Great British Menu 2016: The Banquet recap

Great British Menu 2016: the banquet recap

by Food Urchin 29 October 2016

With the four finalists arriving at Westminster, Danny Kingston recalls a particularly heartfelt banquet for truly great Britons.

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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.

Well, that was emotional. Having watched countless episodes of Great British Menu in the past, at times, it is all too easy to slide into a cynical frame of mind, as the usual highs and formulaic lows unfold on the screen. However, this one got to me for some reason. Which in part I think was down to some of the very real stories behind this celebration of ordinary Britons. And secondly, it was down to the camaraderie of the four chefs who made it through. They worked their socks off in this competition, they always do. But there was something different about the dynamic gang on this occasion. As a team, Mark Abbot, Tommy Banks, Mark Froydenlund and Adam Reid seemed to have special spark (not to mention sense of humour) and it was great to watch them in action. As the credits rolled, I was left with a warm, fuzzy feeling in my stomach and something must have got in my eye…

Blimey, I didn’t mean to kick off proceedings like this. Let’s inject some misanthropic derision here. I mean, what did Oliver think he was doing turning up to the banquet in a white dinner jacket? Does he think he’s James Bond or something? There, that’s better, now let’s get on with the rest of the show.

On a frosty morning the chefs arrived at Westminster Palace, all tired and nervous from having not slept a wink. They probably could have done without the grand tour from Lindsay Hoyle, deputy speaker at the House of Commons. ‘Yes Lindsay, all this history is amazing but please, show us the bloody kitchens,’ I am sure they were imagining in the heads. Yet the tour was purposeful in a way. Standing, staring at a portrait of Sir Walter Rayleigh, Mark A was keenly reminded, that if wasn’t for Sir Walter, you wouldn’t be here mate. If you remember, his starter was composed of potatoes, done six different ways. It was duly noted.

Having to cater for 14,000 people a day, you would have thought that there would be plenty of kitchen space to go around but all Westminster’s executive chef Mark Hill could offer was time. ‘Ere’s yer bleedin’ kitchen, I want it back by seven,’ he barked and that thoroughly smacked our chef’s gobs.

The banquet took place in Westminster's dining room
All the chefs pulled together to help each other out in the cramped House of Commons kitchen

Cracking on then, Mark A had 400 potatoes to peel, Tommy had a ton of mackerel to fillet, Mark F had 55kg of rose veal to butcher and Adam had sacks and sacks to apples to prep, before he could even begin to think about his delicate balls. Balls made of sugar that is. Luckily for Mark A, his boss Daniel Clifford turned up and turned back the clock, offering his services as a commis. ‘I think it’s been ten years since I last held a peeler,’ he laughed. Yeah alright Daniel, just get on with it will you.

Everyone got stuck in actually, trading prep time and seeking help from other chefs in the house. Mark F very nearly sweated himself to death when he realised that his water bath wasn’t going to be big enough but thankfully, he was able to steal one from another kitchen. In scenes elsewhere, Tommy had put his dear ol’ Dad through the paces too, for he now needed another 100 or so custom wooden boards for his reinvented fish course. Having apparently stayed up till 4AM to create just four boards for the finals rounds, the response from Dad was the typical Yorkshire riposte – ‘Aaaah bugger.’ But they all got stuck in, as you do.

The next morning, Mark F was up bright and breezy, having had yet another sleepless night over his ribs of veal and the others had kept him waiting, much to his chagrin. So as punishment, he unleashed a barrage of ‘Dad’ jokes throughout the course of the day. ‘Shut up Mark!’ shouted Adam, who was having trouble with his aforementioned apple balls and upped the swearing ante with series of bleeps.

Of course, Prue, Oliver and Matthew would have to enter the building at some point and have the usual conflab of what a fine job they’d done in helping select the menu and that they did. With Matthew putting his hands up, that yes, he was the one who had eaten the most. If the chefs had overheard Oliver’s comment though, that it was just ‘potatoes, mackerel, veal and apples’ and that there was nothing to worry about, I am sure that a paring knife would have gone whistling past his ear. Especially since they had to cart everything up to a finishing kitchen, just half an hour before service.

The judges were there to congratulate everyone on what a good job they'd done
Great Britons
Everyone at the banquet had done something above and beyond for Britain

As the guests arrived, the team all pulled together as one and as they smashed their way through service, it soon became apparent that each course was becoming more and more ludicrously difficult to assemble. There were some nice touches along the way, with Mark A plating up a specially adjusted ‘Ordinary to Extraordinary’ for military hero Johnson Beharry VC, featuring his favourite sweet potato. And it was great to see Tommy’s prop again, a fir tree sculpture complete with smoke, to honour his grandad Fred, the guardian of the White Horse. His reinvigorated fish course ‘Preserving the Future’, now with mackerel kebab, fermented cabbage and flatbreads also went down a treat.

But it was Mark F’s tribute in the shape of a plaque to Andrew and Angela Barraclough, the veal farmers who at one time had seemingly lost it all due to the BSE crisis, that was particularly lovely. Tears flowed as they savoured his ‘Celebration of Rose Veal’ and Andrew was justifiably biased, to say that the meat tasted more than just a little bit good.

Rounding things up, Adam arrived with his showstopping dessert called ‘Golden Empire’ where the team spirit sagged just a little, as he daren’t let anyone else handle his fragile sugar work. Which is understandable in a way. He cracked three in total when trying to fill them with meadowsweet, crumble and apple compote and I for one would not have enjoyed the responsibility. The pain paid off though, with many guests left wondering if the apple sat in front of them was real. The delight of cracking into them and discovering what was inside was palpable around the room.

And so another GBM came to a triumphant end, with much applause and beaming pride as per usual.

I think it was the final shot that summed it up for me. After announcing that they were all off for well earned pint, they strode back down the venerated hall at Westminster Place and I think it was Adam who gave a little Morecombe and Wise click of the heel. Despite all the hard work, these guys obviously still managed to have fun and that makes all the difference.

Well done chaps. Really well done.