Judging the Great British Menu
We’ve eaten suckling pig, beef Wellington and guinea fowl. We’ve had a whole turbot and half a lobster (dainty, but delicious) and cockles and mussels, not alive, alive-o, thank heaven, but properly cooked. Some dishes have been piled high and some dishes have been artfully strewn along slate or boards or long glass plates like stained glass windows. We have opened miniature picnic baskets and tiffin boxes. We have torn food to bits with our fingers as well as resorted to the more conventional knife and fork. We have sniffed, and chewed and savoured, all in the search for the perfect dishes for the latest Great British Menu.
This year’s theme is food that brings communities together. The competition will culminate in a feast billed as The People’s Banquet, a great street party, knees up and get-together to celebrate the unsung heroes who work so tirelessly in communities all over the country. After all, eating together is the best, most accessible, most pleasurable form of communication and community action there is.
I think it’s fair to say that the chefs have found GBM particularly challenging this year. It’s taken them away from the familiar, from the tried and tested. They’ve had to go out and meet people in their communities, and then they’ve had to go back and create dishes matched to the idea of The People’s Banquet - dishes that break down barriers and create bonds, dishes to share, dishes that encourage people to get stuck in, that they might have to stretch for, or ask their neighbours to pass a helping.
The recipes have got to get people talking as well as smacking their lips. It wasn’t just a matter of scaling up the recipes that the chefs cook in their own kitchens. They’ve had to think differently. They’ve had to think big, generously and theatrically, as well as gastronomically. Their dishes have got to look fabulous as well hit the taste buds at full revs.
It isn’t that easy for Prue, Oliver and myself as judges. We have to sit in judgement on eight courses a day, cooked by some of the country’s finest chefs. That’s a lot of grub, no matter how you look at it, and we don’t get many really duff dishes. So the differences between individual dishes may be very subtle. Of course, taste is subjective. There are no absolutes when it comes to food. That’s why we have such ding-dong discussions. And why I am right and Oliver is wrong, usually. And Prue is wrong unless she agrees with me. (They say exactly the same, by the way.)
And now, I’m heading for the running machine if you don’t mind. I’ve got to do something about the 25,000 calories so far. No, no, no. I’m not looking for sympathy, really I’m not. Just a little understanding...
Matthew Fort is a judge on BBC Two’s Great British Menu.