The Great British Menu

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We are now in our tenth year of this, and I cannot believe I am still enjoying it. I thought I detested doing telly (I’m so vain I hate how I look, you spend all day filming for 20 usable minutes, studios are always freezing or stifling etc), but I just love the GBM. Oliver and Matthew, my fellow judges are a hoot, the crew members are funny and delightful and never snappy, precious or antsy.  But how long can an old duck like me (I am well into my seventies  for Pete’s sake) go on doing this?

Mathew Fort knows more about food than anyone I know, and he and Oliver can be informative and funny, and often outrageous, for hours on end. My job is to be the bossy nanny in between them, telling them to behave.

I like the idea of a food program that spotlights the best chefs and the best food suppliers. Underneath all the banter there is a serious intent to raise the profile of British cooking, encourage more chefs to try harder and to introduce the public to great produce on their doorsteps.

The Great British Menu is made by Optomen TV. The first competition was a hunt for the best British chefs to cook the Queen’s 80th birthday lunch at the Mansion House, the second was a Christmas mini-series in aid of Children in Need and saw the four winners of the first series (Marcus Wareing, Richard Corrigan, Nick Nairn and Bryn Williams) compete to cook the best family Christmas dinner (Richard won). The third series saw those winners compete against new chefs to be chosen to cook a banquet for the British Ambassador in Paris, to be eaten by the great chefs and gourmets of France.

The 2008 competition was to find the British chefs to feed the greatest chefs from all over the world. The dinner was held at the top of the Gherkin with Heston Blumenthal hosting it and we had chefs from Australia, Japan, the US, Europe. It was quite something to see our top cooks shaking in their clogs at the thought of cooking for their international heroes.

Mark Hix's Stargazy pie with wild rabbit and crayfish

Mark Hix's Stargazy pie with wild rabbit and crayfish

Perry jelly with elderflower ice cream

Perry jelly with elderflower ice cream

One year  chefs competed to cook a banquet for returning service men and women in the Army, Navy and Air Force, (and their families) who have been in Afghanistan. The previous three programmes had all been about feeding the toffs. This one was for ordinary folk more used to lunch out of a box at 40 degrees centigrade or supper in a tent at below 20 degrees.  A welcome home to people who really deserve a wonderful menu celebrating the very best of British. 

Dishes from the 4th Series

Daniel Clifford - Fish braised lobster with chicken gizzards, baby root vegetables and white port sauce

Daniel Clifford - Fish braised lobster with chicken gizzards, baby root vegetables and white port sauce

Glynn Purnell -  Bakewell tart with double cream ice cream and instant cider fruit jam

Glynn Purnell -  Bakewell tart with double cream ice cream and instant cider fruit jam

Prue with Oliver and Matthew

Prue with Oliver and Matthew

So for the fifth competition, we teemed up with the National Trust to set the chefs the task of sourcing their ingredients from the immediate vicinity of the National Trust Estate they are allocated, and cooking a menu to please Britain’s best food producers. Among them was the most famous advocate of local, fresh, sustainably grown good food, Prince Charles. And Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall was also with him, so it was quite a do. We held the banquet at the Pavillion in Bath Spa and I lost my voice completely. Croaking away at the Royals on camera. Not my finest hour.

 Dishes from the 5th Series

Lisa Allen - Wild rabbit leek turnover with piccalilli

Lisa Allen - Wild rabbit leek turnover with piccalilli

Tom Kerridge- Slow-cooked duck with duck fat chips gravy

Tom Kerridge- Slow-cooked duck with duck fat chips gravy

Kenny Atkinson - Line-caught mackerel with gooseberries

Kenny Atkinson - Line-caught mackerel with gooseberries

Niall McKenna - Poached rhubarb with strawberry jelly yellow man lavender ice cream

Niall McKenna - Poached rhubarb with strawberry jelly yellow man lavender ice cream

Since then we have had banquets for the forces returning from Afghanistan, for a street party to coincide with the Royal wedding, a banquet for the Olympic athletes, one for Comic Relief, one to commemorate D-Day landings. And now we are in the middle of filming one to celebrate 100 years for the Women's Institute. I have no idea how Optomen goes on dreaming up new themes to keep the show going on full speed, but they do. Once year they even slipped in an extra quickie (a single program rather than a series) of a Christmas lunch and another one when the competing chefs were asked to cook a brilliant banquet from leftover, wasted food, scavenged from behind supermarkets.