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Great British Menu 2015: The banquet

Great British Menu 2015: The banquet

by Food Urchin 10 October 2015

Food Urchin runs us through finals week on Great British Menu as the eight finalists compete to get their dishes through to the banquet.

More from this series:

Danny is a food adventurer, home grower, supper club host and writer of the entertaining and quirky epicurean blog, Food Urchin.

Right then. There is to be no messing around today. No witty, long winded introductions to set up the scene. No flights of fancy, pondering on the philosophies and inner workings of a chef’s mind. Let’s not worry about how they dream up these amazing dishes. Let’s not stress about the execution, the verve, the passion, the artistry. And let’s definitely try to put those images of a naked Prue, Oliver and Matthew out of heads.

I’ve been up since 4 o’clock this morning, recapping, fast-forwarding and making notes on all the events of this week. Five hours all told. Five hours of high drama, rapturous joy, spilt milk and heartfelt tears. My head is buzzing, due to the twelve cups of coffee I’ve had. And all I keep seeing in front of me, is a naked Prue, Oliver and Matthew. Why? Why did they have to show it again?

I am haunted. I can’t think. I can’t think…….

*breathe*

OK, I jest. I am not having a major breakdown, I am just wondering how on earth I am going to kick this all off, because there really is a lot to go through. Perhaps, it would be best to start at the beginning. Yes, let start with that.

So our final eight chefs if you weren’t aware were Jak O’Donnell, Josh Eggleton, Adam Bannister, Ben Arnold, Michael O’Hare, Matt Worswick, Matt Gillan and Richard Bainbridge, who was going for gold for the fourth time of trying. All eight had pretty spectacular dishes to impress with but all eight also produced some stinkers along the way and as it stood at the start of the week, it was really hard working out who would get through to the banquet. But they all turned up in their Sunday best and despite some obvious nerves, you could see that all eight chefs were going to give it their damned best go.

The main goal for each chef was to make a shortlist of three for each course and for this series, there was a twist; in that all three dishes in that shortlist had to be the very best, most perfect dish to be considered. If only one plate of food was deemed suitable, then so be it, only one dish would be in the shortlist. That dish would in fact be the winner. Because by very definition, it was the only dish that could be served at a banquet for the WI. Obvious? Confused? Yep, I was too but it all helped to stoke up the pressure cooker atmosphere, complete with bleeped swearing and ruddy cheeks.

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After four attempts, Richard finally made it to the banquet, and he had an enormous task ahead – he was serving both the starter and the dessert.
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Richard's lamb and artichoke dish 'We all stand for Jerusalem' was his interpretation of the hymn traditionally sung at the start of the WI's meetings.

On Monday, first out the gates then were newcomers Adam, Ben and Matt W delivering two picnic-themed plates and a gamekeeper's pie. Adam went for full on pork with his starter but his Scotch egg just did not compare to Ben’s immaculate meat covered egg of happiness. Mark, again repeating the mantra that this was the hardest thing he’d ever done, fluffed it with his amateur pastry.

Next up was Michael and Jak, both searching for perfection, perfection, perfection. The maverick chef from the North East had everyone enthralled with his egg housing. Everyone gasped when the prop entered the room. Unfortunately, Prue still felt that his raw langoustine was ‘disgusting’. Jak on the other hand did better with her richly flavoured soup and mutton sandwich. Creating a totally different dish from his regional heat, Josh got top marks for his crab starter, evoking memories of childhood and fruit picking. Whereas Matt G’s oniony box of onions done four ways got a very mixed response.

Richard on the other hand got a very large round of applause for his lamb loin, artichoke and ‘electric green’ parsley sponge. Matthew Fort thought that it was ‘ineffably creamy’, presumably because he was lost for words and as a result, Richard found himself shortlisted, along with Josh.

Cometh Tuesday and cometh the fish course and a fair few chefs felt that this was going to be their strongest round. Ben in particular was very confident about his lobster and smoked cod soup but it had the adverse effect of sending guest judge Kirsty Bowen to sleep. Adam (who Prue has a soft spot for, incidentally) also had high hopes for his salmon but alas his recurring cucumber problem reared its ugly head.

Marching on and down the wrong lane came Matt G with this ‘Jamming and Canning’ which hadn’t done so well in his regional heat, so he tried to change it and was then accused of trying too hard. I mean strewth, give the guy a break. For Michael, it was a different story. His highly creative and risky take on fish and chips ‘Emancipation’ paid dividends yet again and left his fellow chefs stunned.

After that, it was hard for Josh to compete and it showed on his face. “Is that a chicken pie or a fish pie?” he was asked by Matt W and Josh, not very politely, told him to go away and forget himself. Richard’s pie, inspired by his mum was also an ‘unmitigated disaster’ according to Mr Fort, pushing his count of the word ‘unmitigated’ in this series up to twenty-three. Luckily, it wasn’t all doom and gloom as towards the end, both Jak and Matt W provided great shouts for the banquet with their ‘Pretty Kettle of Fish’ and ‘Grandma’s pick of the day’ and both joined Michael for the shortlist.

 
 
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The fish course is Michael's contemporary take on fish and chips, served on a canvas, not a plate.
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The space needed for the large canveses of Michael's 'Emancipation' made plating up a real challenge – and they all had to be done at once.

On Hump Day, it was time for the chefs to produce what would be their centrepieces for the banquet and, yet again, the p-word was bounced all over the place by the judges. ‘It needs to be perfect,’ demanded guest judge Felicity Cloake, who also turned up with a healthy appetite. And it was a good job that she did, because in my opinion, this round was by far the strongest for all our chefs.

Michael kicked things off first with his pork and connective tissue Pollock inspired effort, that was also meant to get his mum a date. There was a battle of the shepherds’ pie between Matt W and Josh, with Matt just losing out due to the fact that he went too sparing with his gravy. Then Ben entered the room and completely changed his main dish by making a venison pie. Some may observe here that ‘copy’ might be the word to use here, as this was pretty much the same dish that his follow competitor Chris McGowan had made in their regional heat. Still, Felicity liked his soggy bottom.

Matt G’s goat dish, using goat in a multitude of ways, in keeping with the WI’s ‘Waste not, want not’ ethic really wowed everyone and had Matthew Fort kissing his plate afterwards. Or maybe he was licking it. And as such, Richard, Adam and Jak had quite the hill to climb to make any sort of impression afterwards. Richard’s stuffed poussin certainly had flair and Adam gave a good nod to his native Wales with his faggot dish (the least said about Jak’s tough venison liver, the better).

However, Matt G’s ‘Teaching and Preaching’ still remained the absolute star of the show and it was deemed so good, it got him straight into the banquet, no fussing.

 
 
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After butchering five goats, Matt was still behind with his prep. In the morning his goat's cheese wasn't dehydrated – the plug was off!
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Matt's 'Teaching and Preaching' main is served with a specially designed storybooks, telling the plight of billy goats in the UK.

For the last round on Thursday, the dessert round, a lot of the chefs still had much to play for. It was in the words of one ‘Do or die time’. And there certainly was a sense of foreboding when guest judge Mary Quinn turned up and said that the WI has no time for drizzles or smears. Blimey. What were the chefs going to do if they couldn’t get away with the odd skid-mark on the plate?

With that in mind, Jak led the way by going down the safe route with her hooty, tooty, whisky clootie, a traditional Scottish pud and whilst the judges thought it was delicious, they also felt that it was rather heavy. Proving that simplicity is often the hardest thing to do, Matt W had an almighty struggle trying to pop his upside-down cake out from their moulds and poor ol’ Adam had yet another jelly disaster. Jelly always seems to be letting down that fella.

Having fallen flat the last time around, Matt G went back to the drawing board for his dessert and it showed that he had put in the homework. His ‘Back to Black and Yellow’ still had the hexagonal design but this time it was a lot lighter and less sweet and much loved by both the judges and the chefs. Michael’s chocolate shard with violet mousse however, got a much more mixed response and I sort of got the impression that he was making things up on the spot. When asked about how he was going to present it, he simply said ‘I don’t know!’

Josh also had a bit of a damp squib with his ‘Milk Mission’. Let down by a flaccid junket and damp cornflakes, he looked rather crestfallen, the poor chap. Ben after delivering his huge trifle, complete with Pimms, also looked like someone had just run over his puppy, such was the damning verdict from the judges. ‘It’s just a trifle,’ said Oliver. Oof, that must hurt.

The man of the moment then was Richard, who had everyone in tears with this very personal ‘Inspiring Women’, another trifle but one with a lot of meaning and as Prue, Matt and Oliver went off to the drawing room, to decide what the final menu would be, it was beginning to look like Richard was going to get two dishes into the banquet.

 
 
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Richard's dessert 'Inspiring women' paid homage to the women in his family and drew on classic WI recipes: Victoria sponge and trifle.
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The women in Richard's life have all supported him throughout the competition, and they all joined in together on the day too, to help with the presentation.

We did have to endure a segment of indecision first, due to the judges spending what seemed like an inordinate amount of time, shuffling cards around and uttering ‘No, no, no!’ Along with ‘This, this, this.’ I did begin to wonder if the there would be a banquet for the WI at one point.

But they got there in the end.

And the final menu then was to be:

DUN DUN DAH!

Stand for Jerusalem – Richard Bainbridge

Emancipation – Michael O’Hare

Teaching and Preaching – Matt Gillan

and

DUN DA DUN DUN DAAAAH!!

Inspiring Women – Richard Bainbridge

So yes, the bearded wonder from Norfolk, the trier who never, ever gave up, got not one but two dishes into the banquet.

As for the banquet itself, we were treated to the usual highs and lows with key moments being an almost total meltdown for Matt, as nothing in the kitchen seemed to work for him. I bet that he will never go near an industrial pressure cooker ever again. Richard also had a fairly stressful time of it too but then again, he did have two courses to prepare for 200 guests. Meanwhile, Michael seemed to be on another planet, blissfully unaware of the enormous task at hand, calmly painting huge canvases for his acclaimed fish course. Still, there is always room for peril on the Great British Menu and of course, all three chefs pulled it off, with great aplomb and cheers.

Would they have been able to do it without help of female judges (Felicity, Mary and Kirsty) the day before though? Maybe not. As in the words of Radio 4 presenter, Dame Jenny Murray, they were just ‘three blokes in the kitchen’.

I wonder if we’ll ever see three women on GBM?

 
 
 

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