Great British Menu 2022 chefs: Spencer Metzger, London and South East heat

The  Staff Canteen

Head chef at The Ritz Spencer Metzger is one of four chefs representing London and the South east on Great British Menu 2022

Series 17 of the competition starts on February 1st 2022 on BBC Two at 8pm and will air at the same time every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for eight weeks.

The London and South East heat is taking place on Tuesday 22nd, Wednesday 23rd and Thursday 24th February, and will see Spencer go head to head with chefs Tony Parkin, Robbie Lorraine and Angelo Sato. This is Spencer's first appearance on the programme. 

Before any of the chefs can make it to the judge's chamber, where they will face Tom Kerridge, Nisha Katona and Ed Gamble, as well as guest judge and Eastenders star, Anita Dobson, they must impress the veteran judge, chef Michael Caines.

Robbie was the first to leave the Great British Menu kitchen after the fish course, and despite his best attempts, Angelo followed. Spencer and Tony then tested their menu out on the judge's chamber, and Spencer won the week to represent London and the South East in the national finals.

Spencer's time in the competition

Spencer won over the judges many times during the competition leading him to not only serve two courses, the main and the fish course, at the banquet but also be crowned champion of the competition.

When it came to Spencer’s main course, judge, Tom Kerridge said: “this is one of the best dishes I have eaten, anywhere in the world, it is outstanding” and that he would “travel through continents and countries to eat that dish again,” because of how good it was.

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

It feels amazing to win the fish course. Obviously, to win any course would be great. I think when you're up against so many talented chefs, just to get one dish through from all of the regions down to the final and then to the banquet is a real honour.

I nearly cried when I won the main course, I worked so hard on that dish. There was a lot in that dish. It really was everything I've learnt in my whole career in one dish, almost. It really showcased every skill, every bit of my knowledge on classical cookery.

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

The theme and the brief was Sherlock Holmes. I used to love watching Sherlock Holmes and I still do. I wanted to create something smoky, and it was important to me to use the region. I live not far from Baker Street anyway so it's quite fitting. I wanted to showcase real fish cookery on the bone and not muck about with the food. The presentation was the interesting bit because we got the props designed and made to really emphasise Sherlock Holmes and the riddles.

It was a really difficult one. I looked at Pride and Prejudice and I started watching it and became obsessed with it. The menu kind of wrote itself because I looked back at different menus from the programmes and there was a menu that had stuffed partridges, white soup, Mrs. Bennet’s potatoes. So it wasn't that hard to put everything together and then I just put my own cooking spin on that. And then the dish was formed.

Was it hard to prepare for?

Yeah, it was. There was actually a lot more work involved than I thought. So to prepare for the competition it was sleepless nights and weeks and weeks on end of changing. I started with four different dishes, and before I knew it, I'd gone through every single brief and was sat at home watching TV till the early hours of the morning trying to learn everything I could. It was a lot more work than I thought and you had to put a lot more thought in. I'm happy I did it - it's all paid off in the end.

There were tweaks and changes and I really tried to refine it, because at the banquet I wanted to set the tone and set the scene of a very traditional 1800s style banquet. We had silver being made, we had candles there, we had flowers coming from Colombia that were actually from the names of some of the characters, like Mrs. Darcy Rose. I reached out to everyone that I knew that could bring this together with me. It all just kind of came together at once and it was quite a special dish I thought.

This is your first year competing in Great British Menu, what made you decide to enter this year, as opposed to other years?

I was thinking of doing it last year, but I didn’t have time. I just thought now I’m at a stage in my cooking, where I actually feel confident in what I'm doing. I'm confident enough to do my food with the brief. I thought I’ve got to give it a shot now, so that's why I went for it.

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

I actually didn't. I thought my main course and my dessert were the strongest dishes. I thought the fish was really good but I didn't think it was the strongest dish. As the competition went on, it got better because I’d slightly tweaked a few things each time I cooked it. I think the last time I cooked it, it was the best it had been and I was really happy with it.

I thought if I pulled it off the way I had practised it and I got the emphasis on the presentation, it would be a winning dish, yeah.

How did you feel it compared to your fellow chefs?

Everyone’s dishes were really good. I think everyone had taken a really different approach on the brief and a different approach on cooking. Everyone's got their own style. It's very hard to judge everyone's dishes, apart from on the fundamentals of cooking, flavour and seasoning. For me it was all about what the judges were looking for and what they wanted to see on the menu.  I'm just happy that mine fit into that brief.

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

It was intense, really, really intense. I've never done anything like that before. We've only done a few things at The Ritz with cameras and nothing so major. It was the first time I've ever experienced it and obviously you don’t get to see the programme until it's literally on TV. I was quite happy with the way it came out. There were a few moments where I watched myself and thought what am I doing, but I was happy all in all and it was a good experience.

It's your first time in the GBM kitchen – did it live up to expectations?

I knew it was going to be intense and it was going to be hard. I knew that it was a serious competition, but I didn't realise how invested you get into it. Even getting an eight and not a nine, you're kicking yourself over it. You start becoming obsessed with it. You start waking up thinking about it, going to sleep thinking about it. It really takes all of your attention, but it was a lovely experience. Everyone's so nice: the team are amazing, the camera crew are amazing and the producers are amazing. They want you to succeed and that's the best thing I took out of it.

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

The fish dish was a bit difficult because I cooked it on the bone. So it was just working out the logistics of how to do that and I was adamant that I was going to still cook it on the bone. I got scored down for saying that I wouldn't, so I was definitely going to do it, Michael Caines! It was just logistically how it was going to work for us for to serve around 90 guests.

What was it like cooking for Tom, Ed and Nisha?

We entered thinking it was the old judges and then the day after we sent our entry in they announced that the judges had changed. I knew Tom and I know his restaurant, but I didn't know what everyone else was looking for and how the dynamic would change. So it was kind of the unknown when cooking for them, because we didn’t know what they were going to be like, what they would critique and what they were looking for. So there was a lot of unknown, but I think they were a great group of judges. The feedback and the comments I got were really constructive and good.

Biography

Born in Chigwell, Essex, 28 year-old Spencer is the head chef at The Ritz in London, in the first professional kitchen he entered 13 years ago on a work experience placement.

He returned to the Michelin-starred hotel restaurant under executive chef John Williams MBE after training at Bournemouth and Poole catering college, remaining there until 2015 when he was offered a job at Simon Rogan's two Michelin-starred l'Enclume.

In 2017, he returned to The Ritz as a premier sous-chef and was promoted to the role of head chef in July 2021.

Having won the Roux Scholarship in 2019, he chose three Michelin-starred Frantzén in Stockholm to undertake a three month-internship at the restaurant of his choice.

Whilst for the most part his food is classical French in its influences, he likes to add a modern touch to his dishes, and this will be on show on Great British Menu with plates inspired by Sherlock Holmes and TV mentalist Derren Brown. 
 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th April 2022

Great British Menu 2022 chefs: Spencer Metzger, London and South East heat