Great British Menu 2019 chefs: Tom 'Westy' Westerland, Wales heat

The Staff Canteen

The penultimate heat of this year’s series of Great British Menu will hit the airwaves tonight at 8pm on BBC Two.

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 Andrew Sheridan, Cindy Challoner and Tom Westerland representing Wales.

Tom Westerland - known to most as Westy -  is the head chef of the Brasserie at Lucknam Park in Wiltshire. Last year, he became the second of executive chef Hywel Jones' proteges to take the National Chef of Wales title. 

We spoke to him to find out how being on GBM compared to other competitions he's taken part in.

What was it like being on GBM this year?17851958 low res great british menu

I couldn’t believe it, I watched it all while I was growing up and it was one of the things that inspired me to be a chef. It was an honour to do it.

And you were lucky enough to come on with a new production team and studio.

Yeah, it was outstanding. I spoke to Andrew who did it last year and he said how much better it was than the last kitchen. It was quite an interesting one because the studio where they filmed it was where the Teletubbies was filmed; the kitchen was where tubby hill used to be.

Did that inspire your food then?

Oh yeah of course.

Image: From left to right, Andrew Sheridan, Cindy Challoner, Tom Westerland. Credit: BBC Pictures 

Had you come across Andrew and Cindy before?

I used to go to Cardiff and Vale college and I still speak to my college tutor Eric who works there, plus Hywel’s son goes there, so we’ve done a few pop-ups and dinners. So I’ve met Cindy a couple of times. It was quite nice to have someone in there that I knew.

Were you happy to have Phil Howard as a veteran judge?

When we saw the line-up I was hoping for Daniel Clifford or Richard Corrigan. I might’ve said just before he walked in the door, “I hope it’s not Phil Howard,” and then he came in.

He was very good, he was quite critical about everything but the feedback was very useful, fair and constructive.

You’ve taken part in several competitions before, how was GBM different?

I’ve done a fair amount - the South West chef of the year, the past two years I’ve been in the final 10 of the Craft Guild and I won National Chef of Wales last year - but GBM was a completely different monster.

If I had to say one thing, I’d say the cooking was the easiest part of it. All the interviews, having cameras everywhere, that made it harder.

At the end of the day, a competition is a competition, but when you’ve got somebody staring at you every single second of the day it makes it difficult.

What did you think of the brief this year?

When I first got it I thought it was quite exciting but I didn’t know what to do with it. I thought it was quite a difficult one to start with and link to music. I started listening to music and thinking about how they linked to memories, I thought back to my childhood and times in my life that I really enjoyed and tried to find a song that expressed that feeling.

Did you have dishes in mind already?

My fish course – Sunny Afternoon – I managed to tie back. Me and my dad always do a lot of fishing. When I was quite young we used to go off on holiday to Pembrey to go mackerel fishing. So I tied the Sunny Afternoon song to that, and how we used to eat tomatoes fresh out of the garden.

My starter was called Top of the Crops. The idea was best of British music and best of British vegetables and again I associated that with eating vegetables out of the garden as a kid.

The dessert I based around the first album I ever owned was 'Nevermind the Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols' and it was my dad’s favourite band.

I thought that the best way to end the banquet would be God Save the Queen, so I made a Union Jack Eton Mess. It’s quite a show stopping dessert and if you get it right, when the song plays it really works.

There was a lot of crossover between everyone’s dishes in your round – Cindy and Andrew even had a dish that was named the same, Green green grass of home – how did you navigate that?

I had that on my menu as well. To be honest when you think back to the brief and then you think Welsh, it’s probably one of the most iconic Welsh songs isn’t it.

I’m working in Wiltshire so whenever I drive home that song comes to mind. Andrew’s inspiration for it was driving back through Wales to see his kids and I think it was the same with Cindy, she was working in Cardiff and she was from Aberaeron. 

The only reason I didn’t choose it in the end was because I didn’t want to go with the cliché lamb and Wales route. It was on my list of ideas originally, but I didn’t really listen to Tom Jones and I wouldn’t say his music meant a lot to me, whereas the dishes that I chose to do and the music that went with them did.

17851971 low res great british menuSo did you manage to differentiate yourselves from one another despite the similarities in your dishes?

The three of us had very different styles of food. Mine was very simple and was more about letting the ingredients do the talking and I’d say Andrew really likes his deconstructed food.

If he’s doing cod he’ll do it five different ways so you experience different parts of it.

Cindy’s food is a little bit out there, a little bit wacky, where she was trying a lot of new techniques. We all come from quite different backgrounds; Andrew is quite modern, I come from a classical background and I think Cindy is quite modern cooking as well so we have three very different cooking styles.

Image: Veteran judge and Elystan Street chef Phil Howard

And would you say that’s one of the benefits of taking part in competitions like GBM – being able to cook with people that you wouldn’t necessarily share a kitchen with?

Definitely. It’s great for meeting new people, you get to see what other people are doing and you get to really test yourself against the best in the industry.

What else makes GBM a good competition?

It’s amazing for your profile, it’s a different experience. I really like the idea of being given a brief to go and research.

It took a lot of creativity to come up with dishes and make sure that you weren’t just making a gimmick around the song. You had to do something that linked back to the brief.

Would you do it again?

Yeah definitely, if they invite me back I’d love to do it again.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st May 2019

Great British Menu 2019 chefs: Tom 'Westy' Westerland, Wales heat