Great British Menu 2012, North East Heat Final

Great British Menu 2012, North East Heat Final

by Monica Shaw 28 April 2012

On Thursday we saw a very disappointed Stephanie Moon take her leave, leaving Colin and Charlie to prepare their four-course menus for judging panel Oliver Peyton, Prue Leith and Matthew Fort. Who will win the North East heat?

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Monica Shaw's mission is to enable people to feel awesome, through food, life, work and play.

From start to finish, Charlie was on a roll in the fighting-talk department, playing super defence in an attempt to win the psychological battle against Colin. But in this game, only gastronomy counts, and here the judges didn’t pull any punches.

Colin kicked off with his starter of ‘Quails in the woods’, a theatrical dish with a woodland presentation involving dry ice, coated quail’s eggs and chicken liver parfait. The judges agreed with Nigel, who gave the dish a mere 4/10 during the heats. Having extracted the actual food from the wilderness of their plating, Prue was not impressed with the paltry offerings: “When you get rid of the wonderful décor, this is what you’ve got, and I don’t think it amounts to gastronomy.” It didn’t help that the meat was undercooked, noted Oliver: “I’m a man who likes my meat walking but that breast is raw.”

So maybe Charlie had a chance here, both psychologically and gastronomically. His starter of wild rabbit with carrot and Douglas fir pine needles was next, but it didn’t do much better than Colin’s, with over-smoked loin and a confusing amalgamation of flavours.

“Here’s a chef who’s trying very, very hard but he doesn’t know when to stop,” said Matthew. “He’s entered for the pentathlon when he should have entered the shotputting.”

This left Colin and Charlie neck and neck for the fish course.

Colin’s mullet on a ‘sea bed’, in which he recreated a seascape with purple potato, pomegranate, seaweed and a shimmering water made from set seaweed stock, left the judges drooling over their puns. “This is Olympic class cooking,” said Prue. “It’s gastronomic, it breaks all the boundaries, it leaps all the hurdles.”

After Colin’s sea bed, Charlie’s fish cooked in a waterbath was a major disappointment of foamy proportions. “The worst thing is spoonage and massive amounts of foam,” said Prue, “and foam over beetroot is particularly dumb.”

“I don’t know if I can be bothered,” said Oliver, “if he hasn’t bothered, why should I?”

Oh well, better luck with the main course, Charlie. And better luck he had, with his Dexter beef, Littlebourne snails, marrow bone and wild garlic inspiring audible gasps of delight from the judges as the meat melted away from the bone. “Is that sexy or is that sexy?” said Prue. Matthew Fort was the only judge to complain it was boring: “the gastronomic equivalent of a really good accountant.”

Likewise, Colin’s main dish – hay-smoked pig’s head with mock apple and textures of onion – received mixed reviews. All agreed that the portions were too small, but the black pudding was, according to Oliver, “the first use of smearage in an effective manner”.

For the puddings, Charlie’s Earl Grey and strawberry soufflé with gorse flower ice cream was enjoyable, but “if I’m talking about Olympian heights of gastronomy,” said Prue, “it doesn’t crack it.”

Colin’s white chocolate, rhubarb and custard didn’t do much better. He changed his dish from the dark chocolate one cooked on Thursday (pictured at the start of this post). Once again presenting an unpracticed dish, his sorbet “torch” failed to catch fire. But flame or not, the dish itself was not well received.” Prue called the custard “truly horrible”, and Matthew said, “this is a classic example of a pudding that was meant to be admired, but not eaten.”

Both Colin and Charlie had their share of wins and losses this round, with neither producing menus with consistently good dishes in the eyes of the judges. But there had to be a winner, and on Friday the judges unanimously agreed on Colin. I reckon it had something to do with that pig’s head.

Well done, Colin, for winning the North East heat! If you're in the UK you can watch this episode on BBC's iPlayer for the next few days. In the finals, he'll be joining Alan Murchison who won the Scottish heat and Daniel Clifford who won the Central heat.

Next week, chefs from Northern Ireland compete. Returning contenders Chris Fearon, Chris Bell and Niall McKenna will battle to win the favour of Richard Corrigan, a recent addition to Great British Chefs site, who will decide who goes through to Friday's final. You can see the full line up of chefs and judges for the Great British Menu 2012 here.