From Willy Wonka’s Three-Course Dinner Gum to Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, children’s literature is packed full of imaginative foods to inspire the talented professional chefs coming from all corners of the UK to compete in this year’s Great British Menu. The question is: which chefs will come up with the most creative menu to earn a place at the final banquet celebrating children’s literature?
It is 150 years since the death of Charles Dickens, author of Oliver Twist, the first book in English to feature a child in the titular role and as protagonist. Since then, British writers and illustrators have written a wide variety of novels and picture books aimed at children and young people, many of which devote pages to a love of food.
It’s not just up to the three judges to decide who gets through each week, as a guest will be joining to help select the best dishes from each region in the Friday regional final. Representing the breadth of children’s literature, guest judges include comedian and children’s author David Baddiel, teen novelists Malorie Blackman and Jacqueline Wilson, and award-winning writer of The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson.
As well as another exciting theme this series, the programme has an additional chef competing for each region. Of the four chefs competing each week, the lowest scoring chef will leave after the starters and fish course in the first episode of the weekly heats and will not get the chance to cook their whole menu for the veteran chef scoring the first stages of the contest. This makes the competition more intense than ever and any mistakes could lead to an early exit for even the best of chefs.
On day two of the competition, the three remaining chefs will battle it out over main course and desserts. The two highest scoring chefs cook for the judges in the final Friday episode with just one getting the chance to represent their country or region in the national finals.
There are also two extra mini courses: an amuse-bouche to tantalise the tastebuds before the starter arrives and a pre-dessert that acts as a palate cleanser and ushers in dessert. The six courses reflect a more contemporary tasting menu, with lighter fish and main courses.
Patrick Holland, BBC Two Controller says: “Great British Menu continues to grow and develop at the heart of the BBC Two schedule, showcasing the very best of the nation’s chef talent. With the new challenges, the series just got tougher than ever.”
Oliver Peyton says: “All good food has a story.”
Andi Oliver says: “I am so thrilled about the theme for this year’s Great British Menu. Books have always played a pivotal role in my life, so celebrating 150 years of children’s literature fills me with such joy! The kitchen is buzzing with creativity and we have a whole new family of exciting, inspired chefs to introduce you all to. This year is truly astonishing and moving, I can’t wait for everyone to experience it too.”
Matthew Fort says: “Food and children’s books – what a wonderful combination. Both are doorways to fabulous worlds. At their best, both celebrate the power of imagination. And I have the feeling that we’re going to get rather a lot of that.”