Great British Menu 2018 blog by Cameron Huck – Finals week

The Staff Canteen

The Great British Menu Final is here - after eight weeks of cooking at the regional heats, nine chefs have started their final battle to get the chance to cook at a banquet honouring 70 years of the NHS.

Competing in the Great British kitchen final this week is Ellis Barrie of The Marram Grass, Craig Sherrington of Virginia House (North West) Tommy Heaney of Heaney's Cardiff (Northern Ireland) Lorna McNee of Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles (Scotland) Tom Brown of Cornerstone (South West), Chris Harrod of The Whitebrook (Wales) Dan Fletcher from Fenchurch at Sky Garden  (North East) James Cochran of Restaurant 1251 (London and South East) and Marianne Lumb previously of Marianne (Central).

The chefs were as determined as ever to get their starter to the banquet with James saying:

“I am excited to get one of my dishes to the banquet if not four!”

Tommy was up first and had made a couple of tweaks to his dish ‘Eat, Sleep, Nightshift, Repeat’ by removing the black pudding from the original dish and incorporating this element into a scotch egg instead. He has also removed the pourable toast consume and replaced this with jelly cubes instead.

awaiting the judges decisions

tommy starter

Ellis’ starter ‘From the Coal came a good Egg’ was very positively received at the regionals – inspired by a traditional Welsh breakfast, his dish was a nod to NHS founder Nye Bevan. Despite an initial struggle getting to grips with his potato tuille, Ellis managed to execute his dish and get it to the pass ready for judging.

good egg ellis

Classically trained Craig wanted to put his ‘heart and soul’ into every dish that he put out as a thank you to NHS staff. He had made some big changes to his dish now called ‘The Soup of Life’ which had changed from a revamped ‘TV Dinner’. For dramatic effect, he also piped smoke at the last minute into cloches for a bit of theatre.

the soup of life

James Cochran dedicated his dish ‘Cep-tional’ to his late mother and the NHS staff who cared for her. He has tweaked the dish slightly from the regionals which included his brioche being served on a woodland-themed presentation board. Oliver said that James had ‘gone away and made it better’ citing this as a desire to win.

ceptional by james

Lorna’s starter in the regionals was not as positively received as her other dishes and this had resulted in her changing her dish ‘Celebrating the best of the best’ completely. Forsaking the yuzu jelly and the caviar, Lorna’s dish focused on a pastry tart with mushrooms three ways, a mushroom and Madeira confit and a ‘surprise’ egg yolk centre. 

celebrating the best with the best

Chris Harrod has previously impressed both veteran judge Paul Ainsworth and the judging panel with his thoughtful dish ‘A Sensory Garden’. The judges praised his black pudding and said that his dish was ‘completely different to anything else that they had eaten before’.

a sensory garden

Marianne had made some changes to her starter - 'Potato Pete and Tracy Truffle' to elevate it further. She had added a layer of puff pastry to the original dish which was positively received by the judges who could find nothing ‘incorrect’ with her cooking, calling it luxurious and great.

potato pete and tracy truffle

High-scoring Tom had previously scored all tens in the regionals and was looking to emulate that level of success in the final. He hadn’t made any changes to the original dish serving it as it was originally designed. The judges felt his mushroom puree was clever but felt his broth was over-seasoned and that the balance of the dish was ‘not there anymore’.

Last to plate up was Daniel Fletcher who like Tom has scored highly in his regional heat. His dish ‘Can I get you a cup of tea love?’ was praised by the judges who loved his duck three-ways and how the spices all came together.

In the top three was Chris, Daniel and James, Chris placed third, despite the judges praise, they felt it wasn’t ‘quite enough’, Daniel was awarded 2nd place with the judges saying that they ‘loved everything about the dish’ and that his hazelnut mayonnaise will be remembered for a long time.

The chef that will be cooking the starter at the NHS banquet is James! The judges applauded his dish calling it ‘beautiful’ and praising its flavours and textures.

Finals week and day 2 meant it was time for the fish course. Following James Cochran’s triumph in the starters, the chefs were itching to get into making their dishes, hoping to join him in the banquet.

judges eating

Joining the discerning judges was Chris Ogden, consultant urologist who specialised in using robotics during operations.

First up as it happened was James, who added more lemon to the lobster in his fish course ‘Windrush’. Matthew described the dish as being a ‘mad circus of flavours’ despite his alterations.

James fish dish

Dan Fletcher was up next and decided to mellow out his benito sauce in his fish course. Even though he did this the discerning judges thought the sauce somewhat ruined the dish.

Ellis, in his regional round, had been criticised for his dish that seemed to be made up of three smaller dishes. With that in mind, he decided to completely rework his fish course, renaming it ‘Bun in the Oven’, using mackerel and squid ink buns. Chris called it ‘ordinary fish made extraordinarily’.

53 million baby

The next trio of chefs to venture into the kitchen were Craig, Chris and Marianne. Chris was up first and changed his dish, he originally used scallop in his fish course but change it for mackerel, serving it alongside mackerel tartare ‘apples’, under apple trees, which Mathew found ‘uncomfortably healthy’.

Craig, who scored a 10 from the veteran judge in his qualifying round, decided to change his dish, hoping for a better score from the judges this time. He cured his mackerel in Scottish gin in what was labelled an ‘honest dish’.

Marianne was praised highly for her fish course; Oliver said it ‘floats down to your tummy’, but in the end, the chefs simply did not think it was banquet worthy.

marianne fish dish

Tom, the first of the next three chefs, added breadcrumbs to his papillote fish which was perfectly cooked.

tom fish dish

The penultimate chef, Lorna, was the second chef of the day to entirely rework her dish. Now called ‘Giving to Get’, it was made of turbot, brown shrimp and a beurre noisette. Unfortunately for her, the fish was overcooked and it was not celebratory enough.

Last up was Tommy, having come last yesterday and knowing his fish course was the dish he thought had the most chance of making it through he had high hopes. His hake was cooked to perfection and the judges knew from the off it was definitely a contender.

Once Tommy had served all the chefs could do was wait for the judge’s verdicts. The top three chefs were: Tom, Ellis and Tommy; Ellis was triumphant in the fish course, scoring 4 10’s with the other two scoring exactly the same.

It was the main event for the Great British Menu chefs and all of them had dreams to cook their main course at the banquet.
Tom Lynch MBE, champion and pioneer of the cycle respond unit joined the judges to indulge in the chefs mains and divulge his scores along with the other judges.

The first trio of chefs in the kitchen were: Lorna, Marianne and Tom. Lorna was the first to serve up her dish, which was made of three venison elements. She started off the day with a dish that the judges loved, finding the bonbon to be packed full of flavour.

Lorna main

Marianne was up next with her game-based main which was described as a ‘general yumminess’ like her other dishes but once again lacked the sense of occasion that would elevate it.

Marianne Main

Tom who was still looking to get his first dish to the banquet and had high hopes for his main that scored a 10 in the heats and was well received in the regional finals. Once again the cooking was sublime with Oliver even going as far as to say it was ‘gastronomy at its finest’.

Tom Main

The middle three to enter the kitchen in hopes of getting their main to the banquet were, Dan, Ellis and Chris. Dan plated up his dish first and was hoping to get is dish through in what had been a mixed week. Unfortunately for him the judges enjoyed the dish but found it ‘underwhelming’.

Dan Main

Ellis, who had excelled the day before after completely reinventing his fish course was hoping that a repeat was on the cards with his main. Focussed around a lamb shank wellington, Matthew thought it was ‘rather clumsy’.

Ellis Main

Last of the middle three was Chris with his ambitious main, ‘Everything but the Squeal’. The judges cooed over his dish that they simply described as ‘faultless cooking’.

The final group of chefs to try their luck at getting to the banquet were, Tommy, Craig and James. Tommy, rather riskily decided to redesign his whole main and not practice it. This unsurprisingly did not work out in his favour.

Tommy Main

Craig, who got 4 10’s in his regional finals knew if he replicated that form he had a more than a good chance of getting to the banquet. He made no changes whatsoever to his dish and once again the judges found it ‘faultless in every detail’.

Craig Main

James, who still had his starter in the bag, was looking to get a second course to the banquet. His theatrical sharing platter of goat was a mixed bag, with some parts being excellent and others, namely the newly added coconut rice being undercooked.

James Main

The main event was over so all that the chefs could do was wait to be put out of their misery. In fact, it was not as simple as that for the top 3 chefs, Tom, Craig and Chris, who all scored 4 10’s, meaning that the judges had to pick their favourite to go through. After much deliberation, they chose Tom for his ‘Poor Man’s Goose’.

Dessert Final

It was D(essert)-Day for the Great British Menu chefs, with only one course left to fight over to get a place in the banquet.

The competition had been fierce all week and today was no exception, so to help the judges today was Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent OBE, who is Head of Maternity, Children and Young People at NHS England.

The first chef up to make their dessert was Tommy, who was now making a habit of not making his whole dish before serving it. He had reinvented his dessert by changing it to a white chocolate mousse, served with thyme and honeycomb ice cream lollies. The judges were fans of the dish, calling it a ‘really fun pudding’.

Second to the pass was Welsh regional champion, Chris. His dessert had struggled in the heats and he had made numerous changes to it in an effort to get a dish to the banquet after a disappointing day with the mains. The judges cooed over the dish and its sheer uniqueness, with all of them saying they had never had anything vaguely similar.

Lorna, who had made her name in 2 Michelin starred restaurants desperately wanted to get to the banquet with her dessert. Each of the 4 judges were wowed with her technical nous, with Oliver saying it was ‘technically, the best pudding they ever had’.

The second trio of chefs to go into the kitchen were Craig, Tom and Dan. Craig, who had been spurned the day before had a real hunger to impress the judges with his festive dessert. It received less than favourable reviews, Oliver thought it was terrible and Andi did not like the texture of the newly added meringue.

Tom, who had only just got his main to the banquet wanted to get his second dish to the banquet. He made a multitude of complex elements for his historical dessert which the judges did not find very celebratory.

Dan decided to redesign his dessert and it was a day to forget for him with the judges labelling it a ‘shocker’.

The final three chefs were Ellis, James and Marianne. Ellis was the first of these chefs to serve up his dessert. His dish had not been well received by the judges earlier in the competition, much to his disappointment, so he changed the saffron custard for them. The judges were split on if they thought it was banquet-worthy with Matthew defending it and Andi and Oliver going the other way.

James, who already had his starter at the banquet was hoping a more refined dessert could net him his second dish at the banquet. An incredibly happy dish, topped with a cocktail umbrella it left the judges with big smiles on their faces.

The last chef to serve was Marianne who had altered her dish to now be made up of individual soufflés as opposed to one large sharing soufflé. Once again opinions were divided amongst the judges with Matthew claiming that the ‘gimmicks [had] taken over’, while Andi and Oliver found it fun.

Desserts served the judges considered their scores and then announced the top three, which was made up of: James, Lorna and Chris. James came third with his dessert, leaving the final spot between Chris and Lorna. Once again it was a draw, so the judges decided to pick the chef who had made a dish, unlike anything they had eaten before. Which meant Chris would be cooking his dessert at the banquet!

It all led up to his day for the Great British Menu Chefs and the last 4 standing, James Cochran, Ellis Barrie, Tom Brown and Chris Harrod now had the monumental task of preparing their dishes for the banquet.

Before the big day, all the chefs had met some of the NHS’s heroes and were able to invite them to the banquet. Tom met Ethel Armstrong MBE, who had started work in the NHS on the day it was launched. James went to see Professor John Gribban, a researcher of immunotherapy. Ellis went to see the ‘giggle doctor’ at Manchester Children’s Hospital and Chris finally gave the midwives who helped with the birth of his daughter the cake he promised long ago.

serving cake ellis and chris

The chefs finally got to see where the banquet was actually going to be held, in the historic and regal 300-year-old grand hall in St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. Juxtaposing this they had to construct their kitchen in a marquee outside.

banquet hall

The preparation for the banquet was no cakewalk, James who needed fresh ceps for his starter was given frozen ones, which were not suitable for his dish. Creatively, he designed a cep marmalade instead.

Chris also faced disaster when his nettles, that he had spent 5 hours foraging, were thrown into the bin. He had to think fast and made the quick decision to use spinach in place of the nettles for his dessert.

chris dessert banquet

Service was not as simple for some of the chefs either. James, who had enlisted the help of Ellis to fill his cylinders, faced a slowdown when Ellis struggled to get the siphon gun to work. During the fish course, Ellis had to start washing jugs for his sauce as they ran out.


It was all worth it though for the chefs who all received high praise from all the guests. Paul Ainsworth, one of the veteran judges, was in attendance thought Chris’ dessert was brilliant. Other guests said how Tom’s duck was cooked to perfection and one guest described Ellis’ dish as having a real ‘zing’.

The chefs all had their eyes on the big prize though, to be crowned the first Champion of Champions. Deciding the overall winner were the banquet's guests and once the results were in the chefs were summoned to rapturous applause. All that was left was to find out who won. It was James with his starter ‘Cep-tional’, a truly exceptional dish.

James wins

Congratulations to him for being the first Champion of Champions but also to the other chefs who showcased their amazing talents!!

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Editor 15th October 2018

Great British Menu 2018 blog by Cameron Huck – Finals week