Great British Menu 2017 chefs - Tommy Heaney, Northern Ireland heat

The Staff Canteen

Meet the Great British Menu 2017 chefs from Northern Ireland: Tommy Heaney

This year Tommy Heaney takes on Joery Castel and Eddie Attwell 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.

Tommy Heaney, head chef, The Great House, Great British Menu chefs 2017
Tommy Heaney

At the age of 14, Tommy had his first experience in a professional kitchen and never looked back. After gaining experience working abroad, he then also worked with a number of Michelin-starred chefs including Ollie Dabbous and David Everitt-Matthias. Tommy is currently the head chef at Leicester's Restaurant at The Great House in South Wales, which has been named the Best Hotel Restaurant at The Food Awards for the last two years running.

Why did you want to be involved in Great British Menu?

 I've always watched the Great British Menu, it always looks really fun but tough at the same time. I suppose when I was originally approached for it, I was obviously a bit apprehensive about doing it but I thought, if you want to try and push yourself, you've got to put yourself up against the best and challenge yourself.

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

It was very tough. Obviously, you agree to do it before they tell you the brief. So, once they told me, then I only had a couple of weeks to get my menu in. I suppose you’re kind of overthinking it a bit: ‘Is this going to fit the brief?’ Then because it was almost like a double brief, The Taste of Summer and Wimbledon, you get a bit side-tracked by one. I was thinking: ‘it has to be about Wimbledon, that’s the brief.’ Then you take a step back and it has to be about the Taste of Summer as well. It was very difficult.

Did you feel under pressure to create theatrical dishes rather than well-cooked dishes served simply on a plate?

A hundred percent! I would come up with an idea and I’d put a dish together. Then you think there’s got to be a bit of theatre about it. I spent a lot of time thinking of props as well. As I say, you think of your dish and then you think how am I going to serve that? How am I going to get that into a prop? How am I going to get the brief to come across in that dish? So, it does sway you.

Did you enjoy being pushed out of your comfort zone, and how difficult is it to cook in the GBM kitchen alongside other chefs?

It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I’d say. You’re definitely pushed out of your comfort zone. You get down there a day early before you start filming and you get to meet the other two chefs that you’re competing against. So, you get a chance to suss them out as well and everybody kind of keeps themselves to themselves. Then we get in the kitchen and it all starts then and the pressure does get to you. You’re trying to focus on what you’re doing but also, in the corner of your eye you’re looking at everyone else. You’re thinking: ‘What have they got going on over there? Is that better than mine?’ But yes, it was enjoyable.Tommy Heaney great british menu 2017

>>> Related: 10 Minutes with: Tommy Heaney

Best part of being on GBM?

I've never done anything like that before so actually the overall experience was really good. Meeting the other chefs was something else. The two boys I was up against, they’re top blokes. I’m still in contact with them. It’s almost like being on a stage in another kitchen because you’re working closely with two other guys and getting to see what they’re doing. So, you learn a lot as well. I would say that our three styles were completely different. Obviously, I can’t say too much but yes, they were very different.

And the worst, if any?

We were quite fortunate I suppose, because when we started filming it was towards the end and it wasn’t as hot as it was for the boys who were on it at the start. I mean there are early starts, you start quite early in the morning and then finish late at night. I think the hardest part was - I mean if you put me in my kitchen gear from breakfast shift to two o’clock in the morning it’s not a problem, but when you’re filming there’s a lot of standing about.

There’s also a lot of interviews and it slows the day down a bit, which is something I think that a lot of chefs are not really used to - they’re used to going at 100 miles an hour. People were saying: “Can we talk to you over here?” and you’re thinking: ‘hold on, I’ve got something cooking over here’. That was probably the hardest part. Especially when you’re in the middle of a conversation and judges or other people are asking you questions, and you’ve got a small time frame to do everything in. You have to stop and answer, but it’s all part and parcel of the competition.

How nerve-wracking was it to cook for your peers?

The whole thing was nerve-wracking! It's not just the fact that it was a veteran judge, you're cooking for the two other chefs you're competing against. As I said, I was very nervous, but I think I've taken a lot from it, as in the feedback and things like that. It was great to get feedback from people who you respect like that. Whether it was positive or negative, it's all things you can take on the chin and then go on from.

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

Yes, I would. Everything that they said to me, whether it be the two other guys or the veteran judge. It’s very easy to get defensive, but I didn’t. I just took a step back and thought: ‘These guys are basically telling me how I can improve my dish’, so I took it as a positive and was almost grateful for the feedback.

I probably found it more difficult to talk about other people’s dishes than my own. You don’t want to upset people either.

Would you do it again?

After the show, I was thinking to myself that it is draining. But thinking back on it now, I would one-hundred-percent do it again. You come away and you think, that was hard. But a lot of it is the stress leading up to it and we’ve all got our own kitchens to run as well. I’m not too sure how everybody else was, but we’ve got a very small team here, always difficult to recruit. So, trying to get that time in, plus practice your dishes and then you’ve got to think, is my kitchen manned up for when I’m not going to be in the kitchen? They’re all things you’ve got to take into consideration. It was actually the build-up that was probably more stressful than doing the show.

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

>>> Read more about Great British Menu 2017 here

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The Staff Canteen

Editor 24th June 2017

Great British Menu 2017 chefs - Tommy Heaney, Northern Ireland heat