1. The Ultimate Picnic for International Picnic Day

    If you’ve been experiencing the same weather as us - rain, wind, and more rain - it might seem hard to imagine going for a picnic. But as it’s International Picnic Day, we can at least hope for a sunny spell and make the preparations necessary for the ultimate picnicGreat British Chefs, blogger Monica Shaw,  has her fingers crossed for good weather & asks what goes into the ultimate picnic? 

     

    Blog post for Great British Chefs by Monica Shaw

    The Picnic ”Basket”

    Wicker baskets and fine china may have romantic allure, but they aren’t terribly practical. I recommend a good cooler bag - my sister has an insulated picnic ”backpack” kitted out with plates, cutlery, little wine glasses - the works. It’s brilliant. Disposable plates, cups and cutlery have convenience appeal, but they’re not very eco. You can, however, buy hard disposable plates made of palm leaf or bamboo that are biodegradable and much more pleasant to eat off of than their plastic or polystyrene counterparts.

    Whatever the inconvenience, I always bring proper cutlery. Good food should be eaten with good tools.

    The Picnic Blanket

    Here again, the classic woollen blanket has romantic appeal, but if there’s any latent water hiding under the grass (a very realistic possibility in the UK) it will soak up into the picnic blanket and make for a very soggy experience. I have a picnic blanket with a waterproof bottom and it’s the best thing ever. I can’t count how many times I’ve been glad to have it.

    The Food

    You need to pack things that travel well and are inherently delicious. Sometimes all it takes is a baguette and some good cheese to make a perfectly satisfying picnic lunch (I enjoyed many such lunches on a recent bike ride in France). In fact, there’s something delightful about taking a bunch of bits and pieces and assembling lunch on the fly right on the picnic blanket. In which case, stock up on some good nibbles and sandwich accoutrements like olives, pickles, marinated vegetables, chutney, pate and so on.

    Salads are great on a picnic, but opt for salads that do well after sitting around in their dressing for a bit - coleslaw is perfect, as are salads based on good hearty vegetables such as Simon Hulstone’s beetroot salad recipe or Martin Wishart’s fennel salad.

    If you’re having a BBQ, leftover grilled veggies make a terrific picnic salad - particularly grilled courgette and aubergine. I tend to avoid salads with a mayonnaise-based dressing as there’s something I find unpleasant about a mayo salad that’s been left to go warm in the sun.

    If you must have a green salad, bring the dressing on the side and toss it when you get to the picnic.

    For heartier salads, use pasta, grains and beans to make salad the meal in itself. Tabbouleh is great for picnics, and for that matter, so is pita bread, hummus and veggies.

    Tarts and quiches are very handy for picnics as they hold their shape nicely and are low mess. Nathan Outlaw’s Crab and Cheddar Tart is a prime contender, as is Shaun Rankin’s asparagus tart with blue cheese and caramelised onions.

    For sweets, I’m a big fan of simple fair like fresh fruit, especially strawberries and watermelon. But you can always make things ahead like brownies, cake or homemade jaffa cakes for a bit of fun.

    In addition to that ice cold bottle of Prosecco, don’t forget lots of water and cups to drink everything from. Also, don’t forget napkins and bags for your rubbish.

    And as with all things in life, always bring good bread.

    Blog post for Great British Chefs by Monica Shaw

    For more picnic recipes, check out our Great British Chefs’ full collection of Summer Recipes.  What would you put in the ultimate picnic? Let us know on Great British Chefs Facebook Page.

  2. Lunch at Nathan Outlaw’s

    While Monica Shaw was covering blog posts on Great British Menu for us, she became a big fan of Nathan Outlaw.  She recently went on a foodie holiday to Cornwall and luckily had the opportunity to have lunch at Nathan’s Seafood Bar & Grill at the St Endoc Hotel at Rock.  Find out what she ate and how she coped meeting one of her food heroes.

    Oven Roasted Turbot on the Bone with Tartare Sauce

    Photography & blog post by Monica Shaw

    When I found out I was going on a seafood-focused holiday with The Food Travel Company, I wrote the company and asked (insert kiddish-sounding voice here): “Can we go to Nathan Outlaw's?” I didn't think they'd say yes, but they did, and I had no idea what a treat I was in for.

    Me and Nathan Outlaw

    I’d become a fan of Nathan (who is also amongst our Great British Chefs) while covering Great British Menu over the last few months.  Nathan showed up in the Southwest Heats and I was super impressed with his simple, classic approach to preparing seafood.

    Porthilly Mussels cooked in Doom Bar

    Furthermore, he stuck to his guns - while other chefs were doing crazy things with foams and smears, Nathan kicked out simple but elegant dishes like seared mackerel and barbecue monkfish. This was totally my style.

    But it left me wondering: how does a guy who makes such simple food raise it to heights worthy of two Michelin stars?

    My trip to Cornwall was my opportunity to find out.

    Seagull with good taste

    Nathan Outlaw’s restaurant is part of The St. Enodoc Hotel in Rock, Cornwall, and is accompanied by the more casual Seafood & Grill on the same premises. For lack of tables in his main restaurant (I should have known that to get a table at Nathan Outlaw’s, one must book well in advance), we had lunch at the grill.

    Smoked Mackerel Pate, Charred Beetroot Bread

    As his Great British Menu performance foreshadowed, the menu was simple: you’re given a list of fish, a list of sauces, and a list of sides. No bells and whistles here: think fish like grilled whole plaice and pan-fried cod, and sauces like tartare and parsley with lemon and garlic.

    Oven Roasted Turbot on the Bone with Tartare Sauce

    I went for the oven roasted turbot on the bone with tartare sauce (as recommended by the server), along with sides of heritage carrots with caraway seeds and hand cut chips.

    Nathan makes a fine chip

    It was here I began to discover what makes the food so special: yes, this is simple food, but the ingredients are beautiful and the preparation is second to none. Still, there’s more to the story, and I discovered this when Nathan graciously came around to my table for a chat.

    It’s about the hard arduous search for the best ingredients,” said Nathan. And those ingredients represent the best of Britain, and particularly Cornwall. In fact, as Nathan chatted with us, he kept glancing out the window at the Camel estuary, a source of much inspiration, and indeed the mussels that Nathan uses at his restaurant.

    Nathan Outlaw

    Rick Stein’s food is very much tied to his travels, but mine is very much a British thing,” said Nathan, who worked for Rick Stein at the Seafood Restaurant in Padstow before very much going his own way with his restaurant. But Rick’s restaurant is where Nathan's passion for seafood began. Other chefs Nathan admires are Mark Hix for the way he writes his menus, and Mitch Tonks, Nathan's favourite restaurant of all time: “it’s got body and soul”. 

    Oven Roasted Turbot on the Bone with Tartare Sauce

    Massive thank you to Nathan for the chat and the fabulous lunch (and for entertaining my photographic spontaneity). I’m still thinking about that wonderfully gherkiny / capery tartare and perfect turbot. It’s what Nathan Outlaw’s style is all about: simple, British food, done to the highest standard one can achieve. 

    My trip to Nathan Outlaw’s was arranged and provided by The Food Travel Company as part of their South West England holiday, for more information  follow them on Twitter at @foodtravelco. Visit Nathan Outlaw’s restaurant at www.nathan-outlaw.com.

    You can find some of Nathan Outlaw's fantastic dishes to make at home on Great British Chefs website.

  3. Rock Oyster Festival Recap

    Last weekend was the Rock Oyster Festival (22nd - 24th June 2012), a food, music and arts festival held on the banks of Cornwall’s Camel estuary, well-known for its oysters that are of such a quality, even our own Great British Chefs’ Nathan Outlaw uses them in his two Michelin star restaurant nearby.  Monica Shaw reports on the festival, with unsuprisingly a bigger focus on food.

    Photography & blog post by Monica Shaw

    I had a chance to experience the Rock Oyster Festival last Saturday as part of a seafood-focused group holiday organised and hosted by The Food Travel Company. The festival is as much about music and family as it is about food, but I’ve got a one-track mind, and the day was short, so I focused my attention on sampling the edible wares on offer.

    Lobster

    Rock Oyster Festival’s line-up of chefs and food producers was pretty impressive. Paul Ainsworth (another chefs from Great British Chefs site) was there giving a demo, along with MasterChef winner James Nathan and numerous other esteemed chefs from Cornwall.

    Rick Stein also made an appearance as one of the judges of the oyster shucking competition. In fact, one of the highlights of the day was meeting Rick and thanking him in person for his incredibly useful books, a huge asset to me as I’ve learned to cook with seafood.

    Fish tacos from Rick Stein

    I should also add that Rick’s restaurant was dishing up some amazing fish tacos, more than fulfilling my nostalgia for the fish tacos I used to devour when I lived in Austin, Texas.

    Fish tacos from Rick Stein

    Of course, this being the Rock Oyster Festival, oysters were a high priority. And how lucky were we to be introduced to Tim Marshall and his son, Luke, of Rock Shellfish. The Marshall family has owned Porthilly Farm for five generations, farming oysters and mussels on the banks of the Camel estuary, and supplying numerous restaurants including nearby Nathan Outlaw’s and Rick Stein’s.

    Me and Nathan Outlaw

    Tim and Luke are the friendliest of foodies and let us get up close and personal with the art of oyster shucking (not as easy as it looks). They also treated us to a platter of the finest oysters I’ve ever tasted, served simply with a bit of vinegar and samphire. Delicious, and particularly good with Camel Valley’s Brut, an award-winning Cornish bubbly, generously poured by the folks at Wadebridge Wines.

    Cheers to Camel Valley bubbly and Rock oysters

    It’s worth pointing out that, as far as festivals go, the Rock Oyster Festival is on the small side, and if you’re not into music or sitting around eating and drinking, you might find yourself a bit bored. But I confess, I warmed up to the festival as the day wore on. The food merchants and personalities who were there were of top quality, and the people (even the famous ones) were all incredibly friendly and happy to have a chat. Plus, the place is vast, with plenty of tables and chairs and green spaces for just “being”.  And I can now say with certainty: there are few finer things in life than whiling away the afternoon drinking bubbly, eating oysters and having lots of laughs with friends old and new.

    My trip to the Rock Oyster Festival was arranged and provided by The Food Travel Company as part of their Seafood Safari Cornwall holiday. For more information visit thefoodtravelcompany.com or follow them on Twitter at @foodtravelco.

  4. Preserving expert Gloria Nicol shares jam making tips for beginners

    It’s National Jam Week (18th-24th June) - a perfect time for it, with strawberries beginning to ripen and flowers on the bramble bushes marking the promise of blackberries to come. To get into the spirit Monica Shaw spoke with preserving expert Gloria Nicol, author of 100 Jams, Jellies, Preserves and Pickles for some tips on jam making & her favourite jam recipe -  Redcurrant, Strawberrry & Black Pepper Jam.

    Photo by Gloria Nicol

    Blog post for Great British Chefs by Monica Shaw

    Being relatively new to jam making, and having had several failures in the past, I wanted to get the low down on where to start and how to make my jam awesome.  Gloria is also a contributor to The Guardian and someone who’ve I’d long admired for her gorgeous jam, eloquent writing and beautiful photography. She showed me the way to great jam making….

    I’ve never made jam before. Where do I start?

    Take inspiration from a fresh seasonal ingredient, like succulent local strawberries, pink-stemmed rhubarb, or blackberries picked from the hedgerows for free. Once you get into preserving, fruits in season begin to represent that time, like a ceremony to mark a particular time of year.

    What makes a good jam?

    The best jam captures the essence and character of the ingredients and shouldn’t be overpoweringly sweet. Though cooked, it shouldn’t taste ‘stewed’ and should still possess a fresh flavour.

    Why does jam have so much sugar in it?

    Sugar is a preservative and jam needs to contain a certain percentage of sugar to fruit for it to keep. Trading standards states the definition of jam as having 60% sugar content or over and most jam for sale is in the region of 65%. The sweetness should slightly exaggerate and intensify the fruit flavour without overtaking it.

    Can I use less sugar when making jam?

    The great thing about making your own jam is that you can use less sugar to suit your own tastes. If you do cut back on sugar you need to be aware that your jam may not keep as long and as sugar also plays a part in how the jam sets (along with the pectin content of the fruit), you may also have to settle for a softer set jam if you use less sugar.

    Jam isn’t really a food generally eaten on its own! It is the added extra; spread on a slice of toast with butter, or with cream on a scone. So for the small amount consumed it doesn’t have to be a big deal how much sugar it contains, better to make it the best quality and most flavourful it can be and consume in moderation. 

    I don’t have any fancy canning equipment - can I still make jam?

    For jam making you require a few basic pieces of equipment that you may already have in the kitchen; a large pan, a wooden spoon and some recycled glass jam jars are the basics. There is an advantage to using the right kind of pan though, as a large shallow shape will help encourage fast evaporation when bringing your jam to setting point. As this part of jam making seems to be what most people find tricky to begin with, it is worth buying or borrowing a proper jam pan, if you don’t already have something handy that will do the job.

    I prefer to seal my jars with metal lids, but old fashioned traditional cellophane circles with elastic bands are still available and cheap to buy from hardware stores for sealing your jam and they work just fine. 

    Any other advice for people new to making jam?

    When boiling your jam to reach setting point, never fill the pan over half full. A rapid boil will make the syrupy mixture rise up and bubble in the pan and if the pan is too full you will be constantly having to turn the heat down to stop the jam from boiling over. To reach a fast set you need a steely nerve and a full-on constant heat to maintain a rolling boil. Sometimes people say to me that they had to boil their jam for hours! That means there was something wrong. I can usually bring jam to setting point in 5 – 20 minutes depending on the type of fruit.

    What’s you favourite jam and how do you like to enjoy it?

    My favourite jam is usually the one I’ve made most recently, like the rhubarb, lemon and English lavender jam, currently my jam of choice for topping a scone with a dollop of clotted cream. Damsons are my favourite single fruit flavour, so I always look forward to making a batch of damson jam each year and the Seville marmalade season, in January, is something I look forward to as well as this marks the start of the preserving year. If you are using local seasonal produce there may be only a few weeks availability to focus on an ingredient before moving onto the next.

    People are often obsessed by how long preserves will keep for. If you have a jam that you can proudly say has kept in the larder for a year or two, that says it wasn’t actually amazing enough to be eaten! I would rather run out of my favourite preserves and be looking forward to making more next year, than have a shelf full sitting there, that isn’t quite special enough to be eaten up with relish.

    Care to share a favourite jam recipe?

    Photo by Gloria Nicol

    Perfect combinations are part of a preserver’s quest. Combinations can marry flavours in a satisfying way but also mixing low and high pectin fruits is good too. Pectin content is what helps jam to set and some fruits such as strawberries, rhubarb and cherries are relatively low in pectin. If you combine them with a fruit with high pectin, such as sour apples or red and white currants, as well as building flavours you also help to make a jam with good consistency. The following recipe mixes redcurrants and strawberries, so as well as an advantageous pectin boost it is a wonderful vibrant colour.

    REDCURRANT, STRAWBERRY AND BLACK PEPPER JAM

    Makes approx 1.75Kg jam

    750g strawberries, hulled

    1.1Kg sugar

    juice from 1 lemon

    1Kg redcurrants, removed from stems

    7 whole black peppercorns, roughly ground

    1.     Cut large strawberries into 3 and leave small ones whole, then place the strawberries in a bowl with 600g of sugar and the juice from the lemon. Stir to combine, cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight.

    2.     Place the redcurrants in a pan with 150ml water and bring to a simmer for 5-10 minutes, by which time the currants will have popped and released their juice. Pour the currants into a sieve and collect the juice that drains through, then with the back of a spoon, push the fruit through leaving skins and pips behind. Scrape the redcurrant puree from the underside of the sieve and add it to the juice and discard the skins and pips.

    3.     Pour the contents of the strawberry bowl into a pan and warm it through stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Pour through a sieve, collecting the juice and leaving the strawberries to one side.

    4.     In a preserving pan combine the redcurrant and strawberry juice and add the remaining sugar. Heat gently stirring until the sugar has dissolved then up the heat and bring to a rolling boil until setting point is reached (a blob of the syrup on a cold plate will quickly form a skin that wrinkles when you push your finger across it.)

    5.     Add the strawberries and the ground black peppercorns and bring back to a boil and maintain for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, skim off any foam if necessary and pour into hot sterilised jars. (To do this, I place clean jars on their sides in a low oven, on a shelf lined with a tea towel, for 15 minutes)

    6.     Place a wax paper circle on the surface of the jam and seal. Leave till cold and label your jars.

    Gloria Nicol writes the blog www.laundryetc.co.uk and is the author of 100 Jams, Jellies, Preserves and Pickles (Cico Books). You can find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/laundryetc and on Twitter @thelaundry.

    Blog post for Great British Chefs by Monica Shaw

    What are your tips for someone making jam for the first time?  Do you have a recipe or flavour that would be good to start with?  Share your jam making stories with us over on Great British Chefs Facebook Page.

  5. Great British Menu 2012: A Retrospective

    For the last eight weeks Monica Shaw has been covering Series Seven of Great British Menu, which culminated last on Friday 8th June 2012 in an epic four-course Olympic banquet featuring the winning chefs’ dishes.  At Great British Chefs we asked her to give us highlights of the series and also some of the things she wouldn’t miss!

    Daniel Clifford's slow poached chicken, sweetcorn egg and chicken spray from BBC’s Great British Menu

    Blog post by Monica Shaw

    The lovely folks at Great British Chefs asked me to write a retrospective about my experience following the series and writing about it for this blog. I must say it feels like the end of an era. I’ve gotten used to my weekly Great British Menu ritual and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the programme.

    Simon Hulstone's dessert from BBC2's Great British Menu

    I’d never seen Great British Menu before and am not usually one to get hooked on a TV series (exceptions include The Wire, Firefly and Sex in the City). But Great British Menu surprised me.

    It wasn’t so much the drama of the competition, or the pithy comments from judges Prue Leith, Oliver Peyton and Matthew Fort. Rather, it was the chefs themselves and their collective talent, honesty and respect that really sold the show.

    Wishful Chicken by Paul Ainsworth from BBC2’s Great British Menu

    Not to mention their array of personalities: Alan Murchison's sheer determination; Charlie Larkin's family values; Paul Ainsworth's youthful enthusiasm; Simon Rogan's humble genius; Phil Howard's uber self-confidence. It all came together for great television and a compelling array of characters.

    The most amazing aspect, of course, was the camaraderie amongst the chefs. This being television, there were lots of high drama moments: plates too hot, meat too cold, foam too runny and so on. And the best bits were seeing the chefs pull together to help each other out of these inevitable ruts.  It just makes you love these people even more and want to eat their food.

    Poached pears, atsina cress snow, sweet cheese ice cream and rosehip syrup by Simon Rogan - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    To that end, Great British Menu has given me an excellent overview of the amazing food developments happening in Britain right now, and it’s a relief to find that “boundary pushing” innovation isn’t limited to the confines of London.  I’ve now got a bunch of new restaurants on my “hit list”, including Nathan Outlaw's restaurant at The St. Enodoc Hotel in Cornwall and Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume in Cumbria. I was also glad to learn that Richard Davies’ restaurant at Manor House Hotel is just down the road from where I live.

    Duck, barbecue monkfish, rosemary, samphire and asparagus by Nathan Outlaw from BBC2’s Great British Menu

    Of course, I’d love to try all of their restaurants, and meet all of the chefs. Fortunately, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, many of the chefs are on Twitter, and I often found myself looking them up after each programme aired. That many of them are on Twitter and actually talk their fans adds further testament to their awesomeness.

    Alan Murchison's Going for Gold Dessert

    In that way, Great British Menu may be gone but it’s certainly not forgotten, as it will be inspiring many restaurant visits and Twitter conversations for months and years to come. I think the only thing I won’t miss will be the litany of Olympic metaphors: “going for Gold”, “leaping culinary hurdles” and the most overused phrase of all, “pushing boundaries”.  But hey, it’s not often the Olympics are hosted in London, so we’ll let them have the glory, puns and all.

    Bring on Series Eight. 

    Blog post by Monica Shaw

    Let us know your highlights of Great British Menu 2012. Which chefs’ restaurants would you most like to visit as a result of watching the series?

  6. Great British Menu 2012 Final Banquet

    This week marked the bittersweet end to the seventh series of The Great British Menu, in which the eight chefs who won the regional heats - including four chefs from Great British Chefs site - competed to represent their region in the Olympic Banquet at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich which aired Friday 8th June 2012.  Great British Chefs blogger  Monica Shaw  watched the banquet & gives her round up of the week leading up to it.

     

    Blog post by Monica Shaw

    The chefs in the running were:  Nathan Outlaw who won the South West roundAlan Murchison who won the Scottish round;  Daniel Clifford who won the Central round; Colin McCurran who won the North East round; Chris Fearon who won the Northern Ireland roundSimon Rogan who won the North West round; Phil Howard who won the London & South East round; and Stephen Terry who won the Wales round.

    Judging them were our diamond trio Prue Leith, Matthew Fort and Oliver Peyton, plus a bonus judge on each evening for each of the four courses. This year, the judging panel threw in a hitch: in each round, they eliminated a chef right off the bat if their original dish wasn’t up to snuff and if they hadn’t made any changes to the dish for the finals. This saw a lot of sad faces throughout the week, as some chefs’ dishes were immediately eliminated, forcing the chefs to take the day off and stand by the sidelines.

     

    Quails in the Woods by Colin McCurran - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    Monday’s show featured the starters, in which Richard Corrigan joined the judging panel to settle on the top three dishes, which came down to: Alan’s duck and pineapple, Simon’s grilled vegetable salad and Colin’s ‘quail in the woods’. Colin’s original dish was one which the judge’s considered eliminating, but Colin was given a second chance for his tweaks to the dish. It was good fortune, too, because the judges chose his dish for the Olympic banquet starter, with Richard calling it “utter deliciousness in its eating”.


    Cornish mackerel with oysters, mussels, winkles & samphire by Phil Howard - from BBC’s Great British Menu 

    You would have thought two Michelin star chef and seafood extraordinaire Nathan Outlaw would have been a contender in the fish course, but you would be mistaken. In fact, the judges narrowed it down to Phil’s mackerel taster, Alan’s mackerel and beetroot and Simon’s lobster dish. Phil was “dead chuffed” to be announced the winner for his treatment of Cornish mackerel, served with oysters, mussels, winkles and samphire. According to Matthew Fort, Phil’s dish “elevated the humble mackerel to royal status - an astounding achievement.”

    Daniel Clifford’s slow poached chicken, sweetcorn egg and chicken spray from BBC’s Great British Menu 

    It was the main course where Nathan pulled through with his duck and monkfish dish, up against Daniel’s chicken and sweetcorn, Colin’s pork and apple and Simon’s suckling pig (yes there were four contenders for the main as there were simply so many incredible dishes that the judges couldn’t whittle down their choices to three). The winner went to the creator of “the dish that epitomised most the spirit of the competition,” said Oliver Peyton. And that was an almost tearful Daniel, whose slow-poached chicken, sweetcorn egg, spinach with bacon and peas was called a “virtuoso display of controlled cooking technique" by Matthew Fort.


     Poached pears, atsina cress snow, sweet cheese ice cream and rosehip syrup by Simon Rogan - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    Dessert came down to Phil’s rhubarb custard, Simon’s poached pears and Stephen’s ‘bronze, silver and gold’. Simon, who’d been a contender for all of the courses and whom Matthew Fort called “Mr. Consistency” throughout, finally pulled through with his impeccable dish of poached pears, atsina cress snow, sweet cheese ice-cream and rosehip syrup. Guest judge Angela Harnett called for seconds and thirds of this dish, and Oliver Peyton “almost wanted to cry" it was so good.

    It was a dramatic, emotional finish to eight weeks of high competition and incredible cooking. In the end, the Great British Olympic Menu read as follows:

    • Colin McGurran’s ‘quail in the woods’
    • Phil Howard’s Cornish mackerel with oysters, mussels, winkles and samphire
    • Daniel Clifford’s slow-poached chicken, sweetcorn egg, spinach with bacon and peas
    • Simon Rogan’s poached pears, atsina cress snow, sweet cheese ice-cream and rosehip syrup

    Earlier in the series, Oliver Peyton said “I want the chefs to demonstrate to the world the greatness of Britain.” And reading over the final menu I can’t help but reflect on that. Indeed, the menu reflects each chef’s unique cooking style, but with ingredients that exemplify both Britain and the Olympic spirit of, dare I say, “boundary-pushing” innovation.

    Job well done to Colin, Phil, Daniel and Simon, and to all of the chefs who participated in Great British Menu, all of whom did a smashing job of rising to the Olympic Challenge.

    You can catch up on Great British Menu on BBC iPlayer and see the full line up of chefs and judges for the Great British Menu 2012 here.

  7. Making Vineet Bhatia’s Grilled Peaches with Cardamom Panna Cotta

    It’s the last day of National Barbecue Week, and the second day of the Jubilee Weekend. True to form, the weather’s gone grim in many parts of the country for the occasion, so Great British Chefs blogger Monica Shaw  wanted to cheer herself up and at least pretend it’s summer.  Discover how she did this Vineet Bhatia's dish

    Blog post & photography by Monica Shaw

    Enter Vineet Bhatia’s recipe for Grilled Peaches with Cardamom Panna Cotta. I’d been eying this recipe for a while and it seemed like the perfect way to brighten up this Jubilee / Barbecue Week double whammy. Plus, it would be a great way to break in my new barbecue, bought last week in the spirit of the now absent sunshine.

    Grilling peaches

    I’m not usually one for desserts - I’m not into cakes or pastry or anything overly sweet. But I do like fruit, especially peaches, and I was insanely curious about how they’d be on the grill. And the panna cotta sounded like a nice, light creamy finish to offset the tang of the peaches. So I dove right in.

    Grilling peaches

    In Vineet’s recipe, the pears get “grilled” in a wok, to which he adds butter, brown sugar, crushed fennel, cardamom and lemon juice. To adapt this to the outdoor barbecue, I melted the butter with the other ingredients and let it bubble until the sugar melted. I then cut the peaches in half and put them on the hot, oiled barbecue cut-side down. After a few minutes, I turned them over, basted the tops with the sugary butter, and grilled bottom-side down until the tops were bubbling and the peaches were soft.

    Grilled peaches

    I followed the panna cotta recipe to the letter, using silicone muffin moulds to set them in. This was my first time making panna cotta and it was relatively painless. I did have to do a little external research to figure out how to get them OUT of the silicone moulds. The answer: put some boiling water in a roasting pan, then set the moulds in them for a minute or two and the panna cotta slips out easily. It’s a bit tricky to handle, though - I found it easiest to plate them with my hands.

    Grilled Peaches with Cardamom Panna Cotta

    I didn’t make the white chocolate rabdi because I’m not a massive fan of white chocolate and I wanted this to be more about the peaches than anything else. I plated the panna cotta and the peaches and added a few almonds for garnish. And then it was time for a taste.

    Grilled Peaches with Cardamom Panna Cotta

    The peaches alone are outstanding. I couldn’t resist popping a peach half into my mouth straight off the grill, despite the risk of burning my mouth. I couldn’t help it: they looked so appealing bubbling away on the barbecue. And the aroma from the cardamom and fennel was intoxicating. I can already tell these will become a regular part of my grilling repertoire - a great solution for an easy pudding, to go with a bit of ice cream, or in this case, panna cotta, which was fun to make and a fairly easy way to make a very special dessert. And together, the panna cotta and grilled peaches certainly banished the rainy day Sunday blues.

    Blog post & photography by Monica Shaw

    Have you ever tried grilling fruit?  What did you grill & what did you serve with it? What are some of your favourite desserts to cheer up a rainy day? Let us know over on Great British Chefs Facebook Page

  8. Great British Menu 2012 - South West Heat Finals

    Friday 1st June 2012 saw the end of possibly one of the best weeks of Great British Menu. In the South West round all three competitors Simon HulstonePaul Ainsworth and Nathan Outlaw showed British cooking at its best.  However, only one chef could go through.  Great British Chefs blogger Monica Shaw was on hand to see who that would be. 

    Blog post by Monica Shaw

    Is it just me or was the South West week one of the best weeks of Great British Menu? The three competitors - Simon HulstonePaul Ainsworth and Nathan Outlaw - represented a phenomenal trio of chefs, all with strong personalities and incredible skill. But each chef is decidedly different and it was impossible to predict whose style would make its way to the judge’s chamber. And with all three chefs being part of the Great British Chefs website, we couldn’t help but cheer them all on.

    Simon Hulstone's dessert from BBC2's Great British Menu

    But come Thursday night, judge Tom Kerridge had spoken, and competitive newcomer Simon Hulstone (despite an amazing dessert) took a bow, leaving Paul and Nathan to battle it out under the careful judging of Prue Leith, Matthew Fort and Oliver Peyton.

    There was no confusing whose dish was whose, with Nathan standing out for his classic dishes made with local ingredients, whereas Paul used specially commissioned serving platters to create theatre and playful presentations.

     

    Hog’s pudding with seaweed, potato terrine & mushroom ketchup by Nathan Outlaw from BBC2’s Great British Menu

    Nathan was first up with his starter of hog’s pudding with seaweed, potato terrine and mushroom ketchup: his take on a hearty Olympic breakfast. All of the judges were quick to criticise its appearance: “it’s a bit beige,” said Matthew. But the flavour combination was a “beautiful piece of thinking" according to Oliver. Prue agreed: "Composition is perfect…it just looks awful.”

     

    Breakfast of Champions by Paul Ainsworth from BBC2’s Great British Menu

    Paul’s ‘Breakfast of Champions’ brought more breakfast fare, this time pork belly with hash browns and an innovative black pudding pan au chocolat. “The high point is the bacon…cured to perfection,” said Oliver. Prue praised the poached egg with potato crust: “this is just wonderful.” But Matthew was unconvinced by the serving of breakfast as an Olympic starter: “I want them not to have breakfast; I want them to have something they’ve never eaten before.”

     

    Mackerel and mackerel belly roll with oyster, horseradish & cucumber sauce by Nathan Outlaw from BBC2’s Great British Menu

    Moving on to the fish course, Nathan - a two Michelin starred seafood chef - was feeling pretty confident with his mackerel and mackerel belly roll served with an oyster, horseradish and cucumber sauce, which scored a 9 during the heats. The judges weren’t convinced. Oliver called it “poncified fish" with "no personality”: “I’m looking for rock n’ roll”. Matthew Fort agreed that the “mackerel needs a more powerful hit to stand up to the sauce.”

    Monkfish, Two Showings by Paul Ainsworth from BBC2’s Great British Menu 

    Paul’s Monkfish ‘Two Showings’ seemed to fair better, with all of the judges enjoying his nose-to-tail monkfish served on an inventive two-tiered Colosseum-shaped platter. All of the judges enjoyed the top tier: “the curry deep fried monkfish is quite amazing,” said Oliver. But the second tier - monkfish liver on toast - ended things on a bitter note, with Prue visibly cringing at the taste: “too powerful for me.”

     

    Wishful Chicken by Paul Ainsworth from BBC2’s Great British Menu

    For the main course, it was Paul’s turn to feel confident - his ‘Wishful Chicken’ chicken kiev scored a perfect 10 during the heats. And here the judges mostly agreed, with Oliver calling it a “triumph”. But there was some debate over whether the elements worked together, with Matthew once again criticising its “beigeness”.

     

    Duck, barbecue monkfish, rosemary, samphire and asparagus by Nathan Outlaw from BBC2’s Great British Menu

    It was left to Nathan’s modern day surf n’ turf of duck, barbecue monkfish, rosemary, samphire and asparagus to steal the show. And steal it did. All of the chefs loved the barbecue sauce, but it was the whole combination that made this outstanding. “We’ve never had meat and fish together and I love the way the various elements are knitted,” said Matthew, “when they come together they make something even better and that’s where the true genius lies." Prue agreed: this was "gold medal winning stuff.”

     

    Elderflower and lemon tart, strawberry sorbet and meringues by Nathan Outlaw from BBC2’s Great British Menu

    If Nathan’s main was a win, his pudding was surely a letdown, with all of the judges lambasting his elderflower and lemon tart, strawberry sorbet and meringues. “It’s not a good sorbet,” said Oliver. “The base is very undercooked,” said Prue of the tart: “this is clearly a chef who’s a great chef, but doesn’t think pudding is important - it’s not up to scratch.”

     

    "Then & Now" by Paul Ainsworth from BBC2’s Great British Menu

    Following that, the judges must have been thoroughly pleased to end on Paul’s ‘Then & Now’, a pudding of pistachio and olive oil sponge with chocolate disk and gold caramel sauce. “This chocolate disc is completely orgasmic,” said Matthew. “If I just won a gold medal and had a choice between the medal and this chocolate pudding, I’d choose the pudding - it’s Nirvana,” said Oliver.

    And so, it was judgment time. Earlier in the episode, Oliver Peyton said, “I want the chefs to demonstrate to the world the greatness of Britain.” And so despite Paul’s “dazzling” menu, it was Nathan who won on “pure gastronomy”, an apt reminder that Great British Menu is about showcasing British food, which Nathan certainly does with his use of local Southwest ingredients cooked simply but to perfection.

     

    Well done Nathan Outlaw for winning the South West heat! And well done Paul Ainsworth and Simon Hulstone who put up some pretty heavy competition. It was a fantastic week.

    If you’re in the UK you can watch this episode on BBC’s iPlayer for the next few days.

    The heats are over, and next week, it’s the finals!  Nathan Outlaw will join Alan Murchison who won the Scottish round,  Daniel Clifford who won the Central round, Colin McCurran who won the North East round, Chris Fearon who won the Northern Ireland roundSimon Rogan who won the North West round, Phil Howard who won the London & South East round and Stephen Terry who won the Wales round. You can see the full line up of chefs and judges for the Great British Menu 2012 here.

    Blog post & photography by Monica Shaw

    What did you think of the results of the Southwest finals?  

  9. Hot Stuff at Somerset Chilli Festival

    The Somerset Chilli Festival runs from June 2nd - 4th, a celebration of all things spicy, with food sampling, cookery demos and a Chilli Eating Competition, which sounds both painful and curious - at least from a spectator’s point of view.  Chilli lovers unite - it’s going to be a hot and wonderful time. Great British Chefs blogger  Monica Shaw takes a look at what’s on offer & explores chilli growth in the UK

    Blog post & photography by Monica Shaw

    One of the great things about the  Somerset Chilli Festival is that it brings some well-deserved attention to UK chilli growers. There seems to be a boon at the moment in exotic chillis and chilli-based products, with over 100 professional chilli growers and product manufacturers in the UK (current estimates value the UK chilli industry at £14.5 million per year and growing).

    Jalapenos

    In Somerset and beyond, a small but expanding community of chilli nerds are growing all kinds of chillis in their gardens and polytunnels, thus putting the UK on the chilli map. In fact, the world’s hottest chilli, the Indian Bhut Jolokia, was cultivated in Lincolnshire and ranks a whopping 1,067,286 on the Scoville Scale used to measure the heat of peppers (by comparison, a jalapeno measures 2,500 to 5,000).

    I’m not as hardcore as some chilli nerds out there, but I’m definitely a chilli fan and this year I’ve been enjoying learning about all the crazy varieties of chillis out there with beautiful names like Trinidad ScorpionPimenta Da Neude, and Aji Panca. This year, I’ve been growing some of these exotic varieties, as well as some more run-of-the mill chilli types like serrano and jalapeno.

    Funky chillies

    Herein I’m discovering the many levels of chillis bliss one can enjoy: chillis are incredibly easy to grow (my windowsill is currently cluttered with chilli sprouts) and each different variety has its own subtle, unique flavour.

    I’m a particular fan of the humble jalapeno, essential in Mexican cooking, one of my favourite cuisines. And let’s not forget that you can dry, roast and pickle chilli peppers to create a whole new dimension of flavour.

    Munch-Inspired Raw Kale Salad

    Chilli is essential to my cooking (some might say it’s a bit excessive). I use it in salads, marinades, soups and even desserts.  As far as I’m concerned, homemade salsa is the ultimate condiment and can be made with all manners of chillis - I especially like this roasted tomato salsa using chipotle peppers for a smoky, spicy effect.

    Smoke Tomato and Chipotle Salsa

    Continuing the Mexican theme, pickled jalapenos are a staple. I use them to jazz up veggie chilli, tacos even omelets. You can now buy pickled jalapenos quite readily, but nothing beats making your own (especially if you’ve been growing lots of chillis yourself!). For this purpose, Purple Foodie’s pickled jalapeno recipe is a winner.

    Pickled Jalapenos

    Chillis are also essential to Indian cooking, and this recipe for Kadhi is a new favourite, a yoghurt-based Indian soup making use of both fresh and dried chillis.

    And for the true chilli fiend, there’s chilli for dessert. I love mango chilli sorbet, one of the most refreshing ways to finish a meal on a hot summer’s day.

    Mango Chilli Sorbet

    No doubt Somerset Chilli Festival will have loads more ways to inspire your chilli endeavours, be it growing them, cooking with them, or just eating them. And if all else fails, the shock factor of the Chilli Eating Competition should be well worth a watch.

    Blog post & photography by Monica Shaw

    Are you headed to the festival? Or are you simply passionate about chillis? Tell us what you love about them and how you use them!  Let us know over on Great British Chefs Facebook page.

  10. Great British Menu 2012 - Wales Heat Finals

    Week 7 of Great British Menu had its final judging on Friday 25th May 2012.  During the week chefs from Wales competed to impress veteran judge Angela HartnettMonica Shaw guest blogger at Great British Chefs watched the finals. Which Welsh chef would be cooking at the Olympic banquet?

    Blog post by Monica Shaw

    If ever there was a close match in Great British Menu it was the Wales heat. Thursday night saw Richard Davies lose out by just half a point, leaving James Sommerin and Stephen Terry to compete in the finals. Although their scores were close during the heats, the two chefs’ cooking styles couldn’t be any more different. Whilst James takes a modern, molecular approach, Stephen sticks to more traditional techniques, admitting, “I focus on my strengths - my strengths are not doing rocket science.

    As usual, it was up to judges Prue Leith, Matthew Fort and Oliver Peyton to decide whose approach most reflected the talent and ambition of Olympic athletes. As in the heats, it was another close race.

     

    The Opening Ceremony by Stephen Terry from BBC2’s Great British Menu

    Stephen’s approach was to create simple but beautifully prepared dishes presented in such a way as to reflect Olympic virtues, and with names to match. Such was the case with his starter, ‘The Opening Ceremony’, a warm pigeon salad with wild boar lardons, risotto cubes and caramelised hazelnuts. All of the judges agreed that the dish was good, but with reservations. “The quality of the pigeon is great, I love the dandelion,” said Oliver, “it’s a beautiful piece of cooking but not Olympic.” Matthew Fort mockingly added, “Oh crikey, I’ve just remembered the brief - let’s add caramelised hazelnuts!

     

    Sage cream, onion, chicken & Welsh ‘Brie’ truffle toast by  James Sommerin from BBC2’s Great British Menu

    James’ starter of sage cream, onion, chicken & Welsh ‘Brie’ truffle toast faired slightly better. Although Prue thought the dish didn’t “look very appetising”, they all agreed that James had made an effort, but it needed work. “I feel like whipping myself for not liking this dish more,” said Oliver, “this chef is making a go at being successful.”

     

    Fish & Shellfish Medley by Stephen Terry from BBC2’s Great British Menu

    Stephen’s fish dish, ‘The Fish and Shellfish Medley’, featured nine different types of fish and shellfish served in a series of five “rings” (you can guess what those represent). “Wowzer,” said Matthew Fort. There was a lot going on here, but all of the judges seemed to like it, but with reservations. As Oliver put it: “It’s not a world class gold winner.”

     

    Lobster with Iberico ham, spiced butter and broccoli by James Sommerin from BBC2’s Great British Menu

    James’ fish course - lobster with Iberico ham, spiced butter and broccoli - made an interesting first impression. “I’ve always wanted to eat food from a plate shaped like a bed pan,” said Matthew. This dish caused much disagreement, with mixed opinions on the use of aubergine and broccoli, and Matthew being most unimpressed of all: “the day that mud wrestling becomes an Olympic sport, this dish can go through”.

     

    Mangalitza pork, carrot, liquorice and leeks by James Sommerin from BBC2’s Great British Menu

    Going into the main course, both chefs had a lot to prove. James was first with his Mangalitza pork, carrot, liquorice and leeks. The pork had the judges in “mmms” and “aahs” (though Oliver argued that there was too much fat on the dish). Delicious, but was it innovative? “Sadly not innovative enough,” said Prue, “but I’d be happy to eat it at the banquet.”

     

    Bunny Pentathlon by Stephen Terry from BBC2’s Great British Menu

    Would Stephen’s ‘Bunny Pentathlon’, consisting of five different preparations of rabbit, do any better? “Already I’m happier,” said Oliver when the dish was served: “I love the journey of flavours throughout the palette”. However Matthew argued that the dish was too much: “together it’s a massive munching mouthful.”

     

    Deconstructed raspberry and lemon cheesecake by James Sommerin from BBC2’s Great British Menu

    For dessert, James’ deconstructed raspberry and lemon cheesecake pleased the judges with its dry ice theatrics, and the flavour of the dish itself. “It’s been creatively thought through,” said Matthew, “I can see a whole lot of Olympians polishing that off and leaving dinner looking pretty damn chirpy.”

     

    Bronze, Silver or Gold? by Stephen Terry from BBC2’s Great British Menu

    Stephen’s ‘Bronze, Silver or Gold?’ - a trio of lemon meringue, chocolate mousse and trifle - ended things off on a high note for the judges, except Matthew who felt that the dish didn’t fit the brief because the individual components were too basic. But this didn’t bother Oliver and Prue, who called it “unpompous and simply delicious.”

     

    Ultimately, it was Stephen’s “simply delicious” cooking that led to his being chosen winner of the Wales finals, leaving a very disappointed James to pack up and go home. Congratulations, Stephen, who proved that you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to win at Great British Menu - even simple dishes can pack an Olympic punch. If you’re in the UK you can watch this episode on BBC’s iPlayer for the next few days.

    Well done Stephen who qo into the finals (joining Alan Murchison who won the Scottish round,  Daniel Clifford who won the Central round, Colin McCurran who won the North East round, Chris Fearon who won the Northern Ireland roundSimon Rogan who won the North West round and Phil Howard who won the London & South East round).

    Next week is the last heat before the finals, with South West chefs Paul Ainsworth, Nathan Outlaw and Simon Hulstone competing who are all on Great British Chefs website. You can see the full line up of chefs and judges for the Great British Menu 2012 here.

    What did you think of the results of the Wales finals?  

  11. Asparagus: The Vegetarian Super Vegetable

    As it’s  Asparagus Month (and also  National Vegetarian Week), Great British Chefs blogger Monica Shaw wanted to pay tribute to the vegetable that is one of the highlights of the vegetarian’s food calendar.

    Asparagus

    Blog post & photography by Monica Shaw

    There’s really no point in being vegetarian if you can’t get excited about vegetables. But let’s face it - there’s a spectrum of excitement when it comes to veg. You don’t see the nation going ga-ga for cabbage and cauliflower (though some of us think they should). Asparagus, however, is in a class all its own. Its short season makes it a precious commodity, but it’s the flavour that really drives the fans.

    Not quite nicoise

    Asparagus rates highly amongst vegetables that help make vegetarian dishes flavoursome and interesting (I’d also include mushrooms, artichokes, beetroot and purple sprouting broccoli in that list). Asparagus has a unique flavour that is both strong and fresh, and it has a super crunch.

    When I cook with asparagus, I like to cook it simply - usually by steaming or grilling - and then pairing it with one or two complimentary ingredients, letting the asparagus dominate the dish.

    One of my top flavour compliments for asparagus is egg. For a quick meal, I like to do grilled asparagus with poached eggs and nice sourdough or granary toast. If you want to get posh about it, add some hollandaise, or a tasty pesto.

    Poached egg with asparagus and pesto

    Another fun egg-asparagus combo is a twist on the old boiled-egg-with-soldiers concept, using asparagus rather than toast as the soldiers to dip into the soft egg yolk.

    Pasta with egg, asparagus and truffle oil

    I also like to do asparagus and scrambled eggs with pasta, peas, Parmesan and chilli - sort of a vegetarian take on pasta carbonara.

    Last of the pecorino and balsamic

    Asparagus is also terrific in omelets and frittatas. Which brings me to another fabulous ingredient for asparagus: balsamic vinegar. A drizzle of balsamic on that frittata is utter genius. For something truly special, try Geoffrey Smeddle’s grilled asparagus with soft poached egg, balsamic and parmesan. Or lose the eggs but keep the Parmesan as in Bryan Webb’s asparagus with balsamic vinegar and shaved parmesan.

    So when it comes to asparagus I’m clearly more than a little obsessed with eggs, balsamic vinegar and Parmesan. It’s time to branch out. One thing that’s caught my eye recently is the idea of “shaving” asparagus. Case in point: the shaved asparagus pizza, a minimal pizza that’s really all about the asparagus. And similarly, this ribboned asparagus salad with lemon. Oh but there’s that Parmesan again. Can I escape it? 

    Salad of asparagus, potato and boiled egg

    I can: when in doubt, add asparagus to any salad and you have something that’s five degrees more awesome than it was before.

    What are your favourite uses for asparagus? Let us know over on Great British Chefs Facebook Page

  12. Great British Menu 2012 - London & South East Heat Finals

    Week 6 of Great British Menu had its final judging on Friday 18th May 2012.  During the week chefs from London & the South East competed to impress veteran judge Jason AthertonMonica Shaw guest blogger at Great British Chefs watched the finals. Who would be cooking at the Olympic banquet?

    Blog post by Monica Shaw

    The London and South East finals of Great British Menu brought with it an exciting clash of the generations. Having said goodbye to Graham Garrett on Thursday evening, this left the very confident - and very classical - chef Phil Howard to face off with young chef Marcus McGuinness who was out to wow the judges with his ultra modern approach.

    But would judges Prue Leith, Matthew Fort and Oliver Peyton appreciate Marcus’s newfangled techniques, or would they be more comfortable with Phil’s classical precision?

    Ice lamb’s liver parfait, malt loaf, fingerling limes and rose germanium by Marcus McGuinness  - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    Marcus’ menu began with a starter of ice lamb’s liver parfait, malt loaf, fingerling limes and rose germanium, a beautiful dish, but one which the judges felt offered “style over content”, according to a visibly annoyed Oliver: “there’s a lack of love.” And Prue only seemed to keep eating it because it was interesting, though not necessarily tasty: “I’m not really enjoying it, I’m just interested in eating it because it’s so extraordinary.

     

    Spring salad with goats’ milk purée, pickled asparagus and quails’ eggs by Phil Howard - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    Phil’s starter - a spring salad with goat’s milk puree, pickled asparagus and quail’s eggs - went the judges sans watercress bavarois (Phil forgot to add it at the last minute). Would that have changed the judges’ opinions? All agreed it was enjoyable, but “nothing special” according to Oliver, who added that the gimmicky gold leaf around the celeriac was “absolutely awful - like bling on the salad”. “I’m enjoying it but it isn’t rocking my world,” said Prue.

     

    Cornish mackerel with oysters, mussels, winkles & samphire by Phil Howard - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    It was during the fish course that Phil proved his precise execution of classical techniques could elevate ordinary British ingredients. Enter his tasting of Cornish mackerel with oysters, mussels, winkles & samphire. “A beautiful balance between richness and intensity,” said Mathew. “The soup is a triumph, the tartar is absolutely fabulous…the dish of the day so far,” said Oliver.

     

    Pollock, peas, coconut and elderflower. by Marcus McGuinness - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    Marcus fared much better with his fish course: pollock, peas, coconut and elderflower. “This is just a beautiful thing,” said Oliver. In fact, all agreed that the presentation was awe-inspiring, but not everyone enjoyed the flavour. “This is like someone running out for the pole vault and spectacularly soaring below the bar," said Matthew: "potentially delicious but completely ruined by inattention to detail.”

     

    Roast loin of lamb with pie and mash, carrots, nettles and mint by Phil Howard - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    The main course did not going as swimmingly for Phil, whose roast loin of lamb with pie and mash, carrots, nettles and mint was “almost perfection" according to Oliver. The problem, according to Matthew, was that it was boring: "conventional stuff given a bit of a makeover with a few blobs on the plate - that is not enough.”

     

    Blade of beef cooked in hay, tendons and beetroot by  Marcus McGuinness  - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    Marcus’s main - blade of beef cooked in hay, tendons and beetroot - didn’t do much better. In fact, all of the chefs seemed genuinely disgusted, with Prue practically gagging on the tendons. “This dish is a tragedy,” said Oliver. Matthew was the only judge to defend the dish, arguing that the tendons worked, but still agreed with Prue who said, “I would be ashamed if we put this down for an Olympian feast.”

     

    Rhubarb and custard soufflé by Phil Howard - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    This left the last stand: dessert. Phil’s rhubarb and custard soufflé served with ice cream in Olympic torch cones was “a dish of wonderful quiet pleasures,” said Matthew, “but not a dish of fireworks.” Oliver agreed: “no innovation whatsoever.”

     

    Asparagus, goat’s curd and black olives by Marcus McGuinness - from BBC’s Great British Menu

    Marcus finished his menu with his radical pudding: asparagus, goat’s curd and black olives, not likely ingredients for a pudding, so inherently “boundary-pushing”. But did it work? Almost. “The bits are there, they just need to be pulled together," said Matthew. "When you put everything together it’s delicious,” said Prue. But all agreed it would be better off as an “asparagus cheesecake” rather than a series of individual components on a plate.

    No one could argue that Marcus pushed himself to the limit with his menu. But Phil, though not always innovative, did always exhibit a mastery of flavour and technique, and this is what counts in the eyes of the judges who were all smiles as they announced Phil the winner. Congratulations. Phil Howard! You’ve demonstrated the importance of substance over style, something all too easily forgotten on Great British Menu.

     

    If you’re in the UK you can watch this episode on BBC’s iPlayer for the next few days.

    Next week, it’s the battle of the Welsh chefs with contenders James Sommerin, Stephen Terry and Richard Davies. You can see the full line up of chefs and judges for the Great British Menu 2012 here.

    What did you think of the results of the London & South East finals?