Is Great British Menu a cooking show triumph or travesty?

The  Staff Canteen


Great British Menu, career launcher or killer? Well, it seems that is down to producers and the audience. There have been many culinary stars who owe their current high-profile status to the show but there are also those who chose to shun the limelight in favour of focusing on their restaurant dreams.

In our recent podcast, Michelin-starred chefs Michael O’Hare, Peter Sanchez-Iglesias and Brad Carter, dissected the show and their feelings towards it.

“I find TV to be an incredibly unnatural environment, one where you are produced either for better or worse….probably for better in my case, I just don’t enjoy it,” explained Michael when asked why he doesn’t do more TV.

“I made a decision a couple of years ago to live my life through the view point that everything I do there has got to be a reason. It’s either got to be fun, cool, financially viable or creative and it has to be at least three of those four things – I find that a lot of TV work isn’t.”

The Great British Menu competition isn't for everyone

Featuring on Great British Menu in 2013 Peter said: “It’s one of those things where there’s a lot of chefs going on to it, if you are trying to get your face out there and you’re trying to get heard – Great British Menu is a bloody amazing platform.

“Without it there probably wouldn’t be the likes of some of the chefs who are around and who have and are still doing great things.

“But I don’t like the whole competition thing. It doesn’t feel natural, the way it’s filmed and the way it’s shot.”

Peter says he ‘loved the final week’ but it was a different story during the regional heats. “I hated it with a passion, I said I was never doing it again – it felt like people were trying to stitch you up, give you hardly any time, when you’re going to make mistakes anyway.”

Brad agrees with Peter when it comes to competition: “It’s never been enjoyable at all. I never did them in catering college.

“For me I struggled at school, I hated facing a blackboard and as soon as I went into a kitchen, I found it to be a creative place. The minute you start saying ‘you’ve got to do something to beat that c*** over there’, for me, I’m out. That is not why I do it.

“I don’t want someone filming me when I frown about something else and then using that at a different point. It’s all very formulated and for me there is no joy in that.”

Why take part in Great British Menu?

Michael says his thoughts on Great British Menu are a little complex. He took part in 2015 getting his fish course to the banquet.

“First and foremost,” he said. “I’m forever in debt to that tv show because hands down if it wasn’t for my appearance on that the restaurant wouldn’t have taken off the way that it did, we wouldn’t have got the notoriety that we did and I probably wouldn’t be sat in my own restaurant now.

“It has afforded me a life I never expected to have. That is down to my own hard work and creativity but ultimately down to the platform that Great British Menu provided.”

He added: “So when called upon it’s something that I’ll always do because I owe them.”

He does however think it’s important for people to understand that it’s not just a cooking competition, it’s a TV show.

“If it was just a competition without any jeopardy, without any risk involved and without appealing to a generic audience – then it wouldn’t air.

“It has to have jeopardy, it has to have people from different backgrounds, it has to have different stories and those stories aren’t conducive with food. Let’s say the brief is veteran’s day and you are cooking for people who fought for the country. People are cooking chicken in the shape of a bomb….as if that’s what you want if you stormed the beaches at Normandy – a reminder in the form of a chicken ballotine that looks like a f****** bomb.

“If the doors were closed and no one was looking and I had a load of war veterans in and I’m cooking for them, I’d say ‘right guys I’ve got a load of strippers in, here’s a massive steak, help yourself to the Pétrus.

“This is how good food can be, you don’t want it on a wooden box with a spade in it and a flag, but people love that and by people, I mean the vast majority of the audience watching who continue to tune in year in, year out.”

Has the show already exhausted the UK talent pool?

There are 38 chefs competing this year but has the show already exhausted the UK talent pool? Michael believes every year it becomes weaker.

“Because cooking is not a sport, it’s difficult to become unfit. So, the people who have won that competition ten years ago are still cooking at the highest level in the country. Sat Bains still exists, he won Great British Menu and he’s a two-star chef. He still exists so you cannot get the new Sat Bains, it’s not like Brazilian footballers where they are coming through every six months and you think this is the new guy, he’s fitter, he’s faster, he’s better.

“With cooking you just grow, you just get better and improve. So, unless you’re having the same guys and girls on every year it’s always going to be a slightly weaker talent pool with the odd stand out chef.”

There’s no right or wrong, about going on Great British Menu

On the flip side Brad says there are a few chefs out there ‘who have exploded from it’.

He said: “The timing was perfect because it’s all the momentum of that and then the restaurant off the back of it. But what you do find is a lot of guys get stuck in the Great British Menu trap where they feel like they are known for that, they get guests coming in who think they want to eat all those dishes. I think Mike and Pete, they were on it a long time ago and they never fell into that trap of having the dish you won with on your menu for ten, twenty years. I think that is where it can be a bit sticky.

“Your customers, maybe they don’t want to eat that for thirty years, may be they want to see what else you’ve got or how you progress or improve.”

He added: “There’s no right or wrong, about going on Great British Menu you just have to be yourself and feel it. If a young chef feels like that’s his platform and that’s what he needs to do, they need to just go off and do it.”

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th May 2021

Is Great British Menu a cooking show triumph or travesty?