Great British Menu 2022 chefs: Chris McClurg, Northern Ireland heat

The  Staff Canteen

Head chef of Michelin-starred Paul Ainsworth at Number 6 Chris McClurg is one of four chefs competing for Northern Ireland on Great British Menu 2022

Series 17 of the competition starts on February 1st 2022 on BBC Two at 8pm and will air every Tuesday at 8pm, every Wednesday at 9pm (as of the week commencing March 7th) and Thursday at 8pm for eight weeks.

Chris is going head to head with chefs Stephen Hope, Gemma Austin and Marty McAdam in a bid to represent Northern Ireland in the regional finals, and ultimately cook a dish at the final banquet on Friday 1st April at 7:30pm. This is Chris' second time on Great British Menu, as he took part for the first time in 2019.

As per the programme's format, one chef is eliminated from the competition after cooking their starter and fish course, and Marty was the first to go. Despite a tight race between Gemma and Stephen for mains and dessert, Stephen fell behind, leaving Gemma and Chris to cook for the judge's chamber on Thursday, 24th March.

Chris has become the next chef to win over the judges and secure a spot at the banquet with his dessert.

How does it feel to win a course to serve at the banquet?

It feels like unfinished business put right. To come as close as I did last time was probably a bitter pill to swallow. It's a lot of work that goes into this competition and anyone that goes in there understands that. I’m hugely proud to have done it, but to also have done it 10 years to the year that Paul Ainsworth did the same thing and that really put No.6 on the map.

We still serve a version of the original fairground dessert on the menu now, and it's about to go through this whole other new incarnation so it really is a fantastic platform, to put and keep the restaurants on the map. For myself, personally, it’s a really proud moment to finally see it over the line and seeing all our hard work put good. 

What was your inspiration for the dish and what made you choose the theme/ingredients?

The dish is inspired by Derry Girls, which is a show I love dearly and to be honest, unknowingly it ended up being the most personal dish of the whole menu. My mum is a Derry girl and it was just a really jovial, comedy led course. By the time it got to the end of the competition, I just really re-fell in love with everything Derry Girls.

Was it hard to prepare for?

There is no sherry made in Ireland, but I've got a mate who has a gin company and the whole dish was born out of one of the products that he does, which is this navy strength gin and they age it in oloroso sherry casks. I got a hold of some of this residue of oloroso sherry and the flavour profile of the sherry was what gave birth to the whole dish. It was things like toasted nuts, roasted vanilla, coffee, those real heavy, rare aged flavours. I wanted it to be a trifle in its approach.

A trifle is great, texturally and it's a very humble, familiar, lovely thing but what it always lacks for me is temperature contrast. Straightaway I thought about how we make the cream and ice cream look like retro whipped cream on top, but that the cake could be warm at the bottom. We went totally down the rabbit hole and had some really fantastic creative development time on it and came up with what is now The Derry Girl Sherry Trifle.

Out of all your courses, did you feel like this winning one was the strongest?

I thought it was between the fish course and the Derry Sherry Trifle, but I honestly thought the one that was going to tip it would have been the fish course. I thought I had two strong dishes, but when you get down to the last couple of people, on the last dish, on the last day the fear sets in. I had seen Spencer’s dish which was also a front runner and which I thought was mind-blowing and faultless. So it was a nerve-wracking day to wait till the end and to get that dish.

What was it like working under camera’s/lights?

To be honest, I enjoy it. I know there's a lot of people who stress about it, but I enjoy the interaction and repour with the production team and it's all good fun. The first time round I put a lot of pressure on myself, but this time around I tried to enjoy the process a bit more. I had a bit more awareness of how it works and the people around you.

It’s your second time in the GBM kitchen – how did it compare to last time?

It’s just a different pressure. There had been three years in between last time and this time and it was that feeling of unfinished business. I wasn't going on there just to make up the numbers. I had a very clear goal and I was trying to set the tone and achieve that goal, while still being humble and gracious whenever things don't go my way. You've got to be ruthless in competition, but also be supportive, particularly early on in the regional heats for those who are of a different level and have a different skillset and experience.

What are you looking forward to most ahead of the banquet? Anything you need to do differently?

The crux of it is just finally being able to show everyone who's contributed to this in some way, shape or form, the end results. I mean my family, friends, producers, everyone that was there throughout the process in regionals and finals week, all the guests. I guess just being able to show what all that hard work was for.

What was it like cooking for Tom, Ed and Nisha and the special guest judge?

I think everyone that I spoke to had Tom at the top of their list, and there was a general consensus that you’ve got to make sure Tom likes it. And at the end of the day, it all comes down to the vote, so I was also keen to impress Ed and Nisha.

Biography

County Down-born chef Chris McClurg started his career at Shanks in Bangor, followed by a stage at Richard Corrigan's Lindsay House and three years at O'Shea in London and Brussels. 

He joined Paul Ainsworth at his restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall eleven years ago, rising up the ranks from the role of chef de partie, to his current position of head chef. 

The chef won the Observer Food Monthly's Young Chef of The Year award in 2018, and the following year, he appeared on the BBC programme alongside chefs Alex Greene and Glen Wheeler, narrowly missing out on getting several of his dishes through to the banquet.

This year, his dishes draw inspiration from Irish comedian Roy Walker and The Royal Variety Performance, in celebration of 100 years since the BBC first hit the airwaves.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st April 2022

Great British Menu 2022 chefs: Chris McClurg, Northern Ireland heat