Friday 1st June 2012 saw the end of possibly one of the best weeks of Great British Menu. In the South West round all three competitors Simon Hulstone, Paul Ainsworth and Nathan Outlaw showed British cooking at its best. However, only one chef could go through. Great British Chefs blogger Monica Shaw was on hand to see who that would be.
Blog post by Monica Shaw
Is it just me or was the South West week one of the best weeks of Great British Menu? The three competitors - Simon Hulstone, Paul Ainsworth and Nathan Outlaw - represented a phenomenal trio of chefs, all with strong personalities and incredible skill. But each chef is decidedly different and it was impossible to predict whose style would make its way to the judge's chamber. And with all three chefs being part of the Great British Chefs website, we couldn't help but cheer them all on.
Simon Hulstone's dessert from BBC2's Great British Menu
But come Thursday night, judge Tom Kerridge had spoken, and competitive newcomer Simon Hulstone (despite an amazing dessert) took a bow, leaving Paul and Nathan to battle it out under the careful judging of Prue Leith, Matthew Fort and Oliver Peyton.
There was no confusing whose dish was whose, with Nathan standing out for his classic dishes made with local ingredients, whereas Paul used specially commissioned serving platters to create theatre and playful presentations.
Hog's pudding with seaweed, potato terrine & mushroom ketchup by Nathan Outlaw from BBC2's Great British Menu
Nathan was first up with his starter of hog's pudding with seaweed, potato terrine and mushroom ketchup: his take on a hearty Olympic breakfast. All of the judges were quick to criticise its appearance: "it's a bit beige," said Matthew. But the flavour combination was a "beautiful piece of thinking" according to Oliver. Prue agreed: "Composition is perfect...it just looks awful."
Breakfast of Champions by Paul Ainsworth from BBC2's Great British Menu
Paul's 'Breakfast of Champions' brought more breakfast fare, this time pork belly with hash browns and an innovative black pudding pan au chocolat. "The high point is the bacon...cured to perfection," said Oliver. Prue praised the poached egg with potato crust: "this is just wonderful." But Matthew was unconvinced by the serving of breakfast as an Olympic starter: "I want them not to have breakfast; I want them to have something they've never eaten before."
Mackerel and mackerel belly roll with oyster, horseradish & cucumber sauce by Nathan Outlaw from BBC2's Great British Menu
Moving on to the fish course, Nathan - a two Michelin starred seafood chef - was feeling pretty confident with his mackerel and mackerel belly roll served with an oyster, horseradish and cucumber sauce, which scored a 9 during the heats. The judges weren't convinced. Oliver called it "poncified fish" with "no personality": "I'm looking for rock n' roll". Matthew Fort agreed that the "mackerel needs a more powerful hit to stand up to the sauce."
Monkfish, Two Showings by Paul Ainsworth from BBC2's Great British Menu
Paul's Monkfish 'Two Showings' seemed to fair better, with all of the judges enjoying his nose-to-tail monkfish served on an inventive two-tiered Colosseum-shaped platter. All of the judges enjoyed the top tier: "the curry deep fried monkfish is quite amazing," said Oliver. But the second tier - monkfish liver on toast - ended things on a bitter note, with Prue visibly cringing at the taste: "too powerful for me."
Wishful Chicken by Paul Ainsworth from BBC2's Great British Menu
For the main course, it was Paul's turn to feel confident - his 'Wishful Chicken' chicken kiev scored a perfect 10 during the heats. And here the judges mostly agreed, with Oliver calling it a "triumph". But there was some debate over whether the elements worked together, with Matthew once again criticising its "beigeness".
Duck, barbecue monkfish, rosemary, samphire and asparagus by Nathan Outlaw from BBC2's Great British Menu
It was left to Nathan's modern day surf n' turf of duck, barbecue monkfish, rosemary, samphire and asparagus to steal the show. And steal it did. All of the chefs loved the barbecue sauce, but it was the whole combination that made this outstanding. "We've never had meat and fish together and I love the way the various elements are knitted," said Matthew, "when they come together they make something even better and that's where the true genius lies." Prue agreed: this was "gold medal winning stuff."
Elderflower and lemon tart, strawberry sorbet and meringues by Nathan Outlaw from BBC2's Great British Menu
If Nathan's main was a win, his pudding was surely a letdown, with all of the judges lambasting his elderflower and lemon tart, strawberry sorbet and meringues. "It's not a good sorbet," said Oliver. "The base is very undercooked," said Prue of the tart: "this is clearly a chef who's a great chef, but doesn't think pudding is important - it's not up to scratch."
"Then & Now" by Paul Ainsworth from BBC2's Great British Menu
Following that, the judges must have been thoroughly pleased to end on Paul's 'Then & Now', a pudding of pistachio and olive oil sponge with chocolate disk and gold caramel sauce. "This chocolate disc is completely orgasmic," said Matthew. "If I just won a gold medal and had a choice between the medal and this chocolate pudding, I'd choose the pudding - it's Nirvana," said Oliver.
And so, it was judgment time. Earlier in the episode, Oliver Peyton said, "I want the chefs to demonstrate to the world the greatness of Britain." And so despite Paul's "dazzling" menu, it was Nathan who won on "pure gastronomy", an apt reminder that Great British Menu is about showcasing British food, which Nathan certainly does with his use of local South West ingredients cooked simply but to perfection.
Well done Nathan Outlaw for winning the South West heat! And well done Paul Ainsworth and Simon Hulstone who put up some pretty heavy competition. It was a fantastic week.
If you're in the UK you can watch this episode on BBC's iPlayer for the next few days.
The heats are over, and next week, it's the finals! Nathan Outlaw will join Alan Murchison who won the Scottish round, Daniel Clifford who won the Central round, Colin McCurran who won the North East round, Chris Fearon who won the Northern Ireland round, Simon Rogan who won the North West round, Phil Howard who won the London & South East round and Stephen Terry who won the Wales round. You can see the full line up of chefs and judges for the Great British Menu 2012 here.
Blog post & photography by Monica Shaw
What did you think of the results of the Southwest finals?