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Exclusive interview with Great British Menu star James Durrant

PUBLISHED: 16:39 14 April 2014 | UPDATED: 11:05 23 April 2014

The Plough Inn - Head Chef and owner James

The Plough Inn - Head Chef and owner James

Archant

You voted for him first at last year’s Food & Drink Awards and now top chef and owner of The Plough Inn in Longparish is set to grace our screens on tonight’s Great British Menu’s North West week. We caught up with him last week to find out some behind the scenes gossip

How much can you tell us about The Great British Menu?

Well I can tell you that I’ve taken part. I’m representing the North West, which is where I am originally from and it’s in celebration of the D-Day Landings anniversary. I will be doing my best to impress the judges so that I can go on to cook a four-course banquet which will be held at St Paul’s cathedral in June.

Running a restaurant is face paced anyway, how did you find it cooking in a competition environment.

The pressure is completely different. I’m used to working in high-pressured kitchens in my career, but then to have cameras and a microphone on and people constantly on your case is something new for me. Being able to cook the food you want to in the time limit is difficult too. You have an hour, but we worked out that by the time you’ve been pulled away for interviews or for the times you’re not allowed to turn your blender on because someone else is being interviewed – it’s probably only about 45 minutes.

When you’re under that kind of pressure, did you find yourself making silly mistakes?

I completely overcooked the beans on my main course but I didn’t react so I’m hoping it wasn’t picked up. But I haven’t seen the evidence yet, I’ll know tomorrow if I was found out or not.

Do you know yet what the judge’s comments were?

No. I know what points I got and how I did for each course; some courses weren’t as good as others so it’s not going to be pleasant. We’re showing it in The Plough all this week and serving up the courses. So the idea is we do the starter Monday, Tuesday’s fish course, Wednesday’s main course and Thursday is the dessert and then we will serve all four courses on Friday – it’s just a bit of fun really. I’m not looking forward to finding out what the judges have to say.

So how did the opportunity arise for you to be on The Great British Menu?

I’ve been pretty fortunate and have been asked for the past three years to do the show. The first year I was still looking for a pub and last year we’d just opened The Plough, so when they phoned me again for this year I said yes. It is a massive honour to do the brief for this year. The D-Day anniversary is quite personal to me. My wife’s Grandad was one of the first on Sword beach and I got a lot of inspiration from my wife’s Nan who is still alive. My Great-Uncle was killed on D-Day and so the brief this year touches everybody – it is a big honour to compete and try and win it.

Did you go back to the WW1 era for the dishes that you chose?

The dishes on the menu had to tell a story on a plate, they had to be of that era. However, I approached it from the perspective that they didn’t have a lot in that era. And because of what happened, because of D-Day and because of the bravery of the soldiers we now have the freedom to do what we want. I took the dishes from that era and brought them in to this century; which hopefully you’ll see over the course of this week.

And what about the presentation, did you find yourself hunting through vintage fairs and markets?

Yeah there was lots of stuff like that. My starter tonight comes in a ration box and I found an old anonymous war poem which I stuck to the inside of the lid. You can’t go out the judges and explain each dish so the presentation is really important.

Now you’re on TV are you ready for the title of celebrity chef?

For me I’m just a chef and I cook. Without my restaurant, without my pub I’ve not really got a lot so I don’t think I’d ever change to become a celebrity chef as such, it’s just not something that I want to do. I know that there is going to be 2 ½ million viewers watching The Great British Menu and that can only mean good things for The Plough.

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