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Great British Menu 2014, South West Heat Final

Great British Menu 2014, South West Heat Final

by Monica Shaw 26 April 2014

Week three of Great British Menu 2014 finished with the South West of England finals. On Thursday we said goodbye to Dominic Chapman, leaving new contestant Josh Eggleton and returning contender Emily Watkins to compete for a chance to serve veterans at a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

Week three of Great British Menu 2014 finished with the South West of England finals. On Thursday we said goodbye to Dominic Chapman, leaving new contestant Josh Eggleton and returning contender Emily Watkins to compete for a chance to serve veterans at a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

This week, our usual cast of judges - Prue Leith, Matthew Fort and Oliver Peyton - were joined by war veteran Ken Sturdy who was at the D-Day landings and offered his special perspective on the dishes.

At the start, Josh seemed favoured as he performed better than Emily during the heats, but Emily was determined to win: both of her grandfathers were in the Navy in WWII so the event held special importance to her. But she had a lot of work to do as both her and Josh had strikingly similar menus and she’d have to work extra hard to make hers stand out.

Beging with the starter, both offered their takes on tinned luncheon meat. Josh was up first with his "Rations on the Home Front”, deep fried pigs head fritters and chilled pea soup topped with pork crackling and crispy pancetta, served with little jars of pickled vegetables in a wartime ration box with enamel serving plates. The presentation certainly hit the mark for Ken who said, “I’m looking forward to this.” But the food itself, while enjoyed by all, wasn’t exactly a masterpiece to some. “This is the most delicious fritter, said Prue. “I love the contrast of flavours,” said Oliver. But Ken was non-plussed by the soup: “Pea soup should at least be warm - this is quite cold, otherwise all the other items are delicious,” said Ken. Mathew argued there was nothing special about the food itself: “It’s pub food."

This gave Emily a chance to shine with her "Luncheon Meat in Jelly”, which was called “underwhelming” during the heats and scored only a 5. But this time she made some changes, serving pork belly topped with pork jelly and ground pork crackling plus whole pieces of crackling, dollops of mustard, potato bread, homemade butter, and finally toffee crab apples. All of the judges agreed that the toffee apples were “beautiful”, and tasty too: “Yummy - how can you not love a toffee apple?, ” said Mathew. The accolades continued with the rest of the dish: “This potato bread is as good a potato bread as I’ve ever had,” said Oliver. And Ken agreed, comparing the outcome favourably to Josh’s.

Moving on to the fish course, Josh’s "Operation Overlord”, an homage to the allied invasion in Europe, fared better than his starter. The dish comprised grilled brill, breaded mussels, cauliflower puree and seaweed butter sauce. Criticised earlier for not “telling a story”, he made changes to make the plate look more like a beach, and the changes seemed to work: “I doff my hat to this one,” said Ken. Prue enjoyed the fish: “Really nice fat piece of brill - this is lovely.” But Oliver wasn’t overwhelmingly impressed: “I think it’s good - but I don’t see it as gastronomic."

Emily and Josh face the judges
Emily and Josh face the judges
Emily's Luncheon Meat in Jelly
Emily's Luncheon Meat in Jelly

Emily’s "Fight Them on the Beaches", another beach scene homage to the Normandy landings featured flasks filled with cockle broth along with griddled scallops, sea greens, shells, braised morels in mess tins, and finally tobacco tins with dehydrated seasoning. The presentation was an instant hit, and the food even more well-received. “There’s a real sense of sweetness and meatiness,” said Matthew of the scallop. “I love the combinations of the broth and mushrooms - a delicate balance,” said Oliver. Prue agreed: “I love the cleanness and freshness.” And perhaps most importantly, Oliver proclaimed: “I could easily see this at the banquet.” And Ken agreed: "It’s hit the button."

For the main, both chefs served Rabbit. Emily was up first with her "Don’t Come Back Empty Handed” served with rabbit bangers, belly and slow-cooked rabbit leg presented with baby vegetables on a quirky allotment scene. Ken called the sauce ideal but Oliver thought it overpowered. “The sausage is the best thing about the dish…and the black pudding is good.” Still, it only “just fulfils the brief.” “It’s not the standout most amazing dish,” said Prue, “but the kale is brilliant.”

Josh’s main, "Normandy Rabbit”, featured dough boys, rabbit faggots, stuffed rabbit saddle, salt-baked carrots, chargrilled broccoli and rabbit broth, served in helmets. “I love the theatrical presentation,” said Matthew. “The rabbit is absolutely sensational, the faggots really strong,” said Oliver. “I didn’t think a rabbit could be better than the one we just had, but this is better,” said Prue, “the carrots have amazing flavours." “I love this dish!” proclaimed Oliver. “The sand bag is a genius touch - it brings back Normandy as it was,” said Ken.

Finally it’s dessert and again both chefs paid tribute to WWII with the same theme: celebratory street parties.

Emily’s “Street Party” was a sophisticated spin on jelly, cake and ice cream, served with blackberry jelly cubes, blackberry gel and fresh blackberries, lardy cakes on mini cake stands, blackberry mousse, blackberry buttermilk sorbet and poppyseed remembrance tuilles. The chefs liked the presentation: “This looks great,” said Oliver and Matthew agreed it was “enchanting.” But there was mixed feelings about the lardy cakes. Oliver argued that the lardy cakes were “downmarket” but Matthew emphatically disagreed. All agreed that the cake needed something like custard to withstand it. “This sorbet is lovely, but it’s just like nothing in your mouth.” said Prue.

Finally, Josh’s “VE Day Street Party”, inspired by his nan’s memory of VE Day, was an elaborate dish of victoria sponges filled with bergamot cream, rosewater panna cottas, fruit scones, jam and beef dripping sandwiches and a pot of tea. Presentation-wise, Ken’s reaction was to applaud. But the judges were unimpressed with the execution. “I’ve had better victoria sponges,” said Mathew. “The other disappointing thing is the rice pudding,” said Oliver and all of the judges agreed. “I found this sandwich delicious because it’s a bit unusual,” said Ken. But at the end of the day, the dish suffered from “style over content,” according to Oliver.

Both chefs were given high praises by Ken: “As a veteran I was pleased to find every item referred to WWII or Normandy.” However, only one could go on to the finals. Although Josh had a real success with his rabbit dish, it was Emily’s fish dish (declared a “sensation” by Ken) that stole the show, with the judges declaring her the winner in the South West Finals.

A visibly shocked Emily said she was “utterly delighted, amazed and absolutely shocked.” So congratulations, Emily Watkins! Your determination - along with the tweaks you made based on feedback during the heats - clearly did the trick. See you at the National Final!

Next week chefs from the Central region will be making their D-Day menus. Look out for Great British Chefs' preview post and live tweets from @gbchefs throughout the week.

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Great British Menu 2014, South West Heat Final


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