The chef and owner of experimental restaurant Edinburgh Food Studio on Dalkeith Road has lifted the lid on competing in the UK’s toughest cooking contest as it airs on BBC 2 tonight at 8pm.
As foodies across the country prepare to support Scotland in the heats of the 14th series of acclaimed cooking competition Great British Menu, Ben Reade has revealed what it’s really like to be pitted against the country’s most talented chefs.
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The show’s format sees three chefs from seven areas of the UK each compete to get a dish on a four course menu for a special banquet, this year celebrating the stars of the UK music scene. They first have to prepare each course for a “veteran” chef – with Ben last year facing Phil Howard, one of Britain’s most admired chefs.
The chefs are sworn to secrecy ahead of the broadcast but Ben said his experience last year, gave him the opportunity to re-think how he approached the competition.
“To go from never doing any competitions before to competing against the best in the country with a veteran chef that you respect so much and have done for so many years, in front of millions of people, is a totally different kettle of fish,” Ben said.
“I went in last year with certain criteria, focussing on colour and the story – I really took a lot of energy to interpret the brief. But I went out first so obviously that was a failed plan from the beginning. The first thing Phil said to me was ‘you may have a brief but this is a cooking competition’.”
And after taking a step back from “the pans” following the appointment of James Murray as head chef of the restaurant, to oversee the restaurant side of the business, Ben had more time to prepare this year. “Actually being on the show is incredibly hard work as is the preparation for it – last year I was running the kitchen so I was able to experiment with different parts of the dishes with guests.
“This year the whole build up to it was very different – I wasn’t working with the creative side of things which changed my thought process but I did have more time on my hands. The flip side being I was mostly doing my dish trials at home, in a dreadful kitchen.”
Asked why he returned to GBM, Ben admitted that he knew it was going to be “traumatic” but that there is no better way to showcase what he is doing in Edinburgh. “I knew I was going to be put through the processes but we’re a little place on the outskirts of town and we may be earning a reputation slowly but GBM really puts you on the map.”
Up against Lorna Miller from Restaurant Andrew Fairlie and Michelin-trained Gordon Jones, Ben has chosen to pay tribute to the Prodigy’s album Fat of the Land for starter, ‘The Halibut Peel Sessions’ a salute to his favourite DJ, John Peel, “Bass Notes and Beats”, a lamb main paying tribute to “old school” drum and bass music, and for dessert, his last chance to secure a place to cook for the judges on Friday, “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast” is in tribute to a Pink Floyd B-side.