Great British Menu 2015: London and South East heat final

Great British Menu 2015: London and South East heat final

by Food Urchin 25 September 2015

With Matt Gillan's hair back and Lee Westcott's tweezers out, it's time for the two chefs to battle it out for a place in the final to represent London and the South East. Read on to find out who triumphs in this week's Great British Menu heats, with popular blogger Food Urchin's shrewd analysis.

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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.

Danny is a food adventurer, home grower, supper club host and writer of the entertaining and quirky epicurean blog, Food Urchin. When Danny is not busy digging holes to pit-roast lamb or hanging marrows in tights to make rum or foraging for snails in his garden to throw into paella, he is often left in charge of a pair of cheeky twins; with sometimes disastrous results in the kitchen. A former nominee for Best Food Writer at The YBFs Danny has decided that one day, he might just write a book about food.

We are coming towards the end of the Great British Menu now and as you would expect from a television show based upon competitive cookery featuring chefs doing battle and cheffing out of their pants (all under the close eye and noses of mentors and judges) well, there have been plenty of highs and lows. Particularly with regards to the scoring. Interestingly though, as this series has progressed, it is the scoring system itself that has come under closer scrutiny, rather than the dishes themselves. For the general public at least anyway. Some of them have been veritably baying for the blood of some of the overseeing chefs, such Tom Kerridge and Phil Howard.

“That raw tart didn’t deserve a 6/10!?” “5/10? What was wrong with that beautiful homage to her Grandmother?” “ You what? 10/10 for a deconstructed fish and chip dish that references the emancipation of women and looks like it’s been put together by a five year old? Ref! Are you blind?”

These are just some of the outcries that have been fired into the ether and across the Twitterverse, such is the passion and confusion surrounding the scoring. Thankfully, this week’s mentor, Daniel Clifford, shed some light on proceedings by eloquently announcing via a tweet:

“GBM SCORES: 1-2= s**t 3-4=mediocre 5-6=got legs 7-8=great potential 9=amazing food 10= banquet winner but to be fair what would I know.”

So, at least now we know. Or maybe we don’t. One thing is for certain, Mark Froydenlund must have been left scratching his head, wondering where he went wrong after delivering a stupendous Jerusalem themed pie, only to have his dessert marked down so severely (thus losing him his place for the final). I am sorry Mark, but if you are going to call your final sweet ‘Rice Pudding Hot and Cold’ then it really needs to taste of rice pudding. 6/10.

We were left then with Lee Westcott and Matt Gillan to battle it for last night’s heat and, given that Lee had surged ahead on the board all week, at the start of the episode you were left wondering if Matt could catch ever up. One person that he definitely had to impress was Mary Gwynn; WI member, food writer and compiler of a compendium known as ‘The WI Cookbook: The First 100 Years’. They had to also tickle the judge’s tastebuds too. Especially Prue, who was clasping a huge tea cup like Mrs Overall in the judge’s chamber. How she didn’t drop it I don’t know. But never mind, more importantly, how did the chefs get on? Ready? Steady? Let’s go!

Lee was up first with his ‘Mission Milk’, inspired by the WI’s continual campaigning for the dairy industry. Typically complex, his starter comprised of raw fine beef, beetroot and milk curd, with neat layers of beef dripping bread crumbs, pickled mooli and egg yolk puree to boot. It certainly had plenty of elegance, yet Lee’s starter did have Oliver questioning whether it had soul. And in the immortal words of James Brown - “You’ve got to have soul!”

Next came Matt, ploughing in with his supremely oniony starter called ‘ Sowing and Growing’. I’ve made mention of this before but I do wonder what sort of impact this sort of dish makes upon the palate. Onion puree, pickled onion, malt onions, crispy shallot rings, all to be topped with an onion and clove stock must deliver one hell of a kick and in the wise words of Mary “If you don’t like onions, you’re stuffed.” It definitely put the judge’s noses out of joint, with resident gnome Matthew Fort exclaiming “OVERKILL!”

The judges loved the gnome but weren't too sure about the overpowering onions in Matt's vegetarian starter
The judges and guest judge Mary Gwynn in happier, pre-onion times

For his fish dish ‘Modern Bouquet’, Lee again went down the intricate route, juggling a selection of elements, including a mackerel tartare, flame grilled mackerel fillets, passionfruit gel, compressed cucumber balls and crispy quinoa. Or ‘keeen-Waaah’ as it is pronounced in some circles. Plenty of praise was heaped upon Lee’s fish course, with much cooing about it’s exotic and refreshing flavours. However, this was another dish that was too restaurant-y in the eyes of some. I am not still sure about that sort of appraisal. Perhaps I need to go and eat out at banquets more to see the difference. (Yes, that is an open plea to be invited to more banquets please.)

Matt, in keeping with his theme of showcasing a particular ingredient, chose salmon to be the main star of his course, to be done three ways and washed down with jam. Namely bacon jam.

Originally for Daniel, he had served his mixture of deep fried anchovies, cured salmon, ballotine of salmon, seaweed yoghurt with a shallot and caper dressing up on a salt block. But this time, he ventured to serve it up plainly on a large plate. Unfortunately, it was all still too saline for the judges, who all each needed at least five pints of German lager afterwards to quench their thirst.

Come the halfway mark then, it was all hanging perilously in the balance but I am sure that the boys felt invigorated after Mary’s pep talk in the kitchen, complete with a fine display of her musty old cookbooks. “Don’t let me down chaps,” she urged as she left the room, slamming her books shut, leaving Matt and Lee coughing and spluttering in a cloud of dust.

Billy goat was the meat of choice for Matt’s mains. Titled ‘Teaching and Preaching’ it had loads of ambition and for Matt, he had loads to do. Goat ragu, slow cooked goat shoulder, goat loin, goat dumplings, goat boudin, goat jelly (!) and goat cheese all appeared on the sharing platter and it looked amazing. The main reaction from the judges went along the lines of “Hmmmmm” followed by few more. So top scores there. Although, when asked afterwards whether he was confident to deliver such a platter again for a banquet, Matt didn’t look that confident. Despite saying he was confident.

Lee's complex pigeon main course was highly praised by the judges for creatively hitting the brief ...
... but it was pipped to the post by Matt's goat dish, an homage to his mother and grandmother which scored him perfect tens across the board

Lee also followed up with an excellently executed course ‘Hay Box Pigeon’ featuring said bird and cauliflower, prepared a multitude of ways, roasted, yeasted and raw. Smoking pigeon breast in hay and finishing with pickled grapes and mint leaves dotted about the place (plus a pigeon sauce) he had obviously done his homework as Mary recognised this method straight away. “Very WI,” she said. “Great gravy,” said Matthew and Oliver. “I LOVE THIS DISH,” whooped Prue. But yet again, everyone was left ruing afterwards about too much fussiness for a banquet.

Saving the bees, another well known campaign by the WI, was to be the theme for both chefs for their last launch unto the breach. Matt called his version ‘Back to Black and Yellow’ and used the hexagonal construction of honeycomb as his main source of inspiration. Setting down honeycakes, set honey yoghurt, white chocolate and honeycomb mousse, with mead and lemon curd and finishing with a honeycomb and fennel sorbet, all amounted to a beautifully presented dish. For some the honey was too cloying but Mr Fort found great joy in that sorbet.

Lee’s pun-led pud was called ‘Honey, Where Would I Be Without You?” and featured plenty of that amber nectar, in the form of honeycomb parfait, honey jelly and yoghurt sorbet with bee pollen. But he also threw some cep mushrooms into the mix, an abstract ingredient that impressed the hell out of Daniel Clifford in the week. Alas for the judges, it was a step too far. “What have ceps got to do with bees?” barked Matthew. And I have to say, the waitresses who were dressed up as beekeepers didn’t look too impressed either.

Coming back to the scoring, by the end and by all accounts, there was one point in it. And having stormed with a five point lead earlier in the week, you would have thought that Lee had it in the bag. Not so. Having made small changes to his courses throughout the final, Matt snatched it back and it is Matt who going to be representing London and South East in next week’s final final.

The right path may well be then for the chefs to listen to their mentors, and think about the scores they’ve received. It is easier to step up after all. When you are at the top, that is a different matter. There is often only one way — and that is down.

And now I am sounding like a football manager, spouting a load of horlicks on Match of the Day.

Funny ol’ game innit.

I have to say, the waitresses who were dressed up as beekeepers didn't look too impressed either