Great British Menu 2012, Northern Ireland Heat Final

Great British Menu 2012, Northern Ireland Heat Final

by Monica Shaw 05 May 2012

Week 4 of Great British Menu had its final judging on Friday 4th May 2012. During the week we saw chefs from Northern Ireland competing to impress veteran judge Richard Corrigan. Monica Shaw guest blogger at Great British Chefs watched the finals.

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

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

This week was the turn of the Northern Ireland region of Great British Menu, in which contenders Chris Bell, Chris Fearon and Niall McKenna faced off under the discriminating eye of judge Richard Corrigan. Throughout the week, Chris Bell was in his element, leaving the real drama between Chris Fearon and Niall, neither of whom seemed to be hitting the right marks with Richard. But someone had to go, and on Thursday we said goodbye to Niall, leaving the two Chrisses to prepare their four-course menus for judging panel Oliver Peyton, Prue Leith and Matthew Fort.

Chris Fearon had a lot to prove in the finals, as during the heats he seemed perpetually struck by nerves. For all of his clever presentations, he made silly mistakes that compromised the food. But tonight he was on his game.

To start, his “Clay Pigeon Shoot” not only made the judges laugh, it also made them mmm and aah between mouthfuls of pigeon and pastilla, which had a “lovely squidgy meaty centre” according to Matthew. And when Prue questioned its remarkableness, both Matthew and Oliver agreed she was being a “killjoy”. “This is perfect for the Olympic banquet,” said Oliver, “Happiness.”

Chris Bell also struck a win with his starter. His rabbit, black pudding and rhubarb salad with ‘tea and dumplings’ left the judges aghast with delight.

“Often dishes this complicated don't go well together,” said Oliver, “but this is really really nice.”

Going into the fish course, Chris Fearon continued his Olympic-themed displays with “Skate Rings”. But unlike his starter, this dish did not live up to the presentation. “This is visually a stunner,” said Oliver, “but the delivery is a colossal problem.”

Chris Bell didn’t do much better with his red wine poached turbot and bourguignon of snails. “It’s horrible …tastes disgusting,” said Prue. “This pushes the boundaries of decency rather than gastronomy,” said Matthew.

Chris Bell’s main course of corn-fed Lissara duck, Bakewell garnish, cocoa and basil didn’t help his case. All of the judges agreed it was too sweet, and his bakewell tart left much to be desired. “He’s obviously not a pastry chef,” said Prue.

Chris Bell rabbit dish
Chris Bell's Rabbit, black pudding and rhubarb
GBM judges
The judges taste 'Clay Pigeon Shoot' by Chris Fearon

In contrast, Chris Fearon’s “spring jump lamb” was called “Plastic fantastic” by Oliver, and that’s a good thing: “That lamb is absolutely delicious – I am in the field with that lamb.” However, no one cared much for his experimental molecular basil foam. Said Prue: “The green stuff… it’s slightly horrible… disgusting.”

In the critical final stage – dessert – Chris Bell wooed Prue and Matthew with his summer salad of apricots, jasmine and pistachio. “Very pretty,” said Prue, “I’d like an outfit in those colours.” Only Oliver wasn't convinced: “How you can see that at an Olympic banquet is beyond me … he’s thrown the kitchen sink at it.” (Following this, Prue and Matthew stole Oliver’s plate to finish it themselves.)

Chris Fearon unleashed yet another gimmicky dish for his pudding: an “Olympic torch” with Greek yogurt ice cream and white chocolate shards. But this gimmick actually worked. All of the chefs agreed it wasn’t perfect, but they clearly saw the potential. “This could be fabulous,” said Oliver.” “More punch from the liquorice would be the wild card element,” said Matthew.

After a disastrous week in the heats for Chris Fearon and an inconsistent performance for Chris Bell during the judging round, there was no obvious winner – and not in the judges' eyes, either, as two chose “Menu B” and one “Menu A”. But it’s majority rules in Great British Menu, and ultimately “Menu B” belonged to Chris Fearon, who after his tumultuous week must be feeling, well, as he said: “Gobsmacked”.

Well done, Chris Fearon, for winning the Northern Ireland heat! If you're in the UK you can watch this episode on BBC's iPlayer for the next few days.

Next week, it's the battle of the North West chefs with contenders Simon Rogan, Johnnie Mountain and Aiden Byrne. Veteran judge Marcus Wareing will be choosing who goes through to the finals.