Great British Menu 2019 chefs: Liam Simpson-Trotman, North West heat

The Staff Canteen

The Great British Menu 2019 North West heat kicks off on BBC 2 on Wednesday 10th April at 8pm, featuring  chefs Liam Simpson-Trotman, Hrishikesh Desai and Adam Reid

We asked them what it was like to take part in the competition, now in its fourteenth edition. This week's contestants will be judged by Michelin-starred veteran chef Tom Aikens. Two of them will make it to the judge's table on Friday, where Matthew Fort, Oliver Peyton and Andi Oliver will be joined by singer-songwriter Amy MacDonald.

Liam Simpson-Trotman is the co-owner and co-chef at Orwells in Oxfordshire.  He studied restaurant, culinary and catering management in his home city of Liverpool, becoming the sous chef at The Goose in Salome in 2008 alongside his now husband, co-owner of Orwells and fellow Great British Menu contestant, Ryan Simpson-Trotman

The restaurant, which they launched together in 2010, offers a fine dining menu using  seasonal, mostly homegrown produce in a relaxed, family-friendly setting. 

The solo venture has been a massive success, recognised in the Best of Britain Guide, the Good Food Guide, earning 4AA Rosettes and a listing in the Michelin guide, to name a few of its accolades.

The chef admitted to not having watched any of this year's Great British Menu episodes:  "It's okay, we’ll binge watch it over the weekend," he joked. 

17742535 low res great british menuHow was it?

I absolutely loved it. The whole new setup of the kitchen was great, the production team were just as nice and I was elated to have Tom Aikens as a vet. Last year I didn’t really gel with Michael O’Hare. He’s not the sort of chef I look up to.

I mean look at Kray. You can see why he’s Michael’s head chef, because they have very similar personalities. When I heard it was Tom Aikens I was like ‘oh thank God for that.’

He’s been around, he’s classically trained, I’ve looked up to him my whole life.

He wasn’t scary at all – he has a reputation in the industry but he’s wasn’t there for himself, he was there to guide us through, to give us sound advice and score us. We had a right laugh with him.

(Image: Liam Simpson-Trotman, Adam Reid and Hrishikesh Desai. Credit: BBC Pictures) 

The guys were good. I’d never met Adam Reid or Hrishikesh. Hrishi’s a lovely guy, he’s one of the most genuine, humble chefs I’ve ever met. He’s got no agenda, he just comes in, cracks on and his food is absolutely stunning. His connections were spot on.

Did you like the brief this year?

I thought it was wicked. I found the NHS one really difficult. Everybody loves music, whether it’s classical, British, cheesy British, there are so many different varieties and avenues you can down.

I really thought about this brief. I thought it was really clever, probably one of the best – and I’m not a fan of the Beatles. It’s like, Oasis, turn over.

Mine aren’t the Beatles. Mine are the Spice Girls, Cream – the nightclub – I feel like one of those generations where I was lucky enough to enjoy it before it all got capped, now it’s like illegal raving which is quite scary.

Then the fish course was connected to the Kooks song, Seaside – that meant a lot to me because it was quite personal.

Creating food that is emotional to you anyway, it stirs up a lot of memories and then you put up a song with it and you close your eyes and you think of that time.

I felt so relaxed; I didn’t do much to be honest. I thought it was quite easy compared to last time.

Tom Aikens was just standing there giving us his devil eye; I just cracked on and time went by quite quickly.

I am the king of organising. I like to be cool, calm and collected. I like to have a laugh and let my personality show. That’s just me, I can’t pretend to be in the shit.

What was it like for you and Ryan, having to film your heats consecutively?OrwellsEdited 2 low res.jpg.640x480 q80

He filmed a couple of weeks before me. It was quite stressful for him, bless him, he had a radio show so he was travelling back and forth.

Did it get a bit competitive between you two?

It never did honestly. I don’t know if you know but Ryan wasn’t asked to do this series, I’d already got the brief and then somebody pulled out so they asked Ryan – I think he was gutted when the brief first came through. But we supported each other, we bounced ideas off each other.

It’s not easy coming up with eight dishes between you, trying to get eight banquet-worthy dishes, or even just fit enough for the show.

Image: Orwells, Shiplake, Oxfordshire

Do you two have a similar style of cooking?

When it comes to the restaurant, we sing to the same tune, but when you have the opportunity to come up with your own ideas, you let your own individuality show.

You saw his fish dish, he loves sole, he loves Verjus, he’s been doing that for years, that is him – but I like your homely, hearty, minimalistic food, where every bite is flavoursome. I try to take one ingredient and do the most with it, showcase it by cooking it in a different style like the beetroot dish.

And Tom said he loved every element of it because he could taste the salt bake, the pickle and I thought that was cool, because that is me.

My main dish took me right back to being a kid, and having those cultural evenings as children, playing the trombone, getting the guitar out, the keyboard, every musical instrument in the house -and we’d always have ribs.

It might not seem banquet worthy but I wanted to showcase my family and what music meant to me and this is how tight it brought us all together.

I nearly cried when I presented the main. I had to take a breath.

They didn’t have a fryer, and I’ve never used induction, and they said I’d have to put the duck fat in a Le Creuset Pot – it took forever to heat up and the chips came out crispy but pale at the same time – and they said I couldn’t cook them again, so I said ‘whatever, I’ll just serve these white things.’

But that was my mistake, I wasn’t in control of the fat that day.

When it came to the dessert there was no actual aeration – I’d practiced at Orwells with our AMCV machine, and it was working fine, but I got to the studio and they said ‘oh we don’t have one that size so you can’t do it.’ So they ordered one in but I didn’t get time to practice, I just went in blind.

Why did you call your dessert 'Guilty Pleasure?'

Because as a kid I was a fat boy, and I swear to God, I was 16 stone when I was a kid, I just loved cake.

It got to the point that no matter what family party – you know those black forest gateaux that you get, where they’re frozen and you take the plastic off the side and all the cream just sticks, you end up licking half the plastic – I had two slices every time.

I didn’t care, I had one and someone would be like, ‘you want another one?’ and I’d be like ‘yes, please.’

So it was my guilty pleasure. No matter what family party, no matter what music was playing, I would have black forest gateau with lashings of cream. I felt rubbish after it, but I’d just go back on the bouncy castle and have a laugh.

Would you have another crack at GBM if they asked you again?

It’s a good experience for any chef to do because it tests you. Me and Ryan, we do everything together, but when you’re taken into a certain situation and put in with your peers, people you may look up to or who look up to you and you get the opportunity to cook for a vet, it’s showcasing your skills.

I think all chefs at one time in their life should experience that.

It gives you confidence that you never had before. That’s what it did for me the first time and that might be why I felt so relaxed the second time.

Where else am I going to cook my food for Tom Aikens, one on one, unless he hires me as a private chef (and I doubt it)?

If they asked me again, I’d never say never. Even if they asked me in five years’ time, I’d love to. It’s great for little old Liverpool.

Competing with other chefs at your level, it’s kind of like sibling rivalry. You love the person opposite you and you think they’re as good as you but you think ‘I want to be better than you, I love you but I’m just going to leave you in my dust. I’m not going to show you that, I’m just going to smile politely.’

I don’t think I could’ve got two better people to cook with than Adam and Hrishi, they were just lovely. We were having a laugh, we were having a sing, and we were jumping on with each other wherever we needed to, even when everything was under control. Because you just feel like you’re working in a team, even if it was just wiping plates for each other.

It’s all trust as well, because you could sabotage people. But then you’d probably come across as a bugger.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th April 2019

Great British Menu 2019 chefs: Liam Simpson-Trotman, North West heat