With Mark Froydenlund, Matt Gillan and Lee Westcott all being top chefs, I won’t lie that my hopes for the London and the South East week were that it would be amongst the strongest of the competition. Once Daniel Clifford, a veteran chef of the competition who has seen his food go all the way to the banquet, walked in as the judge for the week, I knew that we were definitely in for a treat.
With Lee making all the running in the heats, it was left to Matt and Mark to battle it out for second place and the chance to impress the judges. However, after a week of trailing behind and not showing an enormous amount of skill, Matt finally upped his game when it came to his main and his dessert and showed Daniel that it was him rather than Mark who should face Pru and company in the heat final.
All in all, the excitement factor was there this week, but in the heat stages it seemed like Daniel had been there as a critical friend to help them meet the required standards rather than as a stern judge. We could only hope that in the heat final, Matt (especially) and Lee (somewhat less) could up their respective games to increase the chances of London and the South East having a dish at the banquet.
The heat final: A breakdown
Sowing and Growing
Onion five (yes FIVE) ways here in a vegetarian starter. It scored a five earlier in the week from Daniel and simply wasn’t a good enough dish to get to the banquet despite his addition for the judges of crispy shallot rings. With onion being a lovely garnish and often adding something to an overall dish, this was always going to be an overpowering flavour to start a banquet with. I think Matt’s idea of going back to the WI roots of growing your own veg was a fair link to the brief, but his delivery here and the dish itself was poor.
Jamming and Canning
If you start with the idea of salmon cooked three ways you have a nice idea. If you then try to think of a way to add jam to a salmon you find yourself scratching your head. Bring it to Pru, Oliver and Matthew in a regional heat of Great British Menu and you are going to get caned, especially if you over-salt your salmon then wrap it in canned anchovy. All in all, this was possibly the least coherent dish of the entire competition (at least as far as getting to the judges is concerned) and one that while looking attractive was not at all on the money in terms of its flavour and its message.
Teaching and Preaching
Inspired by the waste not want not ethos of the WI and by his family history of having goats, this dish called for every cut of meat to be used and so it certainly fitted the brief. With his plating not really looking that spectacular, the dish itself hit the brief 100% when it came to flavour and having a story. After the abysmal fish course he had just delivered, Matt must have been delighted at the way the dish came together (his herders pie is one I would love to try) and all in all this is a dish that I think has legs. I have never had goat gravy before or goat jelly cubes but I think that these different techniques really showed off his skill as a chef. An excellent dish.
Back to Black (and Yellow)
Using the WI campaign to save the bees as inspiration is a common element to the competition this year and Matt is another chef who has been inspired by it. Honey has shown that it can be a cruel mistress and Matt fell victim to it again here. Making fennel sorbet (apparently it worked…) and sponges shaped like honeycomb, the dish itself looked beautiful. Sadly while the dish looked great and the ice cream was decent, two things went wrong. A tuile he wanted to add to the dish after criticism from Daniel didn’t work and the dish on the whole tasted pretty bad! A great idea, a dish I would have dived into, but sadly one that didn’t work. A shame but if it’s not the bees’ knees its not going to get past the Queen bees of the WI… (I’m sorry!).
This was another dish that has been inspired by the WI campaign to help dairy farmers in the UK. While Lee failed to adequately season his raw beef (surely a risky dish for a banquet given how hit or miss this can be with diners) in the heats, it was just the fact that the dish itself didn’t seem to sparkle that let it down in the final. With the beef itself being drowned out by the pickling and the breadcrumbs cooked in fat, I think the little milk urns that contained the curd may have been responsible for the majority of his marks as the dish itself didn’t do enough to get good grades from judges who are expecting the best. Next please…
A Modern Bouquet
This scored nine points in the heats and required simplification after Daniel suggested (and given he has been to the banquet he surely has some wisdom here) that it would be too complicated to do on the day. Using mackerel two ways, fillet and tartare, this dish looked stunning – if you were going to Lee’s restaurant. While the cucumber sauce, the dry ice and the edible flowers added a playful element to the dish, the fact remained that this just felt like a restaurant dish and Oliver felt he was being conned as such by Lee in this regard. All in all, it missed the brief in the eyes of the judges!
Hay Box Pigeon
Based on a cooking technique that was a hit during World War Two, this dish managed to really push another very undervalued meat: pigeon. While the dish itself was perhaps over complicated in its approach, the use of cauliflower in a few ways as well as the cooking of the pigeon (I think the pigeon rolls and sauce looked the best elements) showed why Lee is such a good cook. The hay box added some interest for anyone at the banquet (should it get there) and this was again an excellent dish after Lee’s fish dish had not worked as he had hoped. A banquet dish? Perhaps not in its current state but one that could be adjusted to make it banquet-worthy.
Honey, Where Would We Bee Without You?
Again, like Matt, this was inspired by the WI Save the Bees campaign. If I tell you that Daniel Clifford (a chef) liked the inclusion of cep mushrooms in a dessert you then start to worry about Daniel’s judgement (he gave the dish a 9). In my opinion (and I love mushrooms!), mushrooms just don’t go on a dessert. This was an attractive looking dish that just wasn’t a winner.
A round that had promised much (after all, these chefs all have an excellent pedigree regarding who they have worked with and in terms of their own skills) but one that didn’t really scream brilliance in the end, I have to say I think that Pru, Oliver and Matthew would have expected just a little more from the chefs. While none of the dishes screamed victory and things were always going to be tight from the judges, this was more due to errors than brilliance. With the judges deciding by one mark (proving how the peaks and troughs of the two chefs managed to mirror each other) that Matt (who had trailed all week!) was deserving of a place in the final, it was basically a battle of the main courses that had won it for Matt.
Dishes for the banquet?
Not as we stand. The dishes weren’t the worst on offer but while Matt’s goat dish had some great cooking to it, I can see the dish losing out to one that has a bit more razzmatazz from another chef. Perhaps if Matt can work some magic into the presentation we might get there, otherwise it’s a no for London and the South East in terms of getting to represent their area at the banquet.
Categories: Food News