Great British Menu 2016 - Scotland heat

The Staff Canteen

Meet the Great British Menu 2016 contestants from Scotland; Michael Bremner, Adam Handling and Ally McGrath.

The chefs will create dishes in a bid to get the chance to cook at a banquet celebrating the ordinary citizens who’ve been honoured by the Queen. Great British Menu makes history as the Palace of Westminster opens its doors for the first televised banquet to be held in the historic House of Commons Members’ Dining Room. And in a bid to cook at this ultimate banquet, the competition reaches new highs in the kitchen as past record scores are equalled then smashed.

Adam handling Great British Menu 2016
Adam Handling

Adam Handling – The Frog, London

Starting his official culinary training aged 16 as the first ever apprentice chef at Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland, he then went on to build upon his experience further by working as 1st commis chef at Rhodes 24 in London, before heading his first brigade as sous chef at the Malmaison Hotel, Newcastle.

Adam then took up his first head chef position at Fairmont St Andrews where he was responsible for the fine dining restaurant Esperante. As the youngest ever head chef within the Fairmont group, Adam achieved two AA rosettes for the restaurant and won numerous awards during his time there. After a six-month tour of duty on the six-star liner, Crystal Serenity, Adam took on the position of Head Chef of the St Ermins hotel in St James’s Park, where MasterChef 2014 finalists were recently filmed cooking under his instruction. In September 2014, Adam opened up Adam Handling at Caxton before moving on to his latest venture The Frog which opened in June this year.

Why did you want to take part in this series?

They approached me to take part and I love a competition. I’ve watched GBM in the past, when I’ve not been too busy in the kitchen, and have often had so many ideas of my own when watching that I thought it was about time I put some of them into action for real.

It was good timing for me too this year as I made a move away from my previous restaurant to my own venture, The Frog. It’s already full in the evenings, and I can only hope that being on such a huge show will encourage even more people down to try the restaurant.

>>> Read more about Adam and see some of his recipes here


How was it creating the dishes for this year’s theme?

Honestly? It was a real challenge. The brief feels so broad when you get it, it’s difficult to know what direction to go in. Themes are always a hard way to design a dish too, as you don’t want to do anything too cliché but equally you need your ideas to connect with and also excite those eating your dishes. It seems being quite theatrical but a theme is the done thing in Great British Menu.

Had you worked with Ally (McGrath) or Michael (Bremner) before?

No, I haven’t worked with them before. However, I have followed Michael and his restaurant closely. Getting the chance to work with other chefs such as these is also a great opportunity. 

Michael Bremner Great British Menu 2016
Michael Bremner

Michael Bremner – 64 Degrees, Brighton

Michael remained at his home of Aberdeenshire whilst working  as an apprentice at The Pittodrie House Hotel for five years. Once qualified, he moved to London to advance his experience of pastry working at the Michelin-starred Orrery Restaurant as a demi-chef de Partie.

Following this he moved to Seven in Leicester Square where he took up the chef de partie role before advancing to head pastry chef at Marco Pierre White’s Quo Vadis, working under head chef Curtis Stone for a year. After packing his bags and traveling round Australia for a year, stopping to work in several kitchens, Michael returned to the UK, briefly working at the Seattle Hotel at Brighton Marina as a sous chef before jet setting to Canada and returning in 2007 to take up the position of head chef in the well-known restaurant, Due South.

Michael left Due South in 2012 and began making plans for his first business venture, 64 Degrees a restaurant focused on social dining. After opening the doors in the Lanes of Brighton in October 2013, 64 Degrees has gone from strength to strength wining Best Restaurant in the Brighton and Hove Food and Drink Awards in 2014 and 2015, Best Restaurant in the Brighton top 20 Awards (where Michael also won Best Chef). They have also been voted number 36 in 2014 and 24 in 2015 in the National Restaurant Awards Top 100 List.

Why did you want to take part in this series?

I had been approached the year before to do the show but then they chose the other three Scottish chefs so I was a bit gutted about that. Then they called me up again this year saying they were keen to get me in again and I jumped at the chance. I have always been a big fan of Great British Menu.

>>> Read more about Michael and his restaurant 64 Degrees here


Some of the best chefs in the UK have obviously gone through there – Jason Atherton, Sat Bains, Daniel Clifford… so I was very excited! The whole thing was a great experience for me and it was a massive honour to be representing Scotland in that frame.

How was it creating the dishes for this year’s theme?

I really got into the research side of things and finding ingredients that would have a connection. I spent hours after work on my laptop at home. On the show, there seems to have been a certain pattern of what’s been done before so I was trying to think about the brief in a way that I thought other people might not. I tried to be a little bit more out of the box. It wasn't easy but I loved it!

You could have done anything from a classic dish that you’d reinvented that might have had nothing to do with the Queen’s Honours straight down to something created for a specific person and anything in between. I really loved that, I thought it was one of the best briefs. 

Had you worked with Ally or Adam before?

I had never worked with Ally or Adam before. I knew of Adam Handling from when he did Masterchef: The Professionals and just before I found out he was doing it, he did a pop-up in Brighton at another restaurant. I never got a chance to go because I was working but I heard good things about it. I did a bit of research about Ally and found out what I needed to know about him and then when I got to work with both of them, it was really fantastic. They are both genuinely nice guys and I really enjoyed being in the kitchen with both of them.

Ally McGrath and Michael Bremner Great British Menu 2016
Ally McGrath and Michael Bremner, Great British Menu 2016
Ally McGrath Great British Menu 2016
Ally McGrath


Ally McGrath – Osso Restaurant, Peebles, Scotland

Ally McGrath got his ‘big break’ working alongside Mike Benjamin in Kinsale where he learnt a lot about cooking. He then got offered a job at Lindsay House with Richard Corrigan just after it opened. After a couple of years Ally returned to Scotland, firstly to Edinburgh and then to the Highlands where he ran the kitchen in country house hotel, Muckrach Lodge. After a brief 3 month return to London and working at a pub in East Lothian for 2 years, Ally opened his own restaurant Halcyon in 2003.

Halcyon was a small 24 seat restaurant which closed after three and a half years due to various staffing and layout difficulties. Moving 30 meters down the road, Ally opened Osso in 2007 and the restaurant has seen plenty of success including being awarded the Michelin Bib Gourmand six years in a row.

Why did you want to take part in this series?

I’ve watched the show since it began and it’s always been something that you think, ‘wow, wouldn’t that be good to be on?’. The other thing is that it’s marketing for my restaurant that you just can’t buy. You’re on national TV, it puts you in a different spotlight. We’re in a small town, thirty miles south of Edinburgh. It projects us to a much wider audience and that was the main reason.

How was it creating the dishes for this year’s theme?

It was quite a tough brief and it took a while to get your head around the brief and how you’re going to do it and how you’re going to portray it. There’s just so many different ways you could come at it. Where do you start? Because it was so wide open, it took us a good few days and they don’t give you very much time to get everything sorted out. They give you two weeks to get your initial dishes down and then they give you another three weeks to get your recipes.

Had you worked with Michael (Bremner) or Adam (Handling) before?

No. Working with them was good but you’re in it for yourself and it’s petrifying! I’d seen Adam before on Masterchef: The Professionals and I did recognise him off that. Michael, I’d never heard of but it was really nice to meet them and they’re two guys that are at the top of their game. Since meeting Michael, we’ve been down to Brighton to eat in the restaurant, he’s such a lovely guy and such a talented chef. 

 What did you do to prepare for it?

I just concentrated on the dishes and tried to elevate them to the best that I could do. That classic thing of just pushing yourself further. Having a restaurant seven days a week means you go to the kitchen and steal time and space from it. You’re doing your dishes in the kitchen at home which is quite fun! I made some mistakes that I discussed at the time and then forgot about and then did them on the show because I hadn’t practiced enough.

What do you think you might have done differently?

Just practiced more! The two weeks before the show, I was basically concentrating on organising and looking after the two restaurants that I had at the time, and doing an outside job for 250 so it was kind of full on. I didn’t have any sort of time to go through everything one last time and I think if I was to do it again, that’s where the difference would be.

Ally McGrath Great British Menu 2016
Ally McGrath, Great British Menu 2016

 >>> Read more about Great British Menu here

>>> Read more about Great British Menu 2016 here

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 29th August 2016

Great British Menu 2016 - Scotland heat