With this series of Great British Menu being all about Comic Relief, we certainly expect a few laughs here and there. But Friday’s final of the North East heat (22nd February 2013) also added a few tears to the menu. This episode saw Colin McGurran and Stephanie Moon fight a consistently close battle to win over judges Prue Leith, Oliver Peyton, Matthew Fort and guest judge comedian Tim Brooke-Taylor. Colin and Stephanie had a pretty large gap between them going into the finals, with Stephanie trailing returning champion Colin by seven points (26 to 33) following the heat.
Oliver Peyton, who had a nibble of Stephanie’s cornbread in the kitchen, said, “I hope that cornbread is no reflection of her cooking today - she’s got to crank it up a few gears.”
Indeed, Colin’s starter proved his point: his gazpacho “soup”, presented as a faux tomato, was a huge hit with the judges. “This is just delicious,” said Prue, “I’d like it all over again.” But was it funny? According to Tim: “It’s better than that - it’s delicious.”
But Stephanie’s starter “Why did the chicken…” proved that she was still a force to be reckoned with. The velute-filled egg shells with oyster lollipops and crispy chicken skin had the judges thoroughly enamoured. ”I love the fact that she’s got all these tastes and she’s used it to tell the story,” said Tim. “It’s a clever idea and beautifully done.” Prue added that her consommé was fantastic and Oliver agreed that Stephanie was “off to a flying start.”
On to the fish course, Colin’s cockles & mussels with salmon found its laughs in the most unlikely - and unintended - of places. The dry ice he used to create some drama ended up buckling the plates, causing some unexpected leakage. All the same, the judges liked the flavour of the dish (and didn’t seem to notice that his starfish jellies didn’t set properly).
Stephanie’s fish course, a crab custard pie with crab meat and wasabi balls offered the judges less mess and more joy… even if the hot mayonnaise did curdle a bit. “She can get that fixed,” argued Prue, “excellent skilful preparation and good combinations of flavours - she’s done it.”
Both Stephanie and Colin were neck and neck going into the main course. Colin’s duck & turnips proved ”a really nice marriage of flavours” according to Matthew but Oliver asked, “where is the happiness? You could not hope for a better quality piece of duck but what’s this got to do with comic relief?”
Stephanie’s main course was also a serious take on the brief, and it said so in the title: "Behind the fun is some serious game…", a dish of poached mulled pear, t-bone venison, hazelnuts, salsify, baby beats, pickled mushroom, blue cheese croquettes and winter savoury sauce. ”I’m loving these,” Prue said of the croquettes. ”There’s nothing one could complain about,” said Oliver, “But I’m saddened by the lack of humour.”
Stephanie got her humour groove back with her pudding, “the raspberry blower”, a sweet custard, jelly, marshmallow and raspberry dish covered in a red nose cloche, to which Tim said, “the excitement is unbearable.” ”I love it,” said Prue, “the biscuit is so short and perfect.” Only Oliver complained: ”my concern is that there’s so much effort gone into it that it could have been more successful.” Prue’s response: ”Oliver, you are such a misery guts.”
Colin also brought the humour back to his dessert with his tiramisu fez with yet more dry ice smoke effect. No plates broke this time so that was a relief. But the judges found the dish more humorous than tasty.
“This bears a passing resemblance to my least favourite pudding in the universe,” said Matthew. Tim was also not a fan of the tiramisu: ”the presentation is wonderful but the taste in there I don’t particularly like.” Prue disagreed: ”The concept is so fantastic - I think it’s a winner.”
At the end of the game, all of the judges agreed that both chefs were worthy winners. “I don’t think either chef deserves to lose,” said Oliver, which no doubt made choosing and announcing the winner pretty heart-wrenching for all involved. But it had to be done. And when they announced the winner was Colin, you could see Stephanie, a three year veteran to Great British menu, trying very hard to hold back her disappointment.
She did let a few tears slip back in the kitchen with Colin, but kudos to Stephanie, she kept it together and gracefully nodded her chef’s cap to Colin. And we raise our hats to Colin, too. Well done!
Next week it’s the South West heat with contenders Chris Eden, Peter Sanchez-Iglesias and Emily Watkins. Their mentor for the week is Tom Kerridge.