Great British Menu 2014, The Final Banquet

Great British Menu 2014, The Final Banquet

by Monica Shaw 08 June 2014

This week marked the end to the ninth series of Great British Menu, in which the nine chefs who won the regional heats - including five chefs from Great British Chefs site - competed to represent their region at a banquet to honour D-Day veterans at St Paul's Cathedral

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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.

Last Friday the ninth season of Great British Menu culminated with the final banquet, held at St. Paul’s Cathedral and marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day. For the banquet, the four winning chefs - Adam Simmonds, Emily Watkins, James Durrant and Colin McGurran - would have to deliver their dishes to an expectant audience of wartime heroes, D-Day veterans, family members, and even Prime Minister David Cameron.

The banquet was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral, a bastion of wartime resilience and a symbol of the nation’s indomitable spirit during the blitz. But to pull it off, they’d need to build a kitchen, which the chefs only realised on the day before the dinner. But with help from Oliver Peyton and Matthew Fort, the chefs managed to work together to get the kitchen ready in time to conquer the task of assembling their dishes in banquet-sized proportions.

To prepare themselves mentally for the the challenge, the winning chefs took time ahead of the banquet to research life during World War II. Emily went to visit Molly Rose to talk to her about what life was like for D-Day veterans. James visited David Cameron at 10 Downing Street, going up to the roof of the Treasury to see where Churchill used to observe London during the Blitz. Adam went to Sword Beach in Normandy to meet D-Day veteran Ken Sturdy, who helped paint a picture of the chaos of the beach on D-Day.

Back at the banquet, the pressure was on all of the chefs to deliver a menu worthy of the wartime heroes attending the banquet.

Up first was Adam’s ration pack starter consisting of dehydrated celeriac, chicken liver parfait, chicken yolk, crispy chicken skin and consommé served in replica wartime flasks. It was a fitting start, with attendants praising the presentation: “Really is fantastic and huge fun working out how to eat it.” “We were given 24 hour packs, but nothing like this - this is marvellous.” “If the rest of the food is like that, we’re in for a phenomenal evening and we’ll stay for breakfast tomorrow.”

Indeed, Emily’s Normandy Beach Scene fish course of fried scallops, cockles and sea veg, inspired by her maternal grandfather who served in the Navy during WWII, was met with high praises. “Beautiful… the food is very good, absolutely no resemblance to the food we ate during the war.” David Cameron said the cockles in particular were “amazing”.

Lemon and poppy
David Kelman's Lemon and poppy
Street party
Emily Watkins' Great British Menu dessert 'street party'

James was anxious about delivering his main course, but he needn’t be. To keep with the “Blitz Spirit”, the dish - veal stew and beans with sweetbreads and veal loin - would be shared between two people. Presented over a replay of Churchill’s famous speech, it was a fitting hallmark to the menu. “Every element of the dish is cooked absolutely perfectly.” “It’s unique, it’s marvellous.” “The gravy was the best thing I’ve eaten for a long time.”

Colin finished the menu with his “Honourary Chocolate Medal” dessert inspired by the Dickin Medal given to animals who served in the war.

The dessert consisted of layered medals glazed with chocolate, topped with a tempered chocolate Dickin Medal and served with parsnip ice cream and hot chocolate sauce. “The parsnip ice cream is amazing.” “Very nice.” “Looks lovely and tastes nice as well.”

Emotions ran high at the end of the meal amongst both the chefs and the veterans. The veterans paid tribute to the chefs with a touching speech. “When we went ashore in D-Day, the last thing we thought of was food, but tonight’s everything’s been reversed.”

The final flourish was a toast to “absent friends” who couldn’t be at the banquet that night, but whose memories were well in the minds and hearts of everyone there. In that way, the menu not only honoured the people who could be at the dinner, but it especially honoured those who couldn’t.

Congratulations to Adam, Colin, Emily and James who are now on the Great British Menu Banquet Winners Map.