Let the GastrOlympics begin
It's back again. The new series of Great British Menu is faster, bigger, higher, better, more brilliant than ever before.
The contestants' brief has been to take their lead from our Olympic athletes, and to push the bounds of gastronomy to the limits and beyond. This may seem stretching the Olympic ideal a bit, to take in cooking, but if you think about it, cooking is all about performance, about beating your personal best, driving up standards.
And that applies to us at home just as much as it does to the Great British Menu chefs, not to mention Britain’s Olympic heroes. Go on, be inspired, try a new recipe that you’ve never tried before, experiment with a new ingredient, get out of your culinary comfort zone, push through the kitchen pain barrier. Forget the bit about the pain barrier, but you know what I mean.
Stand back. He's got an espuma gun.
It takes serious training to get to the top of the restaurant world. You can’t succeed at the highest level in the modern kitchen without being fiercely ambitious and rigorously disciplined. The only limits are those posed by the chefs’ own imaginations, creativity and technical skill. This year the chefs have been encouraged to bring the full battery of modern technical gadgetry to bear on their dishes, serious fancy gear - spherification, liquid gels, hot gels, thermomixes, liquid nitrogen, PacoJet, water baths, centrifuges, desiccators – as well as source some extraordinary ingredients - to produce their culinary marvels.
It’s a miracle that Prue, Oliver and myself didn’t have to don those protective white suits you see scientists wearing on TV. Still, some of the dishes have opened our eyes, challenged our taste buds and set our brains and tongues buzzing. The chefs all search out outstanding ingredients from the regions they represent, and use the technology to extract more accurate, more intense flavours from them, producing a greater range of textures and creating more dazzling gastronomic effects.
In the end, it isn’t down to the kit or how deft you are at creating little clusters of what look like brilliantly coloured fish eggs with your spherification kit. It doesn’t matter whether the jelly you make is hot or cold or somewhere in between, or if you can use umami like a Japanese master. It how you use them that counts. It’s what the food tastes like, how the dish works, that matters. Taste decides whether it’s up there on the winners’ podium or relegated to the also-rans. There’s no point in the wow factor, if there isn’t the yum factor. It all comes down to a chef’s personal vision, their originality, and their personality. And that’s where things get really interesting.
It may seem a little old fashioned, but after all the technical wizardry, it’s rather reassuring to see the flames leaping up from the gas burners on the hob as the chefs actually get down to the business of cooking. So traditional. Much like the Olympic flame itself.
Although… I did get to play with a thermomix for the first time the other day. It made mushing up some garlic and anchovies child’s play. And that was just the beginning. I’m going to have a bash at an almond granita next. When I can afford to buy one, of course.
What dish are you in training for? Have you set your sights on any dishes to beat your personal best?