I can finally write my post now. I was a semi finalist on this years Britain’s Best Dish. The process started at the end of last year when a girl that I used to work with told me that she had been a contestant a couple of years ago. She had won £500 by getting through to the regional finals and recommended that I auditioned – so I did.
I didn’t really take it seriously at first – I had never seen the programme before but had heard through the grapevine that it was a ‘poor mans Masterchef‘. Hmmm – nevertheless, I went for it because I love cooking and I wanted a bit of a challenge.
I made it through the producer auditions to be a contestant on the show and I represented the Midlands because of my Nottingham roots. I won the regional heat and the regional final (hello £500) to get to Hackney Catering college where I went head to head with the other 6 regional finalists in the dessert category. Much to my surprise I came in the top 2 that day and got through to the semi-finals, which meant cooking in the kitchen at The Savoy Hotel.
15 year old Conor McLean beat me to go through to the final and eventually win the whole show. He didn’t just win the £10,000 prize and his dish on the menu at The Savoy Hotel – Executive Chef Bernard Mayer was so impressed that he offered Conor a training apprenticeship at Westminster college.
My dish changed throughout the series. In the first heat I made an almond panna cotta with poached peach and grape sorbet but, after the comments that the elements of the dish didn’t marry well together, I changed it to almond panna cotta with a spiced granola topping, spiced peach coulis and grappa soaked grapes (thanks to Edd Kimber for the grape inspiration!)
I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the show – it was a bit weird watching myself back on the TV but I couldn’t be happier that I got to cook in the Savoy Hotel kitchen and that executive chef Bernard Mayer liked my dish and said that there were ‘no negatives’.
Almond panna cotta with spiced granola topping, spiced peach coulis and grappa soaked grapes recipe
Ingredients Serves 2
Almond panna cotta
½ a vanilla pod, split and deseeded
125ml full fat milk
125ml double cream
2 gelatine leaves
25g golden caster sugar
A few drops of almond extract
Grappa soaked grapes
200g red concord grapes
15ml lemon juice
15g golden caster sugar
300g golden caster sugar
1 star anise
2 tsp runny honey
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla pod
Juice of 1 lemon
20g unsalted butter
30g whole rolled oats
20g ground cinnamon
20g golden caster sugar
20g sliced almonds
Almond panna cotta
1. Split the vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds.
2. Add the vanilla seeds and split pod to a pan with the milk and cream. Bring to the boil and then remove from the heat.
3. Take out the split pod and add the gelatine leaves and sugar. Return to a low heat and stir until the leaves and sugar have fully dissolved.
4. Add the almond extract and stir through.
5. Pour the mixture into small pudding basins and chill in the fridge until set (this takes approximately 1½ hours).
Grappa soaked grapes
1. Peel the grapes and chop in half.
2. Gently heat the grappa, lemon juice and sugar in a pan until all the sugar has dissolved.
3. Place the grapes and grappa sauce into a small bowl and leave to soak in the fridge.
1. Fill a large bowl with ice-cold water.
2. Fill a separate bowl with boiling water and blanch the peaches for 30 seconds.
3. Plunge into the bowl of cold water with a slotted spoon and then peel off the skins.
4. Slice the peaches in half, leaving the stones in and place in a large pan with the sugar, star anise, runny honey, cinnamon, vanilla and lemon juice.
5. Cover with 800ml of water and gently bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes or until the peaches are soft.
6. Remove the stones then pour the peaches into a blender. Retain some of the syrup. Blend the peaches until smooth, adding more syrup if necessary.
7. Transfer into a squeezy bottle and leave to cool in the fridge.
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2. Melt the butter in a pan.
3. Add the oats, cinnamon, sugar and sliced almonds to a baking tray and mix in the melted butter.
4. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Dip the base of the panna cotta pudding basin into a bowl of boiling water (this will help to free the pudding) and turn out onto the plate. Carefully layer the crunchy granola on top. Squeeze three circles of peach coulis around the plate, adding a grappa soaked grape in the centre of each circle.