Although I’ve mentioned it in passing I haven’t actually written about my experiences on this years Britain’s Best Dish. Now that I’m able to, I though I’d just let you know how it all came about.
I’d never watched the show before (I don’t watch TV at all really) so didn’t know much about it. I started doing a bit of research when in November, completely out of the blue, I received an email from Matt Tiller, an ITV researcher, asking if I had considered submitting a recipe for my dish for the new series.
I spent about a week thinking about it and discussing it with family and eventualy decided that the worst that could happen would be that they weren’t interested in me. So after some thought about what would be the perfect British dish, I sent them two recipes that I’d created myself for supper club, and that I knew had gone down well; a main course of Welsh Black beef and wild mushroom pudding with mashed potato and leeks and stir fried spring greens and my second choice recipe, the ‘Tipsy Laird’ trifle (click here for the recipe).
A week or two later I received another email inviting me to audition. I made both dishes, which I then had to try to get to Manchester in one piece. (I should have been in the Cardiff auditions but Manchester was closer). The main course looked slightly worse for wear but the trifle did very well and it was that dish that appeared to catch the eye of the producers. The day was great fun, slightly frantic and it was lovely to meet other enthusiastic cooks, a couple of whom I saw on the show later on.
I returned home to await their decision. They said they would tell us by the end of the week and when I didn’t hear anything I presumed I hadn’t been picked. On Monday morning I received the call to say I was on. I was extremely excited, didn’t know what to expect, but couldn’t wait!
Filming began on the 4th March, so off I trekked to London, expenses paid, on what turned out to be the beginning of a mini-adventure. Cooking in front of so many cameras was so nerve-wracking! My hands consistently shook, I couldn’t separate my eggs, and we had to listen to the judges discussing us!! It was a 12 hour day and by the time the results were due to be announced I was so exhausted I felt quite faint. I was over the moon when they chose me and getting the vote from Michelin starred chefs and critics meant everything to me!
A week and a half later I was back off to film the final. This time I was less nervous about the cameras and more nervous about living up to my last effort. I was more relaxed, a bit blase and then screwed up my custard in my panic…it didn’t set, I hadn’t cooked it out for long enough. I knew I’d screwed it up and thought I’d blown it. I didn’t think there was any chance I’d get chosen. When the (rather tasty himself) Ed Baines, John Burton Race and Jilly Goolden gave me the unanimous vote again (as well as a very welcome £500) I was so keyed up I just cried! Idiot.
The national finals at Hackney Catering College brought the seven winners from all the regions together. There was more waiting round. I was tired, unwell and I’d lost my voice. Not a good start. I’d been in bed with flu for three days, only recovering sufficiently to have a small birthday celebration on Saturday, before heading off to London on the Sunday. I ate Vocalzone throat sweets all morning and they only brought my voice back enough for me to croak.
I found the experience tense and frustrating. I couldn’t talk without my throat and larynx hurting, I had John and Ed breathing down my neck the whole time watching me make my custard…which was FAR worse than the cameras and I had no sense of smell or taste. I didn’t taste my fruit, which was obviously a lot tarter than the previous two batches and even though Ed had assured me that there was nothing wrong with my custard, it was obviously not good enough for John!
My recipe barely changed throughout the programme….I left out the orange zest on the judges advice Ed asked me “what’s the zest for?” “Err, to make it look pretty” I replied. “Fuck pretty” he said “if it’s not there for a reason, get rid of it” so I did. I replaced it with some roughly chopped candied peel. I also added another egg yolk to the custard and cut down the milk from 500ml to 400ml. I think with the benefit of hindsight I would also add a teaspoon of cornflour as well, just to increase the thickness and aid setting.
From the beginning I wondered how far I would get with a humble trifle. There isn’t much you can do to improve its appearance and all of its pleasures are hidden beneath that top layer of cream. When Sarah Kemp and Conor McClean went through I was disappointed, but not at all surprised. Their dishes looked fantastic and of course Conor went on to win it. I had a feeling my journey was coming to an end and I was ready for it to do so. I’m proud of how well I did and of winning for Wales. When I sat and watched the final, not knowing who had won the whole thing I cried buckets again…Conor is a very talented lad at the beginning of his career and I’m glad he got the title.
Would I do it again? Well, you never know….