This week, our usual cast of judges - Prue Leith, Matthew Fort and Oliver Peyton - were joined by military historian Max Hastings, whose father reported from the frontline during the Normandy campaign.
Aktar has been to the banquet before, so he knows the taste of glory, and his want for victory was palpable in his stress levels. Mark, on the other hand, seemed far more relaxed but just as determined to make a lasting first impression.
Up first was Mark’s “Packed Lunch”, a dish of pickled onion jam, malt loaf, spicy brown sauce, sausage roll, chicken butter and crispy chicken and beef tea served in a specially made box featuring a map of the Normandy coastline. It didn't do well during the heats so Mark had everything to prove. If first impressions count, then his presentation certainly hit the mark, with Prue calling it a “classy little picnic”. However, the sausage roll let Oliver down “on all levels”. Max said he would have been excited in 1944, but in 2014? Not so much. Said Oliver: “The presentation is wonderful...unfortunately it sunk after that.”
Aktar’s “Run Rabbit Run", inspired by off the ration meat also didn’t score well during the heats. This time his dish, consisting of pickled veg, dots of beetroot yogurt, rabbit cutlets, rabbit pie, fell short when his liver parfait didn’t set in time, forcing him to skip it. Still, the judges enjoyed it, with only Matthew noting the missing liver parfait. Oliver was particularly impressed by the “delicious” curry pie.
Onto the fish course, it was Mark’s turn with his dish, “At The Harbour”: fried langoustine with pickled cucumber, plaice, seaweed butter sauce, fennel and cress. The dish received rave reviews from the judges, from presentation to flavour. Said Matthew Fort: “I like the look of this, the sweetness of the langoustine, the crunchiness of the fennel, the seaweed butter… I'm really pleased he pulled this off.” Oliver added that the dish only tangentially hit the brief, but that was OK: "There's a narrative - you have food from the seafront and though the connection isn't obvious, it's so good that he gets away with it.”
Aktar would have much to live up to with his fish course, “Allied Courses”, a nod to the international war front and his own heritage with mackerel fillet, rice balls and crayfish with gumbo sauce: "a melting pot of ingredients”. Unfortunately it missed the mark. “I'm a little disappointed with it,” said Oliver, “It sounds intriguing and looks good but it doesn't smell nice.” "I don't mind waiting for a dish if the results justify it,” said Matthew. Max added: "the mackerel would have worked better on its own without the allies."