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Great British Menu 2015: Central heat preview

Great British Menu 2015: Central heat final

by Food Urchin 02 October 2015

Food blogger Food Urchin gives us the lowdown on how four-times competitor Richard Bainbridge and new-comer Pip Lacy fared in front of the judges, in the Central heat final. The ultimate goal: to cook at the WI's centenary banquet.

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

Well then, another week over and one more week to go before we find out what the definitive menu for the grande finale will be; for the banquet of all banquets, celebrating 100 years of the WI. What an exhilarating journey it has been. To witness triumph through adversity, that one last push to the line and the immense joy – nay, tears of happiness – falling off the rosy, sweaty cheeks of our champion chefs, from all corners of the isle. Amazing. At the end of every heat, I have risen to my feet and screamed 'BRAVO' at the TV, smashing my clappy little hands together and honking like a seal. Because I do love a winner.

The spectre of loss, or losing rather, has also been palpable in this competition. 'But what of the losers?' I have often cried afterwards. 'What will become of them?' And it is a good question. Do they hang up their chefs’ whites and disappear, disgraced, into ignominy? Do they enter a more genteel, less stressful line of work and become florists, librarians or horse whisperers? OR DO THEY RISE LIKE A PHOENIX FROM THE VERY ASHES OF PAIN AND REGRET AND LIVE TO FIGHT ANOTHER DAY?

This is something I am sure that Jason Hodnett will be asking himself after crashing out of the competition on Thursday, because it was a hard week for this young chap. Despite all his best intentions, his bold execution and experimental va-va-voom, none of it seemed to go down well with jolly Mr Richard Corrigan. After every appraisal, the grief on James’ face was plain for all to see and sadly, his demeanour turned sulkier and sulkier as the week wore on. He dropped a few fudges too, bleeped out for the watershed and I did wonder if we’ll ever see the likes of him on our telly again.

If James wants to take any solace or inspiration though, he should look towards Richard Bainbridge, who was entering Great British Menu for the fourth time this week. 'The fourth time!' you could hear the judges say as they entered the room. 'Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, here he is again people, Richard is back! The loser is back! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!' they all barked. I did wonder what the hell he was doing there again and when newcomer Pip Carey promised to knock him spark out, I thought to myself ‘Here we go again’. Especially since he also had to win around Helen Carey, a former chair of the WI with nearly 50 years of membership under her belt.

'Oh man, you are toast,' I said to his beardy face at the start of the show. All said ironically, by the way. Because I was eating a slice of toast at the time and so I waggled it in front of the screen for extra dramatic effect.

Richard did spring out of the traps though, with his starter-slash-main course called ‘We all stand for Jerusalem’, a fairly bulky plate of food, consisting of lamb loin, slow-poached egg yolk, pearl barley, windy Jerusalem artichokes (done three ways) and *gasp* microwaved parsley sponge. His decision to use the hymn ‘Jerusalem’ to kick off proceedings was a good touch and impressed the judges straight away, as did his rich, but apparently light, combination of flavours. Helen felt that each bite delivered a different surprise and Prue exclaimed that it was 'Really lovely!'

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The judges thought Richard's starter was really tasty, even with the rich egg yolk that had worried Richard Corrigan during the week.
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Pip's 'Wine deer?' was the best-scoring starter of the week. She changed the presentation, but unfortunately it wasn't good enough for the judges.

Pulling on the gloves, Pip entered the ring with her ‘Wine deer?’, a smart dish flowered with venison carpaccio, chicken and venison sausage, parsnip purée, pickled vegetables and accompanied by a glass of parsnip wine. Delivered on woodland mats, reminiscent of the floor at Sherwood Forest, it showed great promise – Richard Corrigan had scored it highly earlier in the week. But the judges felt that a plate of raw meat, with tiny slivers of sausage was just not good enough for a banquet. Oliver in particular was fairly withering about it all, but the root wine went down well though.

For the fish course, Richard looked to deliver a punch of smoke with his trout-led ‘For home and country’. The other elements would be plums, pickled cucumber, lardo, butternut mousse and nasturtium leaves; and the smoke was to come from charred plum stones, a nod to the waste not, want not regime of the WI. However, Richard overcooked his fish and looked quite reluctant to send it out at first. 'Ma fish! Ah, overcooked ma fish,' he screamed. OK, he didn’t really but the judges were all in agreement that the trout was way overdone. And too smoky too, much to their and his annoyance. Whoops.

 
 
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Aiming for a higher score than 8, Richard's fish dish didn't quite deliver – the fish was overcooked and the smoke flavour took away from the trout.
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Pip served her smoked haddock on her grandmother's plates, but Prue still thought the dish looked dull. The judges did enjoy the deep-fried potato hotpot.

At first, Pip’s fishy homage, called ‘Grandma!’ in reference to her Nan over-seasoning food, didn’t look that clever visually. But in the flavour stakes, it made much bigger waves. Comprising of smoked haddock and deep fried potato hotpot with pickled cucumber, lemon purée and cucumber vinegar, the judges spent a while sniffing around with perplexed brows. Once they tasted the food though, opinions were quickly turned around. 'Not very good on the eyes but my, these spuds and fish are good,' said Oliver.

So at the halfway mark, as per usual, things were neck and neck, and when Helen wandered into the kitchen for the regular pep talk, she gave little away. I did like her response to Richard though when he told her that he’d tried to get his Mum into the WI, so he could glean inside information prior to the competition. 'I hope she has good luck trying to get in,' Helen whispered. Thus revealing that the WI is very rigorous in its selection and that blackballing evidently also takes place.

Entering the mains round, both chefs had very strong dishes in their armour, with Pip stepping up first to present her controversial canned rabbit stew called ‘Can cook’. Controversial apparently because the judges had to cook their dinner themselves, which did have Oliver whining 'cook my own dinner?' at one point. However, as they placed the stew complete with potatoes and pickled vegetables (how much pickling has there been in this competition?) on a hot cast iron plate for a pre-requisite three minutes and alarms pinged into life, well, the fun-factor soon won everyone over. Matthew was overjoyed, especially with his lovely little hazelnuts.

 
 
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A homage to haybox cooking, Pip's rabbit stew entertained and showed a great level of skill. The judges were impressed.
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All the judges agreed that 'Betty in the hen house' was a delicious main. Prue rated the stuffed poussins 'dramatic and impressive'.

Richard’s ‘Betty in the hen house’ was slightly less tempered, but still raised a giggle nonetheless. Inspired by a recipe he found in an old WI magazine, he presented a boned out poussin, stuffed with sausagemeat and chutney and served it with pearl barley, onions, carrot, confit parsnip and herb gravy, all complete with ceramic eggs and hen cages as props. Oliver did begin to question whether the stuffing overpowered the flavour of the poussin, but Prue soon put him in his place by saying that poussin doesn’t have that much flavour in the first place. Get you Prue!

Desserts throughout the competition have always been a stumbling block for the chefs and, so as Pip and Richard came into the final straight, it looked as though this would be the deciding round. Pip had to go first with her ‘Is it scone or is it scone?’, a play on the pronunciation of scones and to be frank, her confidence visibly wilted at this point. With a chiboust flavoured with scone, scone tuiles, scone bases topped with apple, pear and ginger jam and mini scones, in the terrible words of Mr Fort, Pip had 'scone too far' with this one. Her clotted cream ice cream on the other hand was delightful but was it enough to save her?

 
 
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Pip's elegant dessert scored badly during the week. The judges were also unimpressed with the mini scone, but they loved her clotted cream ice cream.
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Richard's trifle and Victoria sponge cocktail scored him a 10. ' Inspiring women' was judged to be fun, with WI written all over it.

After seeing the judges’ reaction to Richard’s ‘Inspiring women’ it didn’t look like it. It may have looked rather gimmicky on the surface, but underneath, the dish was underpinned by an obvious devotion to family and loved ones. His Nan was represented by a gorgeous slice of trifle. His sister influenced his Victoria sponge gin cocktail. And his wife made her mark by making all the props. By putting his heart on his sleeve, he put everyone in good mood and that sense of happiness prevailed when the chefs came in at the end for the final announcement. The judges had awarded nine tens no less, which meant that the Central region really did tickle the taste buds in this round.

The winner of course was Richard Bainbridge, on that much-mentioned fourth attempt and, as he tearfully told his Mum on the phone that he had finally, finally made it through, I was reminded of that quote by William Shakespeare: 'Wise men never sit and wail their loss, but cheerily seek how to redress their harms.' A quote that I often wisely use, whenever a soufflé lets me down or should I burn some beloved toast. All whilst smoking an imaginary pipe and talking to no-one in particular.

 
 
 

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