Great British Menu 2019 chefs: Ryan Simpson-Trotman, Central heat

The  Staff Canteen

The Great British Menu 2019 Central heat continues on BBC 2 on Thursday 4th April at 8pm, featuring three chefs from the Midlands: Sabrina Gidda, Kray Treadwell and Ryan Simpson-Trotman.

We spoke to them to hear what it was like to take part in the competition, now in its fourteenth edition. This week's contestants will be judged by No6 chef and industry veteran Paul Ainsworth. 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 UB40's Ali Campbell.

Ryan Simpson-Trotman is the co-chef and co-owner of Orwells in Oxfordshire.

His passion for food started at a young age, finally honing his skills under Simon Hulstone at the Michelin-starred Elephant in Torquay.

He met his now husband Liam around this time and seized the opportunity to work with him at The Goose at Britwell Salome in 2008. They walked out when owner Paul Castle announced that he wanted to turn the gastropub into a simple pub, reportedly calling chef Simpson's food 'poncey.' 

The couple bought Orwells in 2010, developing fine dining menu using  seasonal, mostly homegrown produce in what they hoped would be a relaxed, family-friendly setting. 

Their first 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. 

Smoke on the Water Ryan Simpson TrotmanWell done on making it onto GBM for the third time. What was it like to be back?

Yeah it was good fun, it always is.

Brand new production team, lots of people from Birmingham – in fact the producer is actually from my hometown.

You liked the brief this year, didn’t you?

I think anyone would like a brief like that wouldn’t they. I felt the NHS one was very serious, and sometimes it’s hard to have fun with a serious subject. I do think that GBM should be fun. It’s about outdoing yourself and creating some outstanding dishes but I think sometimes you shouldn’t take things too seriously and I think this brief allows you to do that.

Image: Ryan's starter, Smoke On The Water

Can you talk to me about the inspiration for your dishes?

The first one was a reference to deep purple – the first rift I ever learnt to play because I played guitar when I was young but it was more about how great British music is really and how it empowers you to pick up a guitar.

That’s why I had a prop like I did. I’m not a prop heavy chef, but I was well made up that we had Paul Ainsworth, I was surprised because I don’t think he was very impressed with the prop, because his own dish when he got to the banquet many years ago was a fairground and that was really prop heavy so I thought he was going to appreciate it but it totally backfired.

Then the fish course was all about fishing for a forty five. The sole is a play on words – not spelt like the music – it was a reference to the collection of music that’s my sole music, this is what I cook with and back in the day I used to collect records and sift through records in record shops and keep them in my soul collecting box – so it was just a reference to how British music was influenced by soul music in the sixties and seventies, and it tasted really good as well.

Fishing for a 45 Ryan Simpson TrotmanIt must have been nerve wracking cooking fish for Paul.

No, not really. Just because he lives on the coast doesn’t mean he’s an expert. It was more nerve wracking because he’s been around and he has a wealth of experience.

I think when you’ve done GBM for three years, third year in you are quite confident in what you’re doing. But you don’t know what’s said in the judges chamber and you never do until you see it on TV, so it’ll be good to see how the judges interpret what they think of people’s dishes.

Image: Ryan's fish course, Fishing For A 45

It’s always cool to hear what they have to say, because everyone has different opinions don’t they.

It must’ve been interesting competing with Sabrina and Kray because you all have such different approaches to food.

It is good because it gives you an insight into how other people cook, which is probably one of the biggest positives of that show. You learn some interesting techniques.

Why do you think GBM is a great thing to take part in?

It gives you confidence as a cook and it makes you stronger as well, as a chef. Because first and foremost, it’s bloody difficult to get on that show. There are so many great chefs in the UK and to be chosen three years in a row is quite something.

Do you know what the selection process is?

I’m not sure of the ins and outs but they vet everybody, that’s for sure. The work that goes into the show is unbelievable. It’s mentally draining, it’s much easier to cook in your own restaurant, that’s for sure.

17742430 low res great british menuI burnt my beetroot and Sabrina burnt her ox cheek in the first course because we were trying to push the boundaries, using pressure cookers and doing things that would take hours normally. Working in a kitchen you don’t know, working on an induction when we don’t have induction here.

On GBM it’s really trial and error, it can be quite difficult.

And at the restaurant it’s just me and Liam, so it was quite tough to manage everything at once, testing and trialling stuff and putting in really long hours. But 100% worth it. It is really good fun.

Not everyone can win it, but you have to stay true to what you believe and what you do, and hope for the best.

Image: Kray Treadwell, Sabrina Gidda and Ryan Simpson-Trotman

The hardest thing for me in that competition you try to push the boundaries and cook things that would normally take hours to cook and you’re trying to do that in an hour and a half.

I think that’s where a lot of people fall short, like some of the guys that went out like Paul Walsh for instance; I mean I used to work under Walshie and this guy is a fantastic chef – obviously the other guys went through because they were stronger – but if you don’t plan it right or something goes wrong, it can be a disaster.

You have to set out to push yourself because it shows that you’re trying to create something special. It’s a really hard one to balance.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th April 2019

Great British Menu 2019 chefs: Ryan Simpson-Trotman, Central heat