Great British Menu comes second only to The Great British Bake-Off in my personal list of great British cookery shows, and this 10th series is more GBBO-like than ever, thanks to the ultimate prize that awaits contestants. If they make it out of the regional heats and through the final, they'll be preparing a banquet to celebrate the centenary of the Women's Institute at the historic Drapers' Hall in London.
The Glaswegian chef and restaurateur Jak O'Donnell felt she had a leg-up in this week's series opener, the Scottish starter round. Not only is she the only woman, but she is also the region's reigning champ, who learnt how to cook from her grandmother, a WI member.
Did the consciousness of these advantages allow complacency to creep in? Jak's "Soup and a Sandwich", consisting of lamb broth and potted mutton with barley and oat bread, served in vintage china bowls, struck the Michelin-starred judge Michael Smith as "a little simple". When compared with the other two chefs' experimental haute cuisine offerings, it was perhaps too convincingly home-cooked.
Graham Campbell, head chef at Pittodrie House Hotel near Aberdeen, managed to justify his own cockiness with his '"NicPic" – that's "picnic" backwards, geddit? This witty take on a WI favourite, the Victoria sponge, involved compote sandwiched between brioche slices, accompanying smoked rabbit and served – get this – on a Barbie-scale picnic bench with red-and-white-checked table cloth. It looked more like a dessert than a starter, but at least that WI connection was readily apparent.
That's more than could by said for the "A Hug from Mum" congee by Jimmy Lee, the self-taught chef/patron of Lychee Oriental in Glasgow. Jimmy cooked the rice for his congee with Jerusalem artichoke (because "Jerusalem" is the WI anthem) and garnished it with century eggs to mark the anniversary. Which would have been fine, if it wasn't for the almighty hum emitted by the eggs. If you've never had the pleasure, this Chinese delicacy smells a lot like, well, rotten eggs.
Britain's chefs will have to do better than this in the coming weeks if they're to satisfy the grandees of the Women's Institute. And they will. Great British Menu keeps calm and carries on, even in the face of disaster.Reuse content