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Things we've learned from watching The Great British Menu
It's an under-the-radar sort of program, is GBM. Easily mistaken for being just another tea time cookery show, suffering from comparisons with ITVs Britain's Best Dish - but it's quietly addictive, mainly because it's not about TV chefs but the genuine stars of British cooking fighting it out.
For those not in the know, each week, three chefs from a region of the UK cook four courses for a fellow chef, who scores them out of ten.
The top two scorers get to cook for a panel of judges; the ever lovely Matthew Fort, the brilliantly caustic Oliver Peyton and the fabulous Prue Leith.
They choose one chef to go through to the national final, where a winner for each course is chosen. The winners then cook for a banquet of 100 people, this year made up of British Olympians.
This is series seven, believe it or not, but I'm still fascinated. Here are some reasons why...
•Chefs really are competitive. Whether it's the fiercely ambitious up-and-comers or the ones who've already got two Michelin stars, they all really really want to win.
Not only that but working insane restaurant shifts doesn't seem to be enough for most of them - marathon runners, fathers-of-five - no slouching on the sofa with a bag of chips on these days off. Whether it's determination to beat the starred chefs, like self taught slapdash genius Aktar Islam last year, or determination to keep their place at the top of the food chain, like Daniel Clifford this week, no-one wants to come last.
Especially Tom Aikens, who had a slightly murderous glint in his eye last year. He didn't win his heat. He's not back this year. Who knows if the two things are linked?
• Putting another chef in as a pre-judge judge was a stroke of genius. Whether it was to stop the three judges from exploding under the weight of so many courses or just to ratchet up the tension, making a previous years winner a judge for the heats adds just that little bit extra friction. Especially when the contestants have more Michelin stars than the judge.
• Taste really is a very personal thing. The chefs might love a dish, only to have it torn to shreds by the acerbic Oliver Peyton. You might think something looks amazing, while the chefs think it's a mess on the plate. As a demonstation of the gap between what chefs want to cook and what people want to eat, it can be very illuminating.
• There aren't many women running restaurant kitchens. In seven series there have been 11 woman contestants. Out of 130. That's not a good record.
• There's a limit to how many Olympic puns one person can listen to in a half hour episode. If one more person says "gold-medal-winning dish" my brain might explode. And don't get me started on the voice-over.
• As a method of finding new restaurants to visit, it's brilliant. After last year's contest, we went to eat at dessert course winner Paul Ainsworth's restaurant while on holiday in Padstow. We even got to to eat the winning dessert. Blooming gorgeous (and much cheaper than eating at Rick Stein's!)
In this section
- My favourite recipe: Christine Willis
- How just 99p can make a difference
- Gluten-free food that’s full of flavour
- New group joins up for taste of success
- My favourite recipe: Chicken with a walnut topping
- Scallops and sunblush mash, Thai beef burgers and choux buns: meet the finalists for young chef of the year
- Buying into British beef
- Bournemouth Bartenders League. Competition Three - Cognac drinks to suit a revolution.
- Up close and personal with celebrity chef James Martin
- Raises your glasses: the Big Bournemouth Beer Festival is back