Food News

Great British Menu: North East week recap

So, what a week! After a low point with the Welsh week, North East week has been incredible.

The Heats

With Michael O’Hare, Tim Allen and Mini Patel all battling it out, you couldn’t have asked for a broader range of chef styles to be competing. Add into the mix Marcus Wareing as the judging chef for the week and the combination couldn’t really get much juicier if you are a foodie!

With Michael O’Hare (a Leeds based chef) famous for his incredible presentation, and Tim Allen a complete and excellent classical style chef, Mini was in a rather tricky position where his slightly more understated food was always going to be slightly under the radar. That said, Michael was tasked with being able to convince Marcus that his wacky and rather interesting take on the brief (the WI and Michael O’Hare are not in my opinion two things that immediately connect!) was worth putting forward for the likes of Prue Leith to have their say!

With the week starting awfully for Michael (his starter getting a 4 and possibly deserving even less), it looked like Leeds was not going to be getting even one step closer to the banquet. Despite this, Mini played very safe and left himself open to be caught with some very average scores. With Michael coming back with a bang (his main course and dessert being incredible dishes) and Tim pulling away at the front (despite a blip for the main course) it was eventually the case that somehow the least conventional chef in the entire competition was worth putting forward to the finals.

In my opinion, and please feel free to challenge this, Mini showed that safe cooking and the Great British Menu just do not mix. Simply put, hit the brief and create amazement or you will be heading home early doors. In that regard, well done to Michael O’Hare for stepping up and really being proud of his style of cooking and not losing faith despite the early setback. We can certainly see why, when we interviewed Matt Worswick, he rated Michael’s restaurant so highly!

The regional final

Michael’s dishes:

So, despite convincing Marcus Wareing to give him a chance in the final, could Michael convince the judges?!

Starter – Everyone I ever ate with: Raw langoustine combined with a traditional prawn cocktail and melon starter. This dish failed in the heats, getting a score of just four. He added texture to the final dish but didn’t do enough to make this a winner. In truth, it was the presentation of the dish in a giant egg that really let the dish down and gave it no chance of getting to the banquet. Despite the wonderful tasting gin cocktail and the fact that everything tasted great, all the judges agreed the dish was just not practical for the banquet.

Fish – Emancipation: This dish required lots of lateral thinking to hit the WI brief, especially given the fact that the rock hand symbol was the only true link to the WI aside from a picture of Michael with his mother. This dish was painted rather than plated and had a unique and rather dark (intentionally so) appearance that celebrated Michael’s life growing up. He used squid ink and vinegar as a fish and chip base and cooked some unique potatoes and cod to achieve the link to fish and chips. This dish looked more like modern art than something you eat and went down a treat with the judges. Even Prue, who didn’t want to like the dish, thought it was incredible.

Main –  My Mother Is Single And Looking For A Well Dressed Man: This dish got a 10 from Marcus after much umming and ahhing! This dish championed the use of cheap cuts of pork, which again stuck a cord with the WI theme. A clever use of liquid nitrogen to create frozen flowers as a dedication to his Mum and her career as a florist, as well as the picture of his Mum with the dish, created conversation and went down well with the judges. With the intriguing potatoes and some blow torched ham fat and some crackling creating a wonderful tasting dish, the only fault the judges could really find was that the dish was just a bit busy.

Dessert – Centenary cookbook in 4D: A risky dish as it has burnt white chocolate, chewy artichokes and a soufflé that has been baked wonderfully then broken up. My wife and I were desperate to get to pull apart the soufflé so may have to go and buy one just to get in on the act of ripping it apart in such a satisfying way! While the 3D presentation went down well, this was definitely not Michael’s best dish as the salt ice cream was judged as being overbearing.

Tim’s Dishes:

Starter – Preserving the Past: A ham, egg and chips classic with maple syrup! Tim added a nice rich ham sauce for the final. It looked delicious and very WI in style but perhaps lacked that magic to grab you in. All in all though this was a strong start by Tim.

Fish – Sole Jubilee: A luxury dish. Not very ‘WI’ in terms of how over the top it was as it used Dover sole and champagne with scallops rather than the more humble ingredients the WI has been so brilliant at making taste wonderful. Also, why was there puff pastry on the dish!? Finally, presentation-wise, the look of a posh dish was spoiled by the cheap looking crowns and the champagne bottles that just didn’t work. Taste wise the scallops didn’t go down too well. The judges thought it too rich for the WI. Overall, it was judged as being only nice and not great!

Main – Not All Jam And Jerusalem: This was chicken salad jazzed up with some water bathed chicken. A really boring dish, it was cooked well but just was not good enough for a banquet. All in all I think this dish cost Tim in his scores (although this wasn’t revealed so it is pure speculation).

Dessert – Frugal Flowers: This dish was Tim’s high point. With a base comprised of a wonderful looking cheesecake, the real beauty was on top of this. The cheesecake was decorated by a bouquet of roses made out of different varieties of apple. The presentation was excellent and grasped the WI aspect of the brief very well. The true treasure of the dish though was a lovely little honey ice cream bumble bee that looked very cute if not mind blowing! Definitely his most banquet worthy dish.

The Outcome:

Michael wins! What a shock compared to the start of the week. His fish dish got four, yes four, tens! Fair play to Tim; one feels that any other week might have seen him go through but, against Michael, all but his dessert course seemed to lack interest and curiosity. Credit as well must go to Prue, Matthew and Oliver for taking that chance and putting Michael, a chef who didn’t even think he would enjoy being on Great British Menu, one step closer to the banquet!

Banquet dishes?

Either Michael’s fish course or his main could get there if, and it is a big if, the judges continue to suprise us and take that risk that you face with Michael’s cooking! All in all, the fish course is really going to take some beating as it is a unique and rather wonderful take on fish and chips in a modern way that does nothing to compromise the taste of such a classic dish.

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