Great British Menu 2021 chefs: Paul Cunningham, Northern Ireland heat

The  Staff Canteen

Head chef and co-owner of Brunel's Paul Cunningham 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.

Paul competed against Andy Scollick, Gemma Austin 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.

Joining the GBM kitchen for the second time after appearing on Great British Menu 2020, Newcastle (Northern Ireland) chef Paul Cunningham inherited his interest in island produce from his grandfather, who always took him foraging as a child.

He started cooking professionally aged 13; his first head chef position was at The Round Tower in Dundrum, followed by his current role at Brunel's, which, as well as heading the kitchen, he co-owns. With his restaurant named after the world-famous civil engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Paul is likely to bring some great dishes to meet this year's British Invention brief on Great British Menu.



Paul dedicated his starter to Harry Ferguson, Ireland's 'Mad Mechanic' who invented the top link (or three point hitch) tractor. Served in a whole onion, a layer of cheese panna cotta was toopped with an onion caramel jelly, dehydrated pumpernickel bread 'soil,' mushroom soy, white pickled garlic capers, heather smoked onion purée in onion shells and crispy onion roots. 

Due to the jelly not setting, the layers in the onion melded together Daniel had to downgrade Paul's score for the dish, giving him 4/10 points.

Fish course

Paul's fish course was an ode to pollan fish, which he perceives to be an underrated local freshwater fish. 

Named 'Afloat' after Isambard Brunel's SS Great Britain ship, the fish was brined in seaweed and torched, the tail served as a tartare, with pickled and bacon fat-finished cockles, salsify purée, poached salsify rolled in sea truffle, fermented rye sand, seaweed vinegar gel and sea purslane. The whole dish was then finished with a caramelised pork dashi. 

Daniel applauded the dish and gave it a score of 8/10.

Full name

Paul Cunningham




34, born 21/05/86

Place of birth / residence

From Dundrum and still live there

Relationship status / children

Married with three girls, Farrah is 6 in June, Rosie was 3 three weeks ago, Fearne is 8 weeks old



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

I'm a restaurant chef

Favourite type of cuisine

I have a terroir style of cooking, and love the Nordic/Scandinavian style 

Path to becoming a chef

I fell I love with food from a very young age as my grandfather taught me how to forage and the way of the land. Started cooking in kitchens when I was 13 and when to tech 1 day a week to get my grades.

Past and present place of work

I’ve worked in many of the top restaurants in Northern Ireland. I've offered jobs across the water plenty of times but I’ve chosen to stay here because I believe in the produce we have and want to push it. Currently I’m head chef/owner of Brunel's Restaurant in Newcastle.

Personal and professional mentors / role models 

René Redzepi (Noma), Magnus Nillson, (of the now closed Fäviken) and Michel Bras, the original forager. 

Guilty pleasure dish

Bacon egg and chips

Best / worst thing about being a chef

Best thing about bn a chef is the creativity and connection with nature, working with the best produce available, it really is a treat. I don’t see any bad things about being a chef, I love my job to pieces.

FeeEings  stepping onto the GBM set

Great to represent Northern Ireland on GBM again this year, I’ve loved the show since the day it started and to make it onto it means a lot.

Thoughts about the 'British Innovation' theme this year

Loved the theme this year, great to see so many great inventors from my region. You could have taken it in so many different directions, will be a great watch.

Plans for the future

Plan to keep pushing hard at Brunel's, also have a few pop-ups in the pipeline, and I’m launching another product-based business called mourne larder. The idea is to bring foraged flavours to people’s homes through a range of seasonings and preserves.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 29th April 2021

Great British Menu 2021 chefs: Paul Cunningham, Northern Ireland heat