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.”