Great British Menu 2019 chefs: Chris McClurg, Northern Ireland heat

The Staff Canteen

The final regional heat of Great British Menu 2019 is set to kick off on BBC Two tonight at 8pm.

The programme pits the country’s top chefs against one another for the chance to serve one of their dishes at a banquet. This year, the competition celebrates fifty years of British music and the reception will be held at Abbey Road Studios, where The Beatles recorded most of their albums in the 1960s.

This week will see chefs Alex Greene, Glen Wheeler and Chris McClurg representing Northern Ireland.

Chris McClurg is the head chef at Michelin-starred No.6 in Padstow, where he has worked alongside veteran chef Paul Ainsworth for the past eight years. 

The Observer Food Monthly's Young Chef of the Year 2018 is originally from Belfast. His first job was at Shanks, in Bangor, followed by a stage at Richard Corrigan's Lindsay House and three years at O'Shea in London and Brussels. 

What did you think of the competition?17852062 low res great british menu

It’s a massive commitment. It is big, brand new dishes, all the design work and serving up – no one can prepare you for that.

The three of us were newcomers as well, I think the nerves across the board were quite high.

The competition was healthy and we all wanted the others to execute their dishes properly and either go out or through based on good judging criteria not “did you pull your dish off or not.”

It was brilliant.

Image: From left to right, Chris McClurg, Glen Wheeler, Alex Greene. Credit: BBC Pictures

What did you think of the brief this year?

I loved it. I was still in the kitchen when the mail came through about the brief and I was instantly buzzing about it. All the way through researching, dish development and everything, I found it quite easy and relatable.

Food and music are so – no pun intended – harmonious anyway, I was buzzing that this was my first year to be involved in the competition.

What approach did you take in the development of your dishes?

It was all food first, find a link and then develop. Flavour first, dish is an idea – some didn’t materialise because they didn’t have a strong enough link – and maybe one dish was more born out of an idea and then the dish came later, the main course.

Hopefully it comes across.

Were you hoping to showcase the food you cook at No.6, or something more personal?

Everything was very personal. This is my ninth year at No.6 so I’m super involved in every dish we do. Whether it comes from Paul and he’s got something he wants to work on, this is what I do and I’m tried and tested in, but for the competition we were really close working together on everything.

I’d talk about ideas and Paul would be like “you know what, that’s fucking brilliant, go with that” and so I’d work on the dish, bring it to him, he might say yes or he might take it in a different direction.

Some of the other ones, like the fish course, we had a dish on the menu that fitted the brief completely and I knew I had three brand new dishes to try and develop so I literally used the scallop dish that we do here.

You learn to execute things perfectly and we all work in professional kitchens so the best dishes have all been tried and tested and make that link.

Were you happy to have Tommy Banks as a veteran judge?

Stoked. Absolutely stoked. He’s a legend, as a human being and on a chef-to-chef level. It was his first time as a veteran so I knew that as nervous as I was, he would have had some nerves in there too.

He did amazingly in the competition but he had a different job to do and I felt that he did it really well. He was critical where he needed to be, he was encouraging where he needed to be.

He kept the competition alive really well. He knows how to cook, he’s a very good lad.

17852114 low res great british menuWhat would you say are the advantages of taking part in competitions like GBM are?

Taking part in any competition that puts you peer-to-peer is healthy because we all work in busy restaurants and it’s important not to get your head stuck in the sand.

It’s a big world out there and there are lots of people with different styles and different goals. I think you can learn something from everyone.

I think this sort of competition is very healthy as long as it doesn’t consume you with nerves and so long as if it goes against you, you don’t lose your head or self-belief.

Image: Oliver Peyton, guest judge Loyle Carner, Andi Oliver, Matthew Fort

I don’t do loads of them, I pick and choose them. I don’t like to overstretch myself because my number one commitment is the restaurant and that always has to be.

There are competition chefs and they make it their life and that’s not necessarily my MO but I think once in a blue moon – especially if you respect the people you’re up against and you know the competition is going to be healthy and you can take something from it - I think it’s worthwhile.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 8th May 2019

Great British Menu 2019 chefs: Chris McClurg, Northern Ireland heat