Great British Menu 2021 chefs: Gemma Austin, Northern Ireland heat

The  Staff Canteen

Gemma Austin, co-owner of Alexanders & co and founder of Belfast pop-up 'A Peculiar tea' is one of four chefs representing Northern Ireland on Great British Menu 2021.

Series 16 of the competition starts on Wednesday 24th March on BBC Two at 8pm, and the Northern Ireland heat will air on 28th, 29th and 30th April. All episodes will be available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

Gemma is competing against Andy ScollickPaul Cunningham and Phelim O’Hagan.​​​ As per the programme's new format which starts each heat with four chefs (as opposed to three in previous years), Paul was eliminated after the fish course after a tie break with Phelim. 

At the end of day 2 of the Northern Ireland heat, Phelim was once again in a tie break with Andy, but Phelim was the one to secure a place in the judges chamber as veteran judge Daniel Clifford preferred his pre-dessert.

He took the lead over Gemma on the third day of the Northern Ireland heat, meaning Gemma won't be going through to the national finals on the week starting May 17th. 

Biography

Gemma was set on becoming a nurse when a spinal injury left her unable to complete the training. She then embarked on a software programming course, thinking she had found her passion, but was once again disappointed.

In a eureka moment, she took on a job in a kitchen, transferred to a Culinary Arts management course at The Ulster University where she was already enrolled and spent four years studying and working full time. In that time, she climbed the ranks from commis chef to senior-sous chef at a 2 AA-Rosette hotel, before transitioning into her current role of executive chef and co-owner of Alexander's and Co. in Holywood.

A pastry chef by trade, Gemma's 'A Peculiar Tea' pop-up caught the Great British Menu producers' attention, and after being shortlisted for the show, she secured her spot into the group of four chefs vying to represent Northern Ireland in the 2021 series. 

Dishes

Starter

For her starter, Gemma created a tribute to a prototype for an automated keg-redirection system, the kegomatic.

'Support your local,' her take on ham egg and chips consisted of crispy ham hock fritters brined in Belfast beer, served with an Irish boxty, poached duck eggs, truffled hollandaise, picalilly, pickled shallots and grated truffle.

Despite what he said was too large a portion size, veteran judge Daniel Clifford gave it a score of 8/10.

Fish course

Gemma's fish course, 'Belfast born and bred,' was inspired by the Titanic, with every element on the plate having featured on the great ship's first class menu. 

Salt-baked seabass as served with breaised and crispy dehydrated leeks, carrot purée, blue potatoes and celeriac, alongside a tempura oyster. 

With comments about the execution of the dish, its presentation and the number of elements on the plate, Daniel gave it 5/10 points.

Main Course

For her main, Gemma's dish was inspired by the invention of the Clanny lamp, which helped save many miners lives by putting glass around the open flame they carried with them while they worked. 

'Light in the Dark' was a dish of pan-seared lamb loin, spiced, braised and fried lamb belly rillettes serves with black pudding crumb and purée, hot coal warmed jus, a rosemary butter candle, smoked chioggia beetroot, roasted salsify and crispy kale. 

Daniel gave the dish a score of 7/10.

Dessert

Gemma's dessert, 'Out of this World,' paid tribute to Alice Everett, the British engineer and astronomer who discovered 22,000 of our stars. A shared solar system on a plate, the dish consisted of set chocolate planets: one of white chocolate, filled with mango crémeux and mango-pineapple chuntney; the other out of dark tempered chocolate, filled with passionfruit jelly and chocolate mousse. Both were served on a plate with dots of mango gel, crémeux and the fruit chuntney. 

Daniel gave the dessert 10/10 points.

 Full name

Gemma Austin

 Nickname 

N/A

 Age/DOB

29, born 19/11/91

Place of birth / residence

From Carryduff outside Belfast

Relationship status / children

Not married, no kids

Height

5'7

Type of chef (restaurant, hotel, development chef, etc.)

Executive chef of restaurant Alexanders & Co, owner of pastry pop-up, A Peculiar Tea

Favourite type of cuisine

Italian

 Path to becoming a chef

I went to university and got a first class honours in Culinary Arts Management

Past and present place of work

I worked in a 5 star Hotel in Belfast called the Fitzwilliam Hotel. After that I went to a 2 rosette hotel called The Old Inn, Crawfordsburn. I'm now co-owner and executive chef of Alexander's & Co and owner of my pop-up, 'A Peculiar Tea.'

Personal and professional mentors / role models 

I've had a few brilliant mentors over the years and have worked with some brilliant chefs. My biggest role models are my parents, who have always worked hard and pushed me to be the best that I can be.

Guilty pleasure dish

Mashed potatoes and broccoli, mashed together with loads of gravy. Like a baby bowl 

Best / worst thing about being a chef

The best thing about being a chef is getting to be creative everyday. I think about food all day, everyday.

The worst thing about being a chef is the need for other people's approval. We can't believe in our own food enough unless someone tells us it's great

FeeEings  stepping onto the GBM set

Stepping onto the GBM set was like something in a dream. I couldn't believe it was actually happening to me. Between the cameras, the logo on the wall and the equipment, I didn't know where to look!

Thoughts about the 'British Innovation' theme this year

I thought the theme was fantastic. It gave us a chance to learn a lot about people from our own regions and what was invented in our town.

Plans for the future

Plans for the future are to keep pushing forward. I would like to eventually open my pop-up as a permanent spot once Covid allows us to get back to normality. Most importantly, I want to keep doing what I love and keep smiling!

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st May 2021

Great British Menu 2021 chefs: Gemma Austin, Northern Ireland heat