Exclusive Interviews

Ally McGrath discusses Great British Menu, Richard Corrigan, and family values

We’ve caught up with Ally McGrath ahead of the start of this year’s Great British Menu. As you can see from our interview, Ally is one of the nicest contestants you’re likely to watch on your screens this year. He plies his trade at Osso in Peebles, a relaxed restaurant that serves fantastic food in a family-friendly environment. Here’s what he had to say about this year’s GBM.

What was it about this year’s brief that inspired you to take part in Great British Menu?

We don’t get the brief until we’ve confirmed our entry. Being asked to do the show was a massive honour. When you look at the calibre of chefs who have done it in the past, you think wow, you’re asking me! When the brief did come in, it all began to feel very real, and at that point I was sitting there thinking ‘what have I done’! As for the brief, it was a proper head-scratcher for the first few daŷs, just trying to get my head around how to approach it. It was a tricky one this year but I thought a great opportunity for the chefs to put their own take on it. Nobody seemed to be coming from it in the same way, which was good.

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How did you find the challenge of cooking in the notoriously tough Great British Menu kitchen?

I really found the pieces to camera the most challenging. I’ve never had to do it before so it was really alien to me. Once you’ve got that all out of the way and they say “go” then it’s head down and you just really go back to being a chef and getting on with it. The timescales they give you are quite tight so you’re concerned about getting everything done, and not forgetting something on the plate. Having one of your heroes watching you and judging your food is completely terrifying. When they come back in to score you, you really do start feeling slightly sick.

Have you enjoyed the challenge of developing Osso since you became the owner (along with Helen)?

Having Osso is great. It’s an awful lot of hard work that people don’t see when you have your own place, but I wouldn’t want to change it. It’s constantly developing, we are always trying to keep ahead and push ourselves that little bit further. When I look back at old menus from when we opened it’s very much like, ‘oh yeah, we did that, that was ages ago’!

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Which experiences have shaped your approach the most as a chef?

Working with the likes of Richard Corrigan when I was younger brought home the basics of flavour first, looks can come after. As long as we can get our food to taste exceptional that is the main thing; we can work on the design on the plate as we go. I think that has had a lasting impression. My food may not be the prettiest but it better be the tastiest.

Family seems to be a key aspect to Osso. How does this approach help you run your restaurant?

It just lets us keep it a bit laid-back. I want kids to come in and eat. We can either do the kids’ menu or something a bit smaller if they prefer. My kids eat here, so why not yours? We are in a small town, we need to be a neighbourhood restaurant as well trying to push ourselves, so the menu can be varied with what we put on. There are some complex dishes as well as simpler ones.

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Aside from your own, which is your favourite restaurant?

Oh, I think there are a few I can’t really split! L’Enclume, The Hand and Flowers, Martin Wishart, Midsummer House, and Pollen Street Social are all up there!

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