Great British Menu 2013, Central Heat Final

Great British Menu 2013, Central Heat Final

by Monica Shaw 15 March 2013

Week seven of Great British Menu and chefs from the Central region were battling it out were going head to head. Would Daniel Clifford or his good friend Richard Bainbridge make it through the tough judging panel to represent their region?

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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.

Nothing like a little healthy competition to test a friendship. Great British Menu saw long time friends Daniel Clifford and Richard Bainbridge become temporary rivals as they battled it out in the Central finals. The tension was palpable: Daniel’s been at the banquet two years in a row while Richard’s never made it through the finals. “I wish you good luck, but I don’t mean it,” said Daniel to Richard as they got started in the kitchen. Meanwhile, judges Oliver Peyton, Prue Leith, Matthew Fort and guest judge comedian Jim Moir (aka Vic Reeves) took their places in the judging chamber.

The meal began with Daniel’s “Trip to the chippy” starter: potato cannelloni “chips” with cod and parsley filling, pea puree, pickled quails egg and ketchup sprinkle, served in a take-away bag. The judges were lukewarm on this dish, and the laughs were weak at best. ”The fish and chips are too salty, but I like the peas - no comedy value,” said Jim, but did admit it’s fun: “I’d love to have a sprinkle-able vinegar on my table at home every day.”

Richard’s “Banana split”, a savoury version with plantain, smoked duck breast and duck mousse, didn’t do much better. ”That foamy stuff is truly disgusting,” said Prue. “I find it deeply unfunny,” said Jim. The duck “cherry” too was a missed opportunity: “That would have been a brilliant red nose,” said Matthew, adding: “Rarely in the history of human gastronomy has so much effort gone to so little effect.” (At least that raised a laugh with the other judges.)

Things improved dramatically during the fish course, starting with Daniel’s “Today’s catch”: turbot in playful potato nets served by waiters dressed up as fisherman, which earned a perfect 10 during the heats. ”A for ingenuity,” said Matthew. ”It almost tastes like you’re licking the sea bed…in a good way,” said Jim, adding: ”This is probably one of the best fish dishes I’ve ever had - I think it’s fantastic. It made me smile, and then to be surprised by the superbly cooked fish..this has everything going for it.”

Richard’s “Tongue in cheek” - caviar and lemon puree, slices of long beetroot, deep fried cod tongues, tongue ballotines, horseradish and beetroot puree - also proved a hit, particularly for beetroot lover Jim, who shushed Oliver’s mention that the beetroot might be too much. “I give him extra marks for using parts of the fish that are often ignored,” said Matthew. Jim argued for its comic value: ”It looks like a circus of fun - let’s call the beetroot the ringmaster.”

Tongue in cheek
Tongue in cheek
The chicken or the egg
Which came first? The chicken or the egg?

On to the main course, the chefs both had something to prove. Richard hoped to impress judges with his “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” dish, using a traditional technique of steaming guinea fowl breast inside a beef bladder, dyed to look like a giant comedy red egg. The effect work: laughs from the judges and compliments on the cooking, too. ”This is such a good balance of flavours, and you can taste them all,” said Prue. ”Often you see food which is challenging but with this you just feel happy eating it,” said Oliver. And all the judges agreed that the idea of popping a giant beef bladder egg inside Royal Albert Hall is uproariously funny.

Daniel’s “Tongue in cheek” - ox tongue with horseradish and potato puree, onion rings, spinach, red wine and port sauce and bulls head mushroom tart - saw some contention amongst the judges. ”That is a beautiful piece of cheek - this is what I’d call chic cheek,” said Matthew. But Prue wasn’t as impressed: ”I’d be happy to eat this for Sunday lunch, but not at a Comic Relief banquet.”

For dessert, Richard took a less comic approach with his “Time to reflect” dish paying tribute to Comic Relief’s support of Fairtrade. The dish - creme fraiche sorbet, pulled pink sugar, coffee jelly, popping chocolate, and other various elements using Fairtrade ingredients - inspired “wows” at the presentation, but the plaudits dwindled as they ate the course. ”It tastes good, but why is it called ‘time to reflect’?” asked Jim, “it sounds like something you’d get served at a hospice.” ”The whole thing’s a mess,” said Oliver. ”There’s an amazing variety of flavours and textures,” said Prue, “some are truly horrible, and some are delicious.”

Daniel’s “Going out with a bang” pineapple and coconut dish included pineapple done five ways and a balloon filled with pineapple essence. The balloon popping certainly saw a few smiles, but the dish itself wasn’t a massive hit. ”There’s stuff everywhere,” said Oliver, who did not approve of the “deconstructed cheesecake concept”: ”Deconstructing should go the way of smearage - it should never be seen again.”

With tension high and their friendship on the line, it was with great relief when the judges announced Daniel the winner… again…making that three years in a row that Daniel’s been through to the finals. We’re thrilled for Daniel, but you can’t help feel a tug on the ol’ heartstrings for poor Richard, who shed a few tears back in the kitchen when all was said and done. But from the judges talk, he may have been doomed from the beginning with his starter: “That banana split was frightening,” said Jim. Better luck next year, Richard.