Great British Menu 2017 chefs - Ellis Barrie, North West heat

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th May 2017

Meet the Great British Menu 2017 chefs from the North West: Ellis Barrie

Ellis Barrie Great British Menu 2017
Ellis Barrie

This year Ellis Barrie takes on Paul Askew and Tom Parker in a bid to make it through to the Great British Menu 2017 banquet which celebrates 140 years of Wimbledon. This year’s brief is to create dishes that capture ‘a taste of summer’ paying tribute to the history and prestige of the Wimbledon Championships. 

Head chef and restaurant owner Ellis was 19 when he first opened The Marram Grass, in Newborough, Anglesey. The little tin-roofed cafe and bistro is on the edge of Ellis’s parents’ campsite, near one of the island’s many beautiful beaches – hence its name, Marram Grass. This is Ellis’ first time on the Great British Menu, and he is spilling the beans on what it is like.

>>> Related: 10 Minutes With: Ellis Barrie

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

Mainly, I think the first thing for me is to get recognition. With GBM, it’s top chefs in the country who compete, and we’ve been hiding for almost 7 years. It was just nice to have somebody ask us to do that competition. I think it would be pretty stupid to turn something like this down because it’s a privilege to be asked.

How tough was it to come up with dishes which fit the brief?

If that can’t get your imagination going I don’t know what will! The brief was challenging because there are so many angles you can take on it. It was very interesting and I like to think that everybody put in a 100% to meet that brief. You do find it hard to come up with the dishes because of the deadline and the competition is so hard; you get given next to no time to plan your meal and do the recipes. Meanwhile, you’re trying to run your business and restaurant at the busiest time of the year.

Coming up with a concept for your menu in a short space of time is an absolute killer. Also, because it is such an open brief you worry whether it is too open and whether you’re doing the right thing. You don’t know how it’s gonna be, you don’t know who you’re competing against, you don’t speak to anybody. In this competition, you don’t have any other choice but to go with your gut instinct.

Did the show push you out of your comfort zone?great british menu 2017

Well, I started the restaurant when I was 19, so I never competed in anything at college level, and GBM was my first competition. It can be a shock to the system but it’s one of those things you can’t turn down. The level of fear is ridiculous but you have to get past that. It’s been a privilege and you learn loads. You learn what they’re doing and they learn what you’re doing; you’re asking them questions and they’re asking questions. It’s a very rewarding experience. The quality of the guys you are competing against is just remarkable.

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

Well, I’ve had a few TV opportunities; I was on the Terry Wogan programme and Hidden Restaurants with Michel Roux Jr. The other guys who I was cooking with, in the North West, especially Paul, I handed in a CV to when I started my career in Liverpool! It’s almost surreal cooking against these guys. Tom as well, he’s well trained at Northcote and got an apprenticeship at Northcote Manor so I just thought ‘bloody hell, what am I doing here’?!

Do you feel under pressure having to create theatrical dishes rather than well cooked dishes, served simply?

I think it’s very easy to become too gimmicky. Yes, you want to meet the brief and have fun with the dish but at the same time, you want to make sure that the food is actually a solid dish and speaks for itself with flavours that complement one another. I think it’s all about striking a balance. I’m a Liverpool lad and I’m competing for the North West but I only know Anglesey and I’ve only really ever cooked here. I don’t know any other areas of food so even though I’m a Scouse lad, born and bred, all my dished have a real locality to them. I almost had to mix Anglesey, a bit of Wimbledon, and a taste of summer all in one category. Hell of a challenge, but I think that if you stick with what you know, you almost shine and I think every one of us did.

great british menu 2017Best and worst part of being on Great British Menu?

It’s such a hard competition! You literally have an hour on each course, then you’ve got the pressure of having all the cameras in your face. They are following you so they’re applying the pressure on top of the pressure. You’re trying to impress the cameras and you’re trying to impress your fellow chefs. It’s such a tough task. That week of filming when you’re down there is an absolute shock to the body and I think if you ask any of the chefs on there, it takes about three or four weeks to get over it. You’re talking a 17-18 hour day, so it can be brutal! I swear, I had post-traumatic stress syndrome when I came out of there! But then three or four weeks after, you want to go back in. You’re almost amplified; it’s such a buzz. It’s completely addictive!

Would you do it again?

Who knows? I mean it all depends on when it falls. Turns out, I’m going to be a dad this year, so I’m waiting for the baby to turn up. If my girlfriend allows me and if they want me back, then who knows? I suppose it all depends on how well I did in the competition. Fingers crossed!

If you would be the one scoring your own dishes, would you agree with what your judge said or not? If not why not?

If I was scoring my own dishes I would never match with what the judges score. I'm extremely self-critical and find it hard to feel like I’ve nailed a dish. If food is bad, it's bad, end of story. There is never a right way to cook a dish, there is only a wrong way but ultimately, it’s down to individual opinion.

How nerve wracking is it to cook for your peers?

I think going into the competition is nerve wrecking enough and then you get the added nerves when you meet the chefs who you are competing against. Then, I suppose, you hit the deck and almost faint when the veteran judge walks in. I’m trying not to give too much away! It’s surreal because I look up to the other guys in the industry. But when that veteran judge comes in that’s something else… It really becomes reality and good God it’s horrible!

>>> Find out about all of the Great British Menu 2017 chefs here

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th May 2017

Great British Menu 2017 chefs - Ellis Barrie, North West heat