Great British Menu 2021 chefs: Phelim O’Hagan, Northern Ireland heat

The  Staff Canteen

Head chef of the Derry-based Browns Bonds Hill, Phelim O’Hagan, 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.

Phelim is competing against Andy ScollickPaul Cunningham and Gemma Austin.​​​ 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.

The chef took the lead over rival chef Gemma and will be competing in the national finals on Monday 17th, Tuesday 18th, Wednesday 19th and Thursday 20th May. The banquet will air on  Friday 21st May.

Biography

As many a young chef before him, Phelim's career started with him washing pots at a restaurant called Harry's in Donegal's Bridge End, but it was working at one Michelin-star restaurant at The Cliff House under Martijn Kajuiter, as well as a year at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie which proved pivotal in his career.

He was hired to work at the Browns Bonds Hill flagship in 2014, and has since progressed to become the head chef.

Dishes

Starter

Phelim's first course was inspired by the last meal eaten on the Titanic. 

Named 'First Class consommé,' it consisted of four preparations of scallop: mousse (moulded to the shape of the Titanic), roasted, a cracker and a tartare, served in an oxtail consommé with roasted celeriac and pickled cucumber. 

It received 5/10 points from veteran judge Daniel Clifford. 

Fish course

His fish course, 'Crab Pulsar,' was inspired by Dame Jocelyn Burnell, who discovered radio pulsars - described by National Geographic as "whirling stellar corpses that send beams of radio waves across the cosmos,"and specifically one called the crab pulsar. 

For this he prepared local crab, dressing the white crab and creating an emulsion with the brown crab, serving them in layers with sourdough croutons and topped with salmon skin and fennel cress, alongside vodka-cured salmon and bloody mary gel. 

Deeming the link to the brief to be tenuous and calling for some minor corrections to the dish, Daniel gave the dish 7/10 points.

Main Course

With the same inspiration - and the same name - as his fellow contestant Andy's fish course, Phelim's main is  called 'Uisce Beatha,' or Water of Life in English, referring to the 12th century invention of Irish whiskey. 

With whiskey running through every element of his dish, Phelim presented a whiskey-aged côte de bœuf doused with salsa verde and served with a braised oxtail pithiviers and a side of hispi cabbage topped with caramelised onions. 

Despite calling for very minor adjustments to the dish, Daniel gave the dish 10/10 points.

Dessert

Phelim's dessert, 'A smash in time' was an ode to Ernest Walton, the scientist who first split the atom and the first Irish person to receive a Nobel Prize. 

To recreate his atom on a plate, he made a tonka bean meringue sphere and filled it with blueberry mousse and tonka bean fudge, peach and blueberry 'caviar,' and plated it with white balsamic peaches. 

Daniel gave the dish a 7/10 score.

Full name

Phelim O’Hagan

Nickname 

N/A

Age/DOB

31 years old, born 10/05/1989 

Place of birth / residence

Derry city, Northern Ireland

Relationship status / children

2 boys aged 3 and 5

Height

6'1

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

Restaurant chef

Favourite type of cuisine

Classic French, although I like modern techniques and cooking methods and trying to bring out the best of ingredients.

 Path to becoming a chef

I began washing dishes at 14 in a place called ‘Harry’s’ in Donegal under Derry chef Raymond Moran. I progressed rather quickly into wanting to learn to cook. From there, I attended catering college in Killybegs in Donegal.

Past and present place of work

I worked around a few restaurants in the Derry city area before going to work in the House Restaurant at The Cliff House Hotel in Ireland from 2011-2013, then went to work in restaurant Andrew Fairlie from 2013-2014 before moving home again. Currently still working at Browns Bonds hill in Derry.

Personal and professional mentors / role models 

Largest guidance for me in the industry has come primarily form Raymond Moran in derry and under Martijn Kajuiter in The Cliff House Hotel. A lot of lessons learned in that kitchen, and they have stuck with me to this day.

Guilty pleasure dish

As a chef obviously we know how hard it is to find time, so unfortunately for me it is crisps, energy drinks, and coffee.

Best / worst thing about being a chef

Browns restaurant was my first head chef job so the best thing to come from that was begin to be able to put my own personality onto the plate with my cooking and presentation styles.

I wouldn’t say the worst thing to come from it but the day-to-day running of the kitchen, staffing, costing, working to goals can be hard.

All of the above are things that I embraced and was glad to add to my repertoire. Being a head chef isn’t just the cooking, oh how right all my old head chefs were.

FeeEings  stepping onto the GBM set

Going into the GBM kitchen was daunting having watched the amazing chefs who have appeared on it from the beginning, but I settled rather quickly and got on with what I went there to do. I cooked my food and did my best not to get distracted too much from what the other chefs were doing around me.

Thoughts about the 'British Innovation' theme this year

I thought the theme was tricky to begin with, but once I got down to work at inventions and innovations, especially from my region, I was excited to get started. I can’t wait for everyone to see.

Plans for the future

Obviously it’s a dream for every chef to own their own restaurant and be able to run it with the vision I’m sure every chef has of their own place.

Hopefully I’ll be able to bring that to fruition in the near future. I think the market for amazing food in Derry is there, so we will have to wait and see.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th May 2021

Great British Menu 2021 chefs: Phelim O’Hagan, Northern Ireland heat