Great British Menu 2017 chefs - Paul Askew, North West heat

The  Staff Canteen

Meet the Great British Menu 2017 chefs from the North West: Paul Askew

This year Paul Askew takes on Ellis Barrie 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. 

Paul Askew Great British Menu 2017
Paul Askew 

Travelling the world at a young age, Paul knew he wanted to be a chef. Inspired by his time abroad and a Roux book he got when he was fifteen, Paul wants to raise the food culture of the UK. He sold his shares of London Carriage Works, Liverpool’s first boutique hotel and restaurant, to open The Art School, now member of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts. This is Paul’s first time competing in the Great British Menu, but he did not let the stress get to him.

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

We were doing a dinner here at The Art School, and members of the BBC were attending. I was approached after the dinner to see if I was interested in GBM because they enjoyed their meal. To be honest, I thought nothing of it, and the following day I got some emails, and the next thing I was doing a VT… It happened very quickly.

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

Well, I think for most chefs summertime lends itself to what Great Britain is all about – strawberries, Wimbledon, asparagus… It is a challenging brief in some ways to link it to the tennis, but I enjoyed it a lot. Thankfully, there’s a lot of produce in my region that comes out late spring or early summer, so I was able to weave in some of the local produce that we use in The Art School. I’ve done a little bit more research on the history of Wimbledon; obviously, I’m not allowed to say too much, but there are some nice connections with my region. For me, one of the most important things when going on GBM was to show off what is going on here because I wouldn’t say it’s greatly represented in these programmes in the local areas. It was good to show what we’re all about and what we can do, what we can produce.

Did the show push you out of your comfort zone?

I think it does. The filming schedule naturally collides with what a chef wants to do. You want to be left alone to do you best food you can and of course they want you to repeat certain things. They stop you at crucial moments and of course that builds up a little bit of stress. We talked a lot with the judge at the end of the filming and he said GBM is still the hardest thing he’s ever done and I would agree with that. The filming day is about 17-18 hours a days and it’s a very tough environment for anybody, so if anybody’s ever competed I’d tip my hat to them. But I’m so glad that I did it because everybody walks away as a better chef at the end of it. It’s fabulous.great british menu 2017

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

Although you are competing to get through, I think what happens is that you end up feeling like it’s the three of you against them. You start helping each other out. It’s a funny scenario, because you know you’re in a competition against each other, but when your back’s against the wall and you’re under pressure, as chefs, you naturally want to help each other.

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

In hindsight, thinking about the dishes that stand out on the series, the Great British public can’t taste the dishes, so there has to be a wow factor as well as something that is tasty. So yes, there is a desire for theatre and a wow presentation. I think that is huge pressure because it takes so much time to design a dish, so elaborate! The one that you had the most time to create the theatre on would definitely create that wow-factor in the judges’ chamber.

Best and worst part of being on the Great British Menu?

I think the best parts are the camaraderie and the competition in the kitchen. We had such an amazing time together, you basically create friends for life and that was definitely the high point. There is a particular dish that is a massive high point for me, personally. That dish, I created in memory of my mother who passed away recently. I was so pleased that it came through and that the judges appreciated what I had done. Great high point, but equally low point.

Would you do it again?

There was a lot of talk of that; there are a lot of people asking me that question. I’m still thinking about it. The only reason why I wouldn’t enjoy it is because I realise what a huge part of the year it takes out of a calendar. I have to make sure that the business is priority because we’re pushing very hard at The Art School to put it on the map and put Liverpool on the map from the culinary point of view, which it never really has been before. I’d love a second chance, it’s just whether the business allows it or not. I think most people have the same dilemma.

great british menu 2017If you would be the one scoring your own dishes, would you agree with what your judge said or not? If not why not?

There’s times when you think ‘hang on a minute, I’m sure this dish is better than that’, and I don’t know why I’ve had that criticism, but it’s a part of the process. We are all criticising each others’ dishes, and as a chef, you realise those are the things that you have to embrace. I think it’s a lot harder for younger chefs because chefs do have egos and have things that groom and damage them. Criticism of all sorts can make the dishes better, make you a better cook. You learn so much about not just yourself but also about your food. It is fabulous; it’s incredibly bruising but it’s incredibly rewarding at the same time.

How nerve wracking is it to cook for your peers?

Although, it is a nervy time, particularly when you start plating. And of course not only the cameras are watching but you’ve got the veteran judge, your two other chefs, the producers, and everybody in the show. You want it desperately to go out looking clean and sharp. It’s about keeping your composure in the last couple of minutes as much as you can. I must admit, I was the first dish on the first day, and I think the other two were very glad that it was me.

>>> 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 - Paul Askew, North West heat