Great British Menu 2019 chefs: Lee Smith, South West heat

The Staff Canteen

The South West heat of this year’s series of Great British Menu will hit the airwaves tonight at 8pm on BBC Two.

The programme pits the country’s top chefs against one another, first cooking for a veteran chef followed by a panel of judges, for the chance to serve one of their dishes at a banquet. This year, the competition celebrates fifty years of British music and the reception will be held at Abbey Road Studios, where The Beatles recorded most of their albums in the 1960s.

This week will see chefs Emily Scott, Joe Baker and Lee Smith, all firstcomers on the programme and all restaurant chef owners representing the South West.

We spoke to them about what it meant to them to take part in Great British Menu.

Lee Smith  is the head chef of Michelin-starred Jersey restaurant, Samphire. Originally from Nottingham, Bohemia’s former head chef had only taken the helm at Samphire (formerly Ormer, owned by Shaun Rankin) a few months prior and was midway through mentoring Jersey College students in this year’s Heat competition when he was cast for Great British Menu.

What was it like to take part in GBM this year? It must have been a bit of a 17851769 low res great british menuwhirlwind for you.

I did the filming – the Michelin Guide came out on the Monday after I finished filming on the Friday, so it was a bit of a crazy time.

But did you still enjoy it?

Yeah it was good, it was totally different to anything I’d ever done before; not so much the cooking side but the competition side, working with the cameras, it was all a bit daunting.

Once you got cooking it was fine, it was more the walk in and the talking – the stuff that you’re not used to, it felt a bit abnormal.

Image: from left to right, Joe Baker, Emily Scott, Lee Smith. Credit: BBC Pictures

How did you feel about being judged by Daniel Clifford?

We all said that we didn’t want him, but then if you could get through the week of him judging you then you’d stand a good chance with the judges. He’s done it god knows how many times before and a two star chef like that - it’s not a bad person to be judged by in general, just to get feedback. That made it worth it in of itself.

Did you know Joe Baker before?

I knew who he was, I’d not spoken to him; my sous chef Tom thought there was somebody else from Jersey. When they came over to film there was a bit of ambiguity – we offered to take them back to the airport and they said no, so there was a bit of suspicion there but we didn’t really know who it could be from Jersey until I walked into that kitchen on the Monday morning.

But like I said, he’s a nice guy and a good cook, I enjoy his restaurant and it was good to have a friendly face over there.

What did you think of the brief?

It was good. It was a bit hard to start with, trying to put food to music.

Did you already have your dishes in mind and link them to music?

No. I wish I’d done that, I went the other way and I think that’s what stitched me up. When you start cooking that’s when you realise that you’ve gone about things the wrong way.

Each of my dishes was a decade – the sixties was one of them, the nineties was another – I tried to keep it as general as possible to appeal to the mass audiences but at the end of the day I wish I’d just chosen my dishes first and fit the brief around that.

What were you trying to showcase with your dishes? Was it about Jersey produce or the food you serve at Samphire or something else completely?

The first one wasn’t me at all, but the rest of the menu was my style of cooking, what we like to do at the restaurant. It was a bit weird because the brief said you didn’t have to worry about seasonality. It’s one of the first years it’s not been about that, which is why I had strawberries on there, somebody else had plums and raspberries on there so it was a bit of a mix and match.

We tried to get across what we do at the restaurant more than anything and I think you can see that in the menu.

Joe did use a lot more Jersey stuff than I did, but then again I use suppliers that we use at the restaurant anyway and they’re based in England. I didn’t want to risk changing the beef supplier when I’ve got a good one already.

17851799 low res great british menuDo you think being on GBM will affect your business in a big way?

I hope it does. When I was at Bohemia with Shaun, when he did it we were flat out for six months, even though we are a little island, people were still coming over so it’s only going to be beneficial for us and for Joe.

Which of your dishes did you want to take to the banquet when you entered the competition?

I though my main course was the best, it had the most props, it was quite a punchy, flavourful dish. It was about me, it was about the nineties, Oasis and Blur.

Image: Veteran judge Daniel Clifford. Credit: BBC Pictures

Would you do it again if they asked you?

I would. I’d go into it with a totally new approach. I’d get four solid dishes first and fit the brief around that. I think you can overthink things, like the props and stuff like that, you can get away with doing a lot less on the prop side and just concentrate on the cooking.

And with your dishes, there’s no point going in there and using sweet breads or stuff like that, you’ve got to choose a menu that is going to be appealing to sixty or seventy people at a banquet. If you’ve got some really weird stuff on there it can go against you I think.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 24th April 2019

Great British Menu 2019 chefs: Lee Smith, South West heat