Food News

Great British Menu: Finals (and banquet) week recap

So, it’s finally over!!! The WI banquet has happened. The chefs can relax… until next year!

For those of you who missed it, finals week was one hell of a ride. With some real highs and lows and some chefs showing just how hard the competition can be despite solid performances in the heats, the end result saw Richard Bainbridge cooking the starter and dessert, Michael O’Hare (from Leeds!) doing the fish course, and Matt Gillan winning the honour of serving up the main course.

Suffice to say, my earlier predictions were not too far off. I have to say that Richard has shown that persistence (this was his fourth time on the competition) wins the day, forcing his way through to the banquet and cooking not only one but two dishes, an honour that few chefs have had bestowed upon them.

The early prep was littered with imperfect moments that meant each chef fell slightly behind, struggling to find a way to use their helper (who had previously helped to judge them) in a way that seemed meaningful.

For Matt, the fact that his dehydrated goats cheese had been unplugged was a sure way to leave him rather behind at the start of his day. Just to make things more interesting for Matt and Richard, their dishes were hit by the fact that they were banned from using a BBQ indoors. Of course the judges also decided to come along to make them even more unsettled!

With pressure cookers failing, canvasses still being created and Richard sat tying (with Pru) his labels, it all seemed to be going horribly wrong after so many weeks of cooking for the chefs and the competition as a whole!

As the guests started to arrive, including all three of the chefs’ mothers(!) the pressure was on and the question remained as to whether everything would come together at the last moment to produce an evening worthy of the WI.

First up was Richard and his We All Stand For Jerusalem dish that was a true celebration of the hymn as well as the WI as a whole, showcasing the ingredients of the lyrics. With the chefs working well as a team and Richard still keeping his cool (just!) despite the pressure, the dish went down a treat. In fact, Pru even announced that the dish was better than for the finals! Success to start with, now could Michael keep it up?!

Given how shocking Michael’s cooking is, the real challenge for him was convincing such a historic and traditional group that his modern style was up to the WI standards. As with all the times this dish has been cooked, it looked incredible and was seen as a triumph by the lucky people at the banquet. In fact, one diner summed it up nicely by describing the dish as capturing the old and the modern. Fish and chips Michael O’Hare style might not be your usual fish and chips but it will not be forgotten easily!

Matt was up next and was relieved to see his goats cheese had been properly dehydrated and was okay to use. While this was a success, the story about the billy goat hit a higher level of success and truly hit the brief as food waste was the talk of the diners. GIven the wonderful feedback and the beauty that was encompassed in the plate this was perhaps one of the best ever dishes I have seen on the banquet.

With the end in sight, Richard was up again with a dish that was much more straightforward preparation-wise but nonetheless one with so many fiddly elements that it was going to be a nightmare to get it served (or so I thought!). Instead, Richard managed to make the service look easy and left the diners looking more than pleased with the wonderful cocktails that came out before the trifle. The food, in tribute to his Nan, had again hit the note of perfection that had been required this year.

And with that, the chefs had a well earned drink and the WI had been truly honoured! For me, bring on next year!!!

Chef, course and dish name:

Richard Bainbridge – We All Stand For Jerusalem – Starter

Michael O’Hare – Emancipation – Fish course

Matt Gillan – Teaching And Preaching – Main Course

RIchard Bainbridge – Inspiring Women – Dessert

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