotland heat

The Staff Canteen

As BBC 2’s Great British Menu’s fifth heat is set to kick off on Wednesday 17th April, we spoke to the Scottish contestants Lorna McNee, Benedict Reade and Gordon Jones about what it was like to take part in this year’s competition.

Ben is the chef owner of Scottish food research hub, Edinburgh Food Studio. Like Lorna, Ben was cast for last year’s series , but he sadly didn’t make it past the first heat. We asked the former Nordic Food Lab chef how he showcased the food he likes to serve at his research-driven restaurant. 

What was it like to be back?

It’s a challenging gig. It doesn’t get easier, that’s for sure; it’s just such a high grade competition and such ruthless judging, but it’s great. I don’t mean to discredit it, it’s fun and I got quite a lot out of it – it’s a bit like sitting an exam in the sense that it’s not an easy process but you do gain from it.

Can you tell me a little bit about Edinburgh Food Studio? 

The main way that people interact with it is as a restaurant but we do research as part of it, supporting interns from universities. At the moment I’ve got a guy from the Basque Culinary Institute and he’s studying traditional bakery. We have a category of bakery in Edinburgh called home bakeries – I don’t really know why because obviously it’s not home baking but so he’s looking into them and the use of traditional recipes and the ones that are still around.

It’s more about getting that research out there than it is about us.

How did you manage to showcase what you do at the restaurant?17851563 low res great british menu

Honestly, I’m not sure I did. What we do here doesn’t really fit with the Great British Menu format. It’s quite a different style, which is great fun for me, it’s really great to play around with a more classic style.

Also here at the restaurant, I’ve got my head chef James Murray who joined us earlier this year from Lyle's so we see eye to eye; but for the first three years here we were cooking ourselves, now we’re doing different things, hosting more, we’ve just taken a pastry chef from L’Enclume, he was head of pastry there, James we got in from Lyle's but previous to that he was head chef for a restaurant that got a Michelin star in less than a year in Hong Kong, Nur, and he spent years at Le Manoir.

So I suppose a lot of what gets fed into other things, thinking about it, for example, the produce that James uses is often based on a lot of the networks he’s made and research that’s been done. For example we had a girl who’d done some really wonderful research on mutton, and I’m just looking into the kitchen now and all the mutton that’s there is from a producer we were connected to through the research.

Image: From left to right, Benedict Reade, Lorna McNee, Gordon Jones. Credit: BBC Pictures

And I suppose that also fed into GBM in a sense; I used Shetland PDO lamb, and it reflects that engagement with the produce that defines us. We’re very honoured when the Michelin guide gave us a commendation – we’re a very casual venue but the quality of the produce is outstanding and I think that’s really what makes us special.

Did you enjoy taking part in GBM more this year than you did last year? Would you do it again?

I’d do it again. As I said, I don’t think enjoyment is the right word, I got a lot out of it but it’s like sitting an exam – it’s very stressful and very emotionally fraught. It’s a big push, there’s a lot of pressure, you’re doing it in front of millions of people, and you don’t want to mess it up.

I wouldn’t put enjoyment on there, although there’s definitely fun moments and it is fun to be involved - the benefits don’t come from being happy.

What did you think of Richard Corrigan’s judging?

I thought he was fair. I didn’t necessarily agree with everything he said but obviously food cooked by different chefs is different and that is part of the joy of it all. I have a lot of respect for him and I enjoyed getting to know him. That’s one of the bonuses of GBM – coming into contact with these types of guys and finding out a bit about them. There’s a bit of off-camera banter and it’s good to get to know them a bit.

Had you come across the other contestants before?

I was up against Lorna last year and I’ve got so much respect for her. She’s a real force to be reckoned with. I  really like her as a person as well and she was on great form so it was lovely to compete against her. And Gordon, what a character, what a madman. He was fantastic. His food is definitely pretty out there and some of it outstandingly delicious. Both  him and Lorna are so technically gifted and great workers and great banter.

I feel like Scotland always has this – we’re always slightly more internally competitive, but there’s a lot of camaraderie and banter as well.

It was great to be up against them, they’re great folks, really solid cooks.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th April 2019

Great British Menu 2019 chefs: Benedict Read, Scotland heat