NI’s Fab Four come together for Great British Menu glory

NI’s Fab Four come together for Great British Menu glory

Young chefs bringing passion and invention to cooking show stalwart

As cooking shows go The Great British Menu has lasted longer than most and is returning to our screens for a remarkable sixteenth series on March 24.

The show, which pits professional culinary wizards from across the UK against one another is taking innovation as its theme this year so you can expect even more technical dishes than usual as chefs vie to be chosen to make the final starter, main or dessert.

Those donning the whites in the kitchen this year span the spectrum of experience from Michelin stardom to stars of the future. But the Northern Ireland contingent has a relatively youthful look about it, and plenty of ambition to match.

So just who are our fab four this time round?

  • Paul Cunningham, Brunel’s, Newcastle, Northern Ireland

Newcastle man Paul, whose passion is local and foraged ingredients, is back for another shot at the competition.

The self-taught chef leads the team at Brunel’s, an award-winning restaurant in his home town, where he sources about eighty percent of his produce from a thirty-mile radius.

He champions strong, wild flavours underpinned by modern cookery techniques and his menu reflects his locality and passion for pioneers in his region including Belfast-born Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s refloating of the SS Great Britain in Dundrum Bay.

  • Gemma Austin, Alexander’s, Holywood

Twenty-eight-year-old Gemma, who is making her debut in the GBM kitchen, is Carryduff born and bred and credits her mother for love of food to her mother, who herself was a chef in a Belfast restaurant.

Aged just 21, Gemma started off at Slims Kitchen on the Lisburn while doing a Culinary Masters.

For four years she continued studying and working full-time at a variety of great establishments and rose through the ranks from commis chef to sous chef of a two AA Rosette kitchen.

Gemma worked at the Fitzwilliam hotel in Belfast where she rose to head pastry chef, before moving to The Old Inn, Crawfordsburn where she eventually became sous chef.

In 2019 she set up A Peculiar Tea,  a pop-up that does themed dinners, teas and events. She is also co-owner and executive chef of Alexander’s in Holywood where she has been for over a year.

  • Phelim O’Hagan, Browns Bonds Hill, Londonderry

Derry man Phelim started off washing pots at 14 and has rarely been out the kitchen since.

As a chef he has worked at the Michelin-starred House restaurant at the Cliff House Hotel in Waterford, and then honed his craft further at Restaurant Andrew Fairley in Gleneagles.

For the past six years, he has worked at Browns Bonds Hill in his home city as the head chef under chef patron and former GBM competitor Ian Orr.

His cooking style is “modern Irish using modern techniques with the best produce that Northern Ireland has to offer”.

  • Andy Scollick, the Boat House, Bangor

At just 27, Bangor man Andy is the baby of the Northern Ireland bunch on this year’s show.

He decided to follow in his father’s footsteps in becoming a chef and after a short stint at SERC studying Hospitality & Catering, started as a commis chef at The Salty Dog in Bangor, where he rose to the position of chef de partie.

When his head chef Tim Brunton moved to take over the Boat House, Andy joined him as his sous chef and in 2019 stepped up and took charge.

Andy is passionate about local produce and likes to create dishes that challenge people’s perceptions and expectations – using techniques such as dehydration and spherification to intensify flavours and change textures.