Chris Fearon, head chef of Deanes at Queens Head,in Belfast, shares his experiences on the Great British Menu with Satellite Dishes. Here's what this charming fella ha to say.
How did you find the regional heat?
It was a daunting experience because Brian McCann was my old chef. I worked with him for about four or five years before I left take on my first head chef role and I went for the biggest rival in Belfast.
We fell out over it and didn't speak for a couple of years and the first time we saw each other was at the Great British Menu so it was a bit weird. It wasn't until the last day that I really started enjoying myself because of the awkwardness in the studio. Once I'd won the regional heat it was fine.
I didn't let the fact it was my first time there intimidate me because I went in as the underdog. One of the guys had worked with Marco Pierre White and the other with Paul Heathcote and I had none of that background. I wasn't expecting very much and my attitude was to do the best I could and enjoy myself. It worked for me.
It wasn't until the next round that I felt the pressure. Once I'd won the regional I woke up a bit and thought this is actually serious now.
How was it to cook with your seven rivals watching your every move in the final?
That's exactly what happened. I kind of crumbled in the nationals. I was working in front of people like Tom Kerridge whose cook books I have at home so it was a bit strange. But they were all lovely people and it was a different vibe to the regional heat, which was very negative. The nationals were more positive; there was a really good team atmosphere in the kitchen.
I really enjoyed myself but I still found it very hard. You got less time for cooking every course because there's so many chefs in the kitchen and that took its toll on my dishes and I kind of flopped a bit.
Your scores went from one extreme to the other, didn't they?
After the regionals I'd got lots of feedback from the judges on all the courses. They give you a breakdown and tell you what you should tweak and mine was all quite positive. I took that on board into the nationals and I didn't really change very much but I was completely ridiculed for it.
It takes so much of your time up and I work in a very, very busy brasserie. The preparation for it is crazy. There are so many emails and different bits and bobs so I didn't really have too much time to play about with it.
I was quite happy to keep it the same and concentrate all my energy on the starter and the dessert because I felt they were my two strongest dishes, so I was happy when the starter went through.
Were you confident in your dish?
I had a lot of faith in it because it was a unique idea and who the hell else was going to do something like that. To get the three judges, the three food snobs, eating chicken and coleslaw was quite a cheeky move, I thought.
It paid off in the end and it was a lot of fun. I'd thought long and hard about the presentation and I loved playing with the words for the logo "keep calm and carry on".
You have to put chicken and coleslaw in 'fancy dress', you can't just serve it on a plate.
That seemed to be where the four banquet chefs really succeeded. Did you think some of the others didn't quite get the brief?
Yeah, you had these guys with Michelin backgrounds that just didn't read the bloody brief. They came in doing poncy Michelin-starred dishes scaled up to serve three or four people. I just thought it was nonsense. The whole idea was to have a bit of fun and theatre; the wow factor and street party food that the common people can relate to.
'Memories of childhood' was a phrase that kept coming up in the brief. I don't know about Tom Aikens but he had black truffle and foie gras... what was he fed as a kid?! I just thought that was a complete joke. That's why a lot of my dishes weren't taken so seriously.
Even the names of some of them were stupid, like 'my fancy dress piggy' for example. I could have easily called it an assiette of pork broken down five ways and sous vide, compressed pig trotters and all that bullshit. But I didn't want to go down that line.
I wanted to say 'there it is, it's a bit of craic, a bit of fun. If it bombs it bombs, if it doesn't'.
And it didn't. Well, the starter didn't...
[LAUGHS] Just the starter, everything else bombed!
That's not what I meant!
I felt a wee bit let down when I came back and watched the programmes back with my missus. I was cringing because I know how poorly I do in all the courses bar the starter. If people at home think I'm only good for chicken and coleslaw I'm not going to go very far!
But my wife reassured me pointing out that I'd got to the final and saying all my ideas were pretty good. I suppose the ideas were pretty good but they just weren't executed on the day.
Are you serving the chicken and coleslaw?
Not yet - we've got a GBM night coming up. We can take around 120 people in our room so we're going to hold a similar banquet to the street party. I'm going to change some of the courses though because I don't think too many people are looking forward to eating the fish course, so I'll change it slightly! A bit more drama involved, and maybe I'll dress up as a salmon...
After that we're going to put the chicken and coleslaw on as a special on weekends. It's not something I'd want to do on a Monday lunch when we do 35 covers. All these dishes were designed for big banquety style things, not a la carte restaurants.