I still have a real fondness for Great British Menu, despite its format shortcomings.
Some of Northern Ireland’s fresh chef talent will take to the kitchens next week and showcase their wares to millions — and I’ll be backing them all the way to the final.
While the now 17-season-long run of the format sometimes feels like it’s run out of steam — this year celebrating a century of British broadcasting — much of the cooking remains at its highest level.
Historically, here in Northern Ireland, we have some serious pedigree when it comes to success stories on the show.
When I first saw Chris Fearon’s inventive Season Shake Coronation Chicken dish on the 2011 series, I thought there’s no way chicken in a bag was good enough to secure victory. But it did, and the now stalwart of the Belfast food scene walked away with the overall title.
It’s a really simple but effective dish, utilising everyday chicken thighs, a punchy spice mix and kecap manis (a sweet soy sauce-based condiment), which was key to the flavour. I tried it myself and it was superb.
It was also a double success for Alex Greene from Deanes Eipic, which included getting his The Incredible Edible Book through to the final banquet. It’s a dish you can also now order at the restaurant.
Next week, four chefs from Northern Ireland will arrive for the challenge. That includes return contestants Chris McClurg, who worked under the Michelin-starred Paul Ainsworth, and Carryduff-born Gemma Austin, founder of south Belfast’s A Peculiar Tea.
The skill and prowess continues with Marty McAdam of Paget Lane in Enniskillen, who formerly worked under Scotland’s Tom Kitchin, and Stephen Hope of Dawsons in Castledawson — his CV including a time at The Merchant and alongside Michael Deane.
Generally with this new season, fronted by the very watchable Andi Oliver, some concepts are perfectly clever — a marriage of stunning cooking, clever themes and a heartfelt, honest and genuine connection to the broadcasting link of choice.
Others feel tiresome and forced and often overtly twee, like someone has had to sit around a desk of executives and pull out tenuous connections to ‘much-loved’ programming which, in some cases, you’d struggle to recall.
We could also do with some of the ‘banter’ turned down. There are also a few instances in which you question whether anyone either remembers, was old enough to remember or cares about the programming tie-in.
Our own television critic Billy Weir bemoaned some of the slightly daft and somewhat convoluted (and tenuously linked) themes.
“This means you get a bowl of soup in homage to Blockbusters accompanied by an array of props and a storyline clearly knocked up by the production team instead of just making us a nice plate of dinner,” he said in a recent column.
Tom Kerridge is this year’s cuisine sage in the judging chamber and he hasn’t been overtly positive with some of the less successful dishes, just for the sake of politeness. He’s joined by food podcaster and comedian Ed Gamble alongside Nisha Katona, founder of Indian street-food chain Mowgli.
There’s also a guest for each of the regions. The dialogue and chatter sometimes feels about as natural as a mouthful of aspartame. Can we just get on with the food? Although, I’ll admit, it would end up being a much shorter programme than the typical hour-long run time.