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Great British Menu 2013, Wales Heat Final

Great British Menu 2013, Wales Heat Final

by Monica Shaw 23 March 2013

Week eight of Great British Menu and chefs from Wales were going head to head, in one of the most talked about weeks of the series. The first time for both Richard Davies and Mary Ann Gilchrist to face the judging chamber. Which one would represent Wales?

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What do you say about a competition where there’s such an obvious talent gap between the two chefs competing? In fact, last night’s Welsh finals of Great British Menu seemed less a competition and more a “let’s just get through this and move on with the finals.” Which, as the Twitterers have pointed out this week throughout the Wales heat, is quite a shame because there are so many talented chefs in Wales.

But whether self-taught Mary Ann Gilchrist, returning contender Richard Davies and, until Friday night, 19 year old Luke Thomas represent the “best of the Welsh best” is besides the point. This is what the programme has given us, and perhaps it’s somewhat a blessing in disguise for Wales: it may have caused the viewing public to bemoan Great British Menu, but it has got people singing Wales’ praises. That’s got to be a good thing.

Back on planet GBM, Friday saw Mary Ann ride the line between determination and self deprecation as she tried to match Richard Davies, who’d scored a 33 during the heats compared to Mary Ann’s 25. The judges - Prue Leith, Oliver Peyton, Matthew Fort and guest judge Emma Kennedy - certainly had their eye on Mary Ann, and an almost “I want to believe” sort of attitude that she could kick up her act.

But first, they had to sample Richard’s ‘Chicken Salad’ starter, comprised of a ring of celeriac puree, chicken wings filled with chicken mousse and finished with a slow-cooked egg yolk. ”I don’t see what the humour is,” said Oliver. They found at least an attempt at humour in the egg, a surprise shell that, when cracked, revealed a fairly weak joke (“Why did the chicken cross the playground?”). But what Richard lacked in humour he made up for in gastronomy. “These chicken legs wrapped in potato are gorgeous,” said Matthew. But Emma was less convinced: “The egg feels a bit clumsy.”

Also a tad clumsy was Mary Ann’s ‘Peas & Ham’ with chilled pea mousse, Welsh ham, peas and shallots with whole grain mustard, finished with honey mustard dressing and pea shoots. “Leaning tower of peas,” said Prue, observing Matthew Fort’s lopsided mousse. “This is almost artless in its presentation,” said Matthew. But the flavours were good. “That ham is world class,” said Oliver. “This dish is perfection, but the other dish is better for the banquet,” said Prue. Everyone agreed they’d rather eat Mary Ann’s dish over Richard’s but it doesn’t satisfy the criteria.

On to the fish course. Richard’s ‘Grilled & Tartare of Mackerel’ was a charred whisky-cured mackerel served on a comedy red plate. But not comic enough: “He hasn’t even paid lip service [to the brief],” said Oliver. There was some contention over the flavour, too. Matthew liked it but Emma felt ”there’s so many tastes that I’m a bit muddled by it.”

Emotions run high in the judging
Emotions run high in the judging
Richard's mackerel dish
Richard's mackerel dish

Mary Ann’s ‘The Great Escape’, crab and lobster lasagne with shellfish veloute and langoustine trimmings (the escape element), fared better. “Absolutely delicious,” said Emma. “Beautifully thin pasta”, said Prue. “That is gobsmackingly good,” said Matthew. But funny? Not so much. “I’m starting to feel angry with Mary Ann because she’s absolutely a skilled chef but there’s absolutely no humour,” said Oliver.

Mary Ann’s main, ‘Three’s a Crowd’ was meant to be a witty take on her mother’s cottage pie. But any laughs weren’t so much laughs of joy but rather “a laugh of slight despair,” said Emma Kennedy. “Not so much a nod to humour but a twitch,” said Matthew. And the flavours were “nice” at best. “We don’t want ‘nice’, we want great,” said Matthew. “It’s a bit weird because the quality of her first two dishes was amazing but she dropped the ball here,” said Oliver.

Richard’s main, a ‘Tasting of Pork’, was a nose to tail homage to pig and saw Richard once again bring out the “comedy plate”, this time a pig-shaped dish which judge Jeremy Lee compared to a “bed pan” during the heats. But Oliver declared it “looks good”. “We have some black pudding which is very good - this is a celebration of pork,” said Matthew. “This is what I was expecting to see,” said Oliver, trying to talk over the sound of Matthew chomping on his pork scratchings. As to the plate, well, there was no talk of bed pans, but Emma did say: “This dish smacks of something you’d find in a charity shop in Weston-super-Mare.”

Finally, the desserts. Mary Ann’s ‘Some like it Hot’ with spicy pineapple, sesame tulle, coconut lime jelly, passionfruit sorbet and pineapple crisps saw her end on a high note. “I think that combination of chilli and pineapple is absolutely divine,” said Matthew. “That is delicious,” said Ann, “but where’s the joke?” “You’re almost as miserable as Oliver,” accused Matthew.

Richard’s ‘Strawberries & Cream’ was an elaborate affair of panna cotta, strawberry jelly, fresh strawberries, meringue shards, crispy ricotta dumplings, candy floss and a comedy red nose sorbet, served as yet another “comedy plate”, which finally succeeded in making the judges laugh. “This is more like it,” said Oliver. All of the judges except Oliver enjoyed the dish. “Thank heavens we’ve ended on a note of sweetness and light,” said Matthew.

Towards the end of the show, Richard was weirdly lamenting his dessert course which he didn’t seem happy with. This seemed a bit strange given he was pretty much the obvious winner from the get go. Indeed, no shock when the judges said it would be Richard going on to the finals: ”You bookended it brilliantly with humour and we loved the last course,” said Emma.

Say what you will about the chefs in the Welsh heat, one thing is for certain: whatever their level of talent, being on Great British Menu means a lot to the chefs competing. And perhaps it’s nice to see, for example, Mary Ann’s unbridled emotion at just being a part of the show. “That makes you realise how much it means to the chefs taking part,” said Matthew.

You don’t often get that from the chefs on Great British Menu, who can sometimes seem almost jaded by their own talent. This week may not have seen Wales at its culinary best, but it terms of hard work, sincerity, enthusiasm and support, you can’t really beat it.

Next week we see the regional winners: battle it out to see whose four dishes will be served at the Comic Relief banquet. Good luck to Tom Aikens, Michael Smith, Aiden Byrne, Colin McGurran, Peter Sanchez-Iglesias, Raymond McArdle, Daniel Clifford, and Richard Davies.

 
 
 

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