Great British Menu 2017 chefs - Joery Castel, Northern Ireland heat

The Staff Canteen

Meet the Great British Menu 2017 chefs from Northern Ireland: Joery Castel

This year Joery Castel takes on  Eddie Attwell and Tommy Heaney in a bid to make it through to the Great British Menu 2017 banquet which celebrates 140 years of Wimbledon. This year’s brief is to create dishes that capture ‘a taste of summer’ paying tribute to the history and prestige of the Wimbledon Championships.

Joery Castel, head chef, Saphyre Restaurant, Belfast, The Boat House Restaurant, Great British Menu chefs 2017
Joery Castel

After developing his passion for food, inspired by his mother, he got a position at the famous Castle Leslie, Ireland, cooking for many a famous face. After three years, he took up a head chef position at a catering company and achieved his proudest moment; cooking for Her Majesty the Queen. In 2008, Joery took the opportunity to open his own restaurant with his brother, Jasper. Unfortunately, the award-winning The BoatHouse Restaurant closed its doors in 2016.

Why did you want to be involved in Great British Menu?

Well, I think it’s something to be proud of, to be picked as one of the three chefs to represent Northern Ireland. I think that’s a great achievement on its own, never mind doing bad or doing well at it. 

How tough was it to come up with dishes which fit the brief?

I don’t think it matters what the brief is going to be for the Great British Menu, it’s going to be tough to come up with quality dishes anyway because you know the competition is going to be really hard.  

I think summer is a great season to work in and work with, everything is basically available to you, almost whatever you can think of. I always work better in the summer I think, despite the fact that sometimes I’d rather go to the beach than stand in the kitchen! Even if it’s a hard time to work, it’s great for produce and I think more so for Northern Ireland, because the seasons are a bit shorter. For me, I’m like a kid in the candy store in the summer because you have so much fresh produce available.

>>> Related: Joery Castel, chef and owner, The BoatHouse Restaurant

Did you feel under pressure to create theatrical dishes rather than well-cooked dishes served simply on a plate?

I had thought about it, but it’s not really my style to do all that ‘showbiz’ kind of cooking. Plus, the fact that the filming was just after I closed my restaurant, I didn’t have the time to come up with any props even if I would have wanted to. So I thought about it and I thought you know it’s better to just showcase good produce and good cooking rather than come up with something funky that’s not going to pay off. Everything has to be kind of perfect for the Great British Menu and I thought if I’m going to come up with props that are not completely perfect, it probably makes great television but makes a great dick out of me as well!

I think over the years Great British Menu has gone a wee bit mental with the props and it’s got crazier but I’ve just kept it very basic in that way and let my food do the talking.great british menu 2017

Did they enjoy being pushed out of their comfort zone, and how difficult is it to cook in the GBM kitchen alongside other chefs?

I think most of the chefs that are on Great British Menu or have been on it, would probably stand their ground in any kitchen anywhere in the world. But with the pressure of it being a competition, I think the pressure of the four or five cameras that are following you, can put you off your stride. It really takes time to adjust yourself. I’ve worked in many kitchens, I’ve even worked in a field full of cows but the pressure of the competition and the fact that the cameras are following you… that just makes it so much harder than working in any other kitchen!

How nerve-wracking is it to cook for your peers?

It was a wee bit scary buts it’s just another person that you have to cook for and they are going to be extremely critical about what you do but that’s what they are there for. They’re not just there to talk you down or to criticize, they’re also there to help you to improve yourself if you go further in the competition.

If you were scoring your dishes, would you agree with what your judge said or not? If not why not?

Yes and no, you always have different opinions about food. If I had another judge, maybe some dishes would have scored higher but then other ones may have scored lower. I think what they scored, in general, was quite fair. There may be one or two things I might have judged differently myself, but it must be a hard job for them to compare those three dishes every day. 

Best and worst part of being on GBM?

great british menu 2017My best bits? I don’t know, I really don’t know! We’ll have to see, you just don’t know how the BBC is going to edit it. One of the days, I had really good fun and I was enjoying myself and in the zone but surely, there are bits where there is a f**k or a shit! My mum will be disgraced!

There was a good atmosphere in the kitchen because the three of us got on quite well. We stayed in the same hotel after and we sat down for a few beers after the day. There was a bit of comradery, there was no jealousy, no hate towards each other.

There are, of course, moments that you’re in the shit but there are moments that you really enjoy yourself. You get used to the cameras after a couple of hours. It will all show on television though – I haven’t decided if I want to watch it!

Would you do it again?

I think I would like to do it again and come better prepared with the experience of having been in that kitchen before. I know the routine in the kitchen, I know the system that they use and I know what to be aware of now.

>>> Related: Joery Castel to close the Boat House this October

>>> Find out about all of the Great British Menu 2017 chefs here

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th June 2017

Great British Menu 2017 chefs - Joery Castel, Northern Ireland heat