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Great British Menu 2016: North West heat recap

Great British Menu 2016: North West heat recap

by Food Urchin 17 September 2016

Danny Kingston keeps us up to date with the goings-on in the GBM kitchen as the North West’s best step up to the hob.

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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.

If you are a newbie chef, coming to the Great British menu and entering a regional heat, knowing that you will be competing against a previous champion must be daunting. That’s what I would have thought anyway. But during this week’s battle to get through to the final judging round, both Kim Woodward and Adam Reid showed not one flicker of doubt or sweat at first. Perhaps this was down to their backgrounds. Kim, a protege of Gordon Ramsay, is the first ever female head chef at The Savoy Grill after all. Adam has risen through the ranks under the guidance of Simon Rogan and is now head chef at The French in Manchester. Both have that steely eyed glare and sense of purpose and determination. Why should they be worried?

Well, I suppose it helps that the chef in question is Matt Worswick; a big, bouncing ball of fun and energy from Liverpool. When all three met for the first time, I thought to myself, ‘Those two are going to pick him off like a pair of velociraptors.’ However, with a leather apron as a shield of armour, Matt soon brought them back to earth by interjecting with, ‘You guys don’t know what’s coming.’ Injecting a good dose of heebie jeebies to boot. Then Phil Howard walked into the room and suddenly, the playing field was levelled. ‘Ha ha! Not so cocky now, are we!’ I yelled at the screen. Before hiding behind the sofa, because Big Phil makes me nervous also.

Kicking off with the starters round then. Matt stepped up and announced that he was making ‘Liver and Onions’. A dish signalling an intent to go down the nostalgic route and one that brought back more than just a couple of memories for Matt’s uncle. After he asked him to try it for him, his uncle said that there were two things missing, his ‘Mam and Dad’. Which led to much lip wobbling. Phil was also moved and impressed by Matt’s contemporary approach, delivering a whole range of techniques to showcase the onion (pickled, crisped and dehydrated as ash). It need more finesse though and looked rather messy.

Chefs
Matt Worswick

By comparison, Kim went off into the opposite direction completely, visiting the shores of the Caribbean for her shellfish led ‘The BOT’ Or British Overseas Territories. Using langoustines, alongside rum-cured trout and creating sweet potato crackers and coconut hummus, Kim certainly produced an exotic dish, with some high drama along the way; her crackers very nearly caused her to crack. Again, Phil saw good promise and was pleased that she hit the brief. Yet he was left frustrated by a lack of crab and I would offer this advice to all chefs out there; if you are going to serve crab, make sure there is more than a teaspoon. Seriously.

Knowing that Adam should be able to rustle up a decent starter, Phil was veritably rocking back and forth with excitement over his description of a tiffin box, filled with spiced cabbage stuffed samosas, dates poached in tamarind and little balls of bittetachamp; or potato balls rather, stuffed with spiced lamb mince and deep fried. All accompanied with various dressings. The inspiration for this hotchpotch mixture of flavours was family friend and caterer, Laila Remtulla MBE; and what with her African and Indian heritage, all became clear. As a result, his fun-led approach scored him an 8 and put him in the lead.

Coming into the fish round, Kim had to come out fighting and at first, her tribute to the coal mines of the north west sounded like it was going to look very black on the plate. Too black in fact. Crushed black potatoes, black bread rolls, black ‘gravel’, using black olives and rosemary and halibut, brushed with charcoal oil, all pointed to a very dark and depressing course indeed. Ack! Black! But Kim obviously knows what she is doing and Phil thought that her wonderfully cooked fish, combined with a brown butter sauce, was sublime.

Still keeping things all retro, Matt’s fish course was to pay homage to that 70s classic, the ‘Prawn Cocktail’. Actually, I love a prawn cocktail and I was worried that Matt’s deconstructed approach was going to fall over completely. Personally, iceberg lettuce puree sounds like a step too far. But the bright, floral, end result brought colour and cheer to Phil’s face. He liked it all. The cool yet ‘naff’ presentation, the Marie rose sauce in liquid nitrogen and even the pallid green puree. The langoustines needed some more attentive cooking though, as opposed to a lukewarm bath in the sous vide.

As for Adam, well during the run through and process of putting his fish dish together, it was like the world and his dog wanted the chef to put chips on the plate. Called ‘By The Seaside’ his course comprised of tricky hake, pickled cockles, sea greens, an aerated tartare sauce and chip shop scraps, those small bits of batter left over after deep frying. But no chips. Kim asked him about them. Matt asked him about them. Phil even said ‘Are you doing chips?’ And Adam said ‘No!’ and promptly got the lowest score. Maybe he should have done chips.

 
Phil and Kim
Phil Howard

For the mains, Kim came out first with her ‘Bobbies on the Beat’, honouring both those in the police force who have been awarded by the Queen. There was also a personal connection as both her husband and granddad had been coppers and as such copper pans featured in the presentation. Along with flashing police helmets. Deciding to use a rack of pork, braised in bergamot as the main star, felt like more of risqué connection but nevertheless, she cooked it to perfection and managed to deliver that all important crackling. It just needed more detail and perhaps some more vegetables, according to mentor Phil.

In keeping with the personal touch, Adam decided that tea-time and the great Sunday roast would be the theme for his cow-heavy course. Using a beautiful piece of sirloin of dry aged Cumbrian shorthorn, he skimmed off the fat and wrapped it around the fillet, to be slow cooked and served with parsnips in dripping, ‘roasties’, horseradish and some more braised ox cheek and beefy tea to boot. It was good. Phil said as much. But he also felt that it was a shame that Adam had broken down the joint of beef so much. A lot of work but little to show for it, in other words.

Still ploughing on with his new approaches to old favourites, Matt sought to elevate the dusty ‘Coronation Chicken’ from sandwich filling to a dish worthy of a banquet. Creating his own ‘Bombay Mix’ to a coat a succulent chicken breast saw him get off to a good start. As did a decision to use to mango, rather than a traditional apricot chutney. Chicken scratchings and buttermilk gel also raised coos and eyebrows but Phil felt that the leg meat quenelles could do with more texture. If Matt sorted that, then this dish would have ‘legs’ to make it all the way to the banquet. Badoom-tish!

 
Judges
Judges

In the last dessert round, all three chefs had to tickle Phil’s sweet tooth and tickle it they did. The most successful was Adam, who produced a fair blinder with his ‘Golden Empire’ – a highly technical celebration of apples and that humble pudding, the apple crumble. Starting with making hollow and delicate replica apples, made by blowing sugar and sugar stems, he then filled the inside with meadowsweet, hazelnut crumble and apple compote and then placed it on a bed of apple granita. All held and encaptured within a gold china apple. For Phil, this was one of the highlights of the week and this was the dish that sent him through.

To follow him into second place, both Kim and Matt also had to pull out all the stops and it was really difficult to decide which one was the worthier. Kim, again, using all the dark arts at her disposal, made an extremely complex looking gin and tonic jelly that contained a red jelly poppy and black jelly stamen; in reference to the Tower of London and the Beefeaters who guard the Queen’s jewels. Served up with ice-cream and chocolate ganache diamonds, it looked amazing and scored an 8.

And so did Matt’s old-school ‘Peach Melba’, another slightly deconstructed mix of caramelised peach puree, poached peaches and fresh raspberries, frozen raspberries and vanilla ice-cream. Given that last year he bombed on the pudding, this was a return to form and for Phil he delivered exactly what he wanted to eat. Again, he scored an 8. However, only one chef could go through and as such, Kim had to walk, due to her misfired mains.

Helping the judges for the finals round on this occasion was Lady Claire McDonald who has been awarded an OBE for her services to the hospitality industry and to charity. She is also an alumni of Prue Leith’s cooking school, which pleased Prue to no end when she announced it. Matt Fort on the other hand looked rather dour when Lady Claire said that she brought her appetite – ‘Oh Matthew, I have!’ But that is only probably because the greedy little sausage is always hankering after seconds.

Once more into the breach then went both our illustrious chefs and at one point, it looked like there was going to be a wrestling match on our screens. Between Matthew Fort and Oliver Peyton that is. For them, Adam’s tiffin box was a huge moot point with the former loving Adam’s traditional approach, whereas the latter felt he was ‘struggling’ because it wasn’t modern enough. Sadly, Oliver only had Matthew in a headlock for a few seconds before normal, slightly boring service resumed.

There were few entertaining asides though. Lady Claire proclaiming that ‘prawn cocktail was an abomination in the 70s and it’s an abomination now’ was lovely. And so was her astute observation/knock down of Oliver, after he felt Adam’s Sunday roast was too ‘conservative’.

After reluctantly adding up the scores, Prue announced that it would be Adam who would go through to the final, a chef who suddenly looked quite lamb-like and all coy when he announced to his wife that he had won. I presume it was his wife. Or maybe it was his mum. Whatever, it was a far cry from the predator at the start of the week.

 
 
 
 

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