Great British Menu 2019 chefs: Lorna McNee, Scotland heat

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th April 2019

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.

Lorna is the sous-chef at the two Michelin-starred Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles. 

It was the Scottish Chef of the Year 2017's second time on Great British Menu: last year, she took on Edinburgh Food Studio’s Ben Reade and Ross Bryans, and only just came short of taking her dessert to the NHS banquet. We asked her about what it meant to her to compete again this year.

Given what happened last year, how important was it for you to come back and bring your dishes to the banquet?

The second time around, as competitive as I am, I pushed even harder. I came so close in last year’s competition and didn’t make it, which was disappointing to say the least.

How was it competing against Ben again, and Gordon for the first time?

It was totally different to the year before – new kitchen, for a start, which was really good, last year’s was badly needing a refurb to be honest.

The three of us have really different styles, which was good. It was more of a challenge - people expected more of me because of how far I got last year. It was quite intimidating and quite hard to try and prove myself for the second time.

How different was it to be judged by Richard Corrigan compared to Phil Howard last year?

I probably cooked differently this year to how I cooked last year – last year I focused a lot more on Scottish produce and Phil really respected and understood that. This year I tried harder to stick to the brief. It was tougher with Richard Corrigan because we didn’t quite find that same bond that I found with Phil Howard. I think Richard would have liked it if I’d done the same thing as I did with Phil – he was very produce-driven.

Can you talk me through your dishes? Your starter was inspired by Elton John, 17851607 low res great british menuright?

I found this idea for a dish which I thought was great and tried to make a dish around it, which is really difficult to do. You’re better finding a dish and then weave your inspiration into it.

Every year Elton John hosts a party to make money for charities – I think it’s an AIDS one – and he has this signature cheese toastie and every year a different chef does a different take on it, so we had gorgonzola cheese, pear, fruit bread. I tried to stick to this cheese toastie idea but make it a little bit more modern, a little bit more my style, but it was difficult.

Image: from left to right, Benedict Reade, veteran judge Richard Corrigan, Lorna McNee, Gordon Jones. Credit: BBC Pictures

Tell us about your Spice-Girl themed fish course.

It was all about the spice. I visited an Indian friend of mine and tried to learn a little bit more about spices because I’m not too confident working with them,  it’s not in my usual culinary repertoire – so I did a spiced monkfish with spicy onion bhajis and a salsa verde – I called it ‘Spice up your Life’

What was your main course?

It was inspired by all my friends and family; being a chef you don’t get to see friends and family a lot – same as a musician, you’re on the road all the time. The idea was a big meal that you’d sit down with your family and enjoy together – lamb rack, potatoes, braised cabbage and a lamb stew with little dumplings – it’s one of those things you’d put on the table and everyone would share.

I wanted to reflect the fact that chefs and musicians share the same lifestyle.

Watch: 2 Michelin star restaurant Andrew Fairlie chef Stevie McLaughlin talk about Scottish produce and running Gleneagles:

Moving on to your dessert. Because last year it came close to being on the banquet menu, is that the course you wanted to win this year?

I did a coconut and a Pina Colada sorbet so it was like you were sitting on the beach in the Wham! video drinking out of a coconut.

I thought that was very Great British Menu – it was one of those dishes that I’d done and worked on a good few times and I thought it worked. You'd see it and you'd think ‘yeah it totally matches that song’ and it was really fun and perfect for this kind of programme.

Would you say that you preferred this year’s theme to last year’s?

Obviously last year’s theme – the NHS – was a fantastic thing to celebrate, but this year, it’s music: that’s fun, you can be a lot more creative; it’s one of those things that you can really enjoy.

Having taken part twice now, what do you personally take away from Great British Menu as a competition?

You get to meet lots of like-minded chefs and other people on the same career path as you and it’s great to meet people that are totally different from you. With regards to Gordon for example – he’s completely different to anyone I’ve ever worked with, but at the end of the day, to look at and taste his food was amazing.

You find out about different techniques and different styles and I really enjoy that part of it; you don’t get to go out of your own kitchen much so it’s nice to meet other people and learn a bit more about food.

Taking part in any competition is great because you’re challenging yourself and this kind of competition really challenges every aspect of what you do – you’re not just cooking food, you really have to be creative with it and think everything through – the theme, the food, can it feed a hundred people – it is a challenge which I think keeps you motivated as a chef.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th April 2019

Great British Menu 2019 chefs: Lorna McNee, Scotland heat