Great British Menu 2021: Alex Bond on his winning starter

Great British Menu 2021: Alex Bond on his winning starter

by Henry Coldstream 17 May 2021

Michelin-starred Alex Bond discusses returning to the Great British menu kitchen for a second year running and his winning starter ‘The Founding Father’.

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Henry is a food writer at Great British Chefs.

Henry is a food writer at Great British Chefs.

Any Michelin-starred chef who enters Great British Menu probably feels the need to prove themselves; after all, the competition provides them with a platform to show why they represent the pinnacle of the industry. However, few will have been more determined than Alchemilla’s Alex Bond to get a course to the banquet this year. After failing to make it to the finals on his debut in 2020, the chef didn’t have to think twice about returning: ‘It was an easy decision to come back,’ he says. ‘It was never going to just end there last year. I had a point to prove.’ His decision to try again ended up being a very sensible one, as not only did he go one step further this year and make it to the final, but his starter has earnt a place at the prestigious banquet.

The Nottingham-based chef clearly learnt a lot from his experience the previous year and used that to his advantage. This showed in the regionals, where Alex achieved two eights, a nine and a ten from veteran judge Simon Rogan, who praised him for his bold flavours and strong links to the brief. ‘I think I felt much more confident in my understanding of the process this year, in terms of how long it takes to film and how little time you have to cook.’ That didn’t stop this year’s brief from being tricky to tackle, however. ‘Initially, I was very excited about the brief,’ Alex explains. ‘My mind leapt to inventions, science museums and props, but when it came to tying the ideas to dishes and actually showing the inspiration on the plate, it was a lot trickier. I definitely think last year was easier brief-wise.’

The link to the brief was certainly clear for all to see in Alex’s winning starter ‘The Founding Father’, which was inspired by Robert Edwards, a pioneer of IVF. The idea for this dish emerged after conversations the chef had with his restaurant manager, whose son was born through IVF. ‘It’s just such a life-changing thing,’ says Alex. ‘I felt like with some actual thought and delicacy, we could celebrate it beautifully. I didn’t want to use syringes or all the horrible sorts of things that jump to mind. I wanted to do it with real integrity.’

Coming presented in a porcelain eggshell made by a local potter, the complex dish featured a tricky coddled duck egg served with a fermented cep caramel, sherry vinegar jelly, cep purée, an aerated hollandaise, and crispy chicken skin topped with truffled goat’s curd. It was the central element of Alex’s dish, however, which was the most difficult to perfect. ‘I spent ages getting the coddled egg right. We weighed all the eggs to make sure they were exactly 75 grams, we used the same size of pan and same amount of water every time, and then tried it at different temperatures and levels of humidity. Even then, the eggs would come out differently – it was so unpredictable.’

The intense preparation certainly paid off for Alex as the judges fell in love with the dish in the regional finals and ultimately chose it as their favourite starter of the lot. ‘I was really happy with it in the end,’ he says. ‘I thought all of my dishes were strong this year, but the fact is that it’s all down to the judges. I wanted to do dishes that represented me and my style of cooking. I wouldn’t have been bothered if I’d got low scores because I know that I didn’t go in there blind; I went in with dishes that I’d drilled and practised.’

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After such a successful competition, can we expect to see Alex back in the Great British Menu kitchen in future years? ‘Sure, why not?’ he says. ‘It would have to depend on the timings though. We were very lucky this year because we were in lockdown, but the previous year I was out of the kitchen for a full week, which I didn’t love.’

With the starter now decided, tune in tomorrow evening to find out which chef will be cooking the fish course at this year’s banquet.