Great British Menu Chefs 2018 - Tommy Heaney, Northern Ireland heat

The Staff Canteen

Meet the Great British Menu 2018 chefs from Northern Ireland: Tommy Heaney.

This year Tommy Heaney takes on Shauna Froydenlund and James Devine in a bid to make it through to the Great British Menu 2018 banquet which celebrates 70 years of the National Health Service. This year’s brief is to create celebratory and heartfelt dishes in tribute to the heroic staff of the NHS.

In Great British Menu 2017, chef Tommy Heaney won the Northern Ireland heat to reach the finals. The talented chef is days away from opening his first solo restaurant - Heaney's Cardiff after raising £41,962 from his successful Kickstarter campaign. He was previously head chef at his eponymous restaurant at the Great House Hotel in Wales and for the late Tony Hughes at La Mon House Hotel in Belfast. He started his career at the tender age of 14 working in his Uncle's restaurant in America where he started off doing prep and washing up and eventually started working as a chef.

tommy heaney chef
Tommy Heaney

Why did you want to take part in Great British Menu again?

I really liked the brief and I thought it was a very interesting brief.  I like a challenge and wanted to honour the people that work in the NHS – that was a massive factor.

This years’ theme is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the NHS – how easy was it for you to come up with dishes to be served at the anniversary banquet?

When I first heard of the brief, I thought it was a bit more open than last year, but it was a bit more challenging. The more you started looking into it and hearing about the people behind the scenes, we wanted to create our dishes to honour these people.

What does the NHS mean to you and how rewarding is it to possibly cook your food for these incredible individuals?

The work that they put into it over the years is amazing and when you get to meet some of these amazing people – it’s a massive thing.

You have previously competed in Great British Menu - how does this year’s competition compare?

Last year, it was quite nerve-wracking leading up to the show but to be honest with you, it doesn’t get any easier! You think it might be as you are used to the kitchen and things like that, but it’s not like that at all!

How difficult was it to cook in the Great British Menu kitchen alongside the other chefs?

It’s nerve-wracking but I am really laid back and this comes out when I am cooking.  I also change things as I go along – I probably don’t make things easy for the camera crew!

Do you feel that your previous experience in Great British Menu is an advantage?

Not at all, I think there is more pressure and I came back because I did reasonably well last year and I did a lot better than I thought I would.  I went on it last year thinking ‘as long as I don’t make a tit of myself that will be fine!’ but because I reached the finals last year, there was added pressure.

What was the best part about being on Great British Menu 2018?

Just meeting a whole new calibre of chefs really - the Northern Irish heat was very tough and it was great to be in a kitchen cooking with these guys.

The banter was good – we had a laugh and they are two talented chefs and are amazing people as well.

Were there any negative parts to being on Great British Menu?

I suppose it’s the interruptions, that’s definitely the hardest part. I suppose I didn’t really make it easy for the camera crew this year as I was running about left, right and centre – I mean they have got their job to do as well! It’s got to make good TV!

How did you find the criticism and being judged?

Everyone has got a different opinion and I take it as a learning curve if someone gives me an opinion. I just take it and learn from it and see if I can make it better. 

Were you more nervous about being judged by the veteran chef or the judges?

I was quite nervous about going into the kitchen with those amazing chefs. I was nervous about everyone. All you can do is to cook the best that you can.

Do you have any standout memories during your time on Great British Menu?

I think I dropped everybody in the shit at one stage… but you have to have a laugh and get on with it.

Would you take part in Great British Menu again?

Yes, it has done so much for me personally and I would like to rectify a few things.

Would you encourage your peers, colleagues and chef friends to take part in a competition like Great British Menu?

Yes! 100%!  I will be honest with you – I think I am now a far better chef for doing the competition. The connections and friends make it well worth doing it. All the chefs that have helped me with my Kickstarter campaign I have met on the show. It’s thanks to me being in the competition that we are doing what we are doing (with the new restaurant).

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st October 2018

Great British Menu Chefs 2018 - Tommy Heaney, Northern Ireland heat