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Great British Menu 2015: North West heat final

Great British Menu 2015: North West heat final

by Food Urchin 19 September 2015

Two newcomers, Matt Worswick and Eve Townson, battle it out in the kitchen for the chance to have their menu served at the WI's centenary banquet, while the judges ruthlessly dissect their creations.

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Strewth! Was that a pressured heat last night or what? Seriously. It was more pressured than a pressure cooker bubbling away, in the galley of a kitchen, in a submarine, that is secretly trying to navigate through the Bering Strait, at 10,000 leagues under the sea. And you knew it was pressured because that is all the chefs kept saying.

'Blimey, it’s a bit pressured in ‘ere eh?' said Eve Townson. 'You’re telling me,' replied Matt Worswick. 'I’ve never felt this pressured before. Eve, please, hold me.' And so she did and as the whole kitchen collapsed and fell down around them, the ghost of Freddie Mercury entered the room, to deliver the crescendo from Queen’s 1981 hit ‘Under Pressure’. It was amazing.

Maybe the pressure of the show got to me and I started to hallucinate but I think you get the impression. I bet you your bottom dollar, after watching his fellow contestants battle it out, that Mark Ellis would have felt almost grateful for his early exit. Because Mark had definitely spent a week living on the edge and his nerves would not have been helped by Sat Bains' disapproval of his thick spotted dick and split honeycomb mousse, in his dessert called ‘Save the bees’. Yes, I bet he was almost chuckling with relief into his cup of tea.

I think it was the judges wot done it, personally. It’s one thing to swan into the kitchen and casually ask how the week went, but then it's another thing to turn around and say: 'Yes, well, now you’ve got to impress us', as Mr Matthew Fort did, all ominously, whilst smiling like a cat. That has got to be tough to hear. Thankfully for Eve and Matt, their guest judge was to be self-taught cook and award-winning food writer Sabrina Ghayour. Who was more interested in good, honest home cooking, the kind that instills memories. So what stories did Eve and Matt have to tell?

Well Eve was up first and her starter ‘Winnie’s chicken’ gave a firm nod to celebrated poultry farmer Winnie Swarbrick, who was a WI member and also well known for her baking. Delivering a plate of chicken croquettes, set atop beetroot ketchup and surrounded by pickles and edible flowers, the dish ticked all the boxes for the judges. However, the addition of her ‘Lancashire hard’, a traditional oatcake from the region, did threaten to leave Oliver with an expensive dental bill.

Sat gave Eve's starter a five during the week, but Oliver thought the beetroot ketchup was a winner.
Slightly underdone, Matt's starter left the judges cold – 'There is nothing surprising' said Matthew.

Next came Matt’s rather saucy sounding ‘Game old birds’. A homage to, yes, you guessed it, the Calendar Girls. With partridge as the main offering, pan-fried breast and leg ballotine in bacon and cabbage, he also served up some refined bread sauce, some blackberry caviar and topped it all with a partridge gravy. Having been whipped previously by Sat Bains that he’d overcooked his bird, Matt veered to the other side and delivered it a bright pink. 'Oh dear,' was Sabrina’s response. But I think that was more to do with the name of the dish.

For the fish course, Eve opted for a glamorous, sartorial theme by presenting a handsome slab of halibut, dressed with potato scales and adorned with spherified lemon drops. She named it ‘Twinset and pearls’ and it certainly looked pretty. I was particularly enamoured by her bed of sea vegetables, flavoured with a seafood reduction and a medley of cockles and mussels alive, alive-o. The main problem for the judges though was, whilst they enjoyed it, they could not find a connection between the name and the dish. 'The name is silly,' complained Prue, as she looked around for her cardie.

Matt’s ‘Grandma’s pick of the day’ was a lot more obvious in its intention – another homage, this time to his Nan. And if you didn’t pick up on the fact that she was a bit of gardener, then you need to get your eyes tested, because he delivered an entire allotment to the table, and that was just for decorative purposes. The actual fish, comprised of poached lobster and his pairing of baby turnips, beetroot, peas, nasturtiums and fresh mint oil, went down a storm. Perfect, perfect, perfect, came the echoes around the room.

'Looks pretty and smells delicious' said Prue, but the judges believed Eve's fish course didn't quite hit the brief.
Matt's starter was deemed brave and perfectly thought-through. Matthew was impressed: 'The entire allotment has arrived!'

Come half-time then, we had the usual level pegging appraisal and confidence boosting from guest judge in the kitchen. 'You’re both doing well. Some dishes have been better than others. Now get your head down, plough on, blah, blah, blah' said Sabrina, before slipping Matt a recipe for boil in the bag cod and then waltzing out of the room.

Up came the mains then, and it was time for Matt to deliver his top scoring ‘Shall I be mother?’ The real question of course was, could he do it again? And this time, could he do it without the necessity to dress up in a skirt, wig and make-up? He definitely put a lot of blood, tears and sweat into his rolled best-end of lamb, stuffed with lamb’s liver and kidney, set alongside a glorious-looking Lancashire hotpot. The judges were enthralled. Or so I thought, until Matt let rip with the wet balloon comment of 'it’s just Sunday lunch.” Which seemed a tad unfair.

Matt's faultless main blew away Sat Bains, who awarded the dish a perfect 10. 'A potential banquet dish' said Oliver, but Matthew didn't quite agree.
After working on her timings, Eve presented the judges with a family recipe perfected over generations, but would it be good enough?

Eve, having previously had timing issues with her main course called ‘A quintessential English countryside’ also had to pull a rabbit, or lamb rather, out of the hat. And this time she got it spot on. A Shepherd's pie and lamb chump, with Jerusalem purée, purple heritage carrots, scorched baby leeks, all to be glazed with a lamb and port jus, was her labour of love. But again, the judges didn’t quite agree with the execution, with some raised eyebrows over the leeks. Oliver stuck up for her though. 'C’mon,' he bellowed, 'I love charred leeks!'

As always, the last dash for the finish line was the most tense. Matt’s effort ‘Grandma’s humble apple crumble’ (he did love his Nan didn’t he, good boy) was totally tweaked in comparison to its previous incarnation. The crumble was plainer, the apples less pickled, the compote less complex, and it was obvious that he was hoping that a more classic, simple approach would shine through. Sadly, I don’t think it did. But hey, at least he got Sabrina sloshed with his cider brandy ice cream.

And then it was Eve’s turn. Her chance to redeem her ‘Lancashire bobbin’ inspired by the Lancashire cotton trade was upon us. Sat had previously in the week made some suggestions to change it and Eve sort of went with it, but I do believe a certain stubborn streak stopped her going the whole hog. And good for her for sticking to her guns. Unfortunately, that demon pressure seemed to get the better of Eve. In the end, all she could present was a bobbin made from white chocolate mousse and airbrushed brown, and a quenelle of blackberry sorbet. No dark chocolate scissors and no blackberry cotton. It was all quite upsetting really. Especially for Eve, bless her.

Matt presented a traditional apple crumble, but Oliver said it needed more love. 'More of a breakfast than a dessert' added Matthew.
Eve's technical dessert didn't quite work out, and was terribly late to the pass. The scissors and blackberry cotton didn't make the cut either.

But that is the way it goes sometimes. I always grimace whenever I think of the time I entered a cookery competition and forgot to include meringue into my strawberry pavlova. I say forgot, I had burnt it to buggery. So I really felt for Eve.

Matt on the other hand, who was pronounced winner, seemed hysterical when he phoned his Mum. As he screeched with joy down the line, it was almost as if he was really saying: 'OH MY GOD! HAVE I GOT TO DO THIS ALL AGAIN?'

Pressure eh. It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about, watching some good friends, screaming 'let me out!'

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