It’s hard to believe that the Great British Menu is now in its tenth year. For it only seems like yesterday that the likes of Bryn Williams and Marcus Wareing were serving up turbot, cockles and oxtail and custard tart with Garibaldi biscuits for Her Maj (sic) the Queen, to celebrate her birthday. Since then, the themes have been varied and many. The Olympics, Christmas, Comic Relief and last year’s D-Day celebrations have all served well as inspiration for the competing chefs. To help them get the ol’ creative juices flowing, so to speak.
And as the series has come along and developed, the recipes have become more and more intricate and complex. The chefs have even started employing carpenters, electricians and special effects experts, to help them build mini-sets to seat the food and boost the theatrical flair of their dishes. Which in the immortal words of John Torode, is a very good thing, as this shows the pushing of boundaries in food and plus, it’s all good fun to watch.
However, it does also highlight what a bunch of show-offs chefs can be and this I fear, will be their undoing, because the muse for our intrepid culinary artists this year is to be the formidable WI, or Women’s Institute, who are not to be messed with.
Formed to revitalise rural communities and encourage women to produce food for the nation during the First World War, this pioneering organisation has done much to promote home cooking, as well as equality and education. With a groundswell of membership heading towards the quarter million mark, they are certainly a force to be reckoned with; and seeing as the first WI meeting was held in the slightly unpronounceable Llanfairpwll on Anglesey, Wales, on 16th September 1915; well, there is one hell of a birthday bash coming up.
Which brings me back to the dilemma that our chefs have to face. You can be dripping with Michelin stars, know how to manipulate the four base elements of chocolate, chicken, chips and cheese; and be a dab hand at decorating a platter with tinsel and fairy lights from Poundland; but if that jam isn’t set, if that gravy is too thin, and if that crackling doesn’t crisp and snap, then all their efforts will be in vain, because the WI will pick up on that in an instant. Many hearts and minds have been crushed in church halls and at school fetes across the land, when the standard just hasn’t hit the mark. As I understand it, some of the WI top guns will be sat at the table with judges Matthew Fort, Prue Leith and Oliver Peyton. Namely Helen Carey OBE and Rosemary Bishton MBE; so chefs beware...