The Great British Menu is back and celebrating 140 years of Wimbledon. To mark the occasion, we are speaking to chef Ally McGrath, from Osso Restaurant in Peebles. Ally will be returning to our screens as the only Scottish chef actually cooking in Scotland.
The Scottish heats will be Monday 29th May – Friday 2nd June on BBC2 at 7.30pm.
OH! Taste speaks to Great British Menu’s Ally McGrath
How long have you been cooking professionally?
I started as a kitchen porter when I was 13, then got a part-time job as a commis at 14, and started full-time the following summer at 15. Quite a long time ago really!
Where did you train to cook?
I’ve had a couple of major influences. When I first went to Ireland to work, I met Mike Benjamin. He was from an exceptional background and he taught me a lot. Then, in London, I worked for Richard Corrigan for a long time. That taught me a great deal.
But, to be honest, I am still learning and there’s always something new to learn and discover. I think that if you were to look at the food we were doing at my restaurant (Osso, in Peebles) 5 years ago compared to now it would be quite different.
How would you describe your style of cooking?
Modern, tasty, I’m never too sure how best to answer that question, to be honest!
Do you have a favourite ingredient?
It varies throughout the year. At the moment, it’s always peas, asparagus, beetroot, and I love celeriac. I’m messing about with hay and wheatgrass at the moment. This could be quite a long list, as I like most things! I don’t like smoked salmon…that might be easier way of doing it!
Do you find it a challenge to constantly innovate?
Very much so, and we have a lot going on at the moment. We have just taken over a new venture and that is currently eating into the time that I would spend working on dishes for Osso. We also do a lot of market stalls with our sausage rolls, and sometimes when it’s quiet first thing, I can be found be scribbling down ideas and combinations…there are too many bits of paper and random emails, which doesn’t help any!
What made you want to apply for GBM a second time?
They actually asked if I’d come back, which was a great honour. I still couldn’t get over the fact that I’d done it before. I felt I could have done better last year. I was really close and I’d been really busy in the run up to it and hadn’t practiced enough, so I made some silly mistakes that cost me. This year, I’ve given it a lot more; more time and more tweaking. It’s been exceptionally tough. Unfinished business, shall we say!
Could you tell us a bit about the experience?
It’s great fun and a totally new experience, but it is so tough. The guys you are up against are the best in the country, and the judges are the people you’ve looked up to for most of your career. All of a sudden there you are, with the judges eating your food, and you’re just going crazy inside hoping that everything is right and everything is on the plate. It takes an awful lot out of you. I was exceptionally drained at the end of it.
What type of food do you most enjoy eating on your night off?
Someone else’s! No, if I am cooking, it’s as simple as it can be. I love one pot cooking at home. It certainly isn’t anything like what we do at Osso.
Is there another chef that you most admire?
There are a lot, but I think one of my friends, Craig Grozier is one of the most talented chefs around. He doesn’t have a restaurant, but he does a lot of private work and pop-ups. He is just amazing with his flavours and ideas.
What advice would you give home cooks who are inspired by your style of cookery and GBM?
If you love food, then give it a go! We always say that you can’t teach enthusiasm. It’s not for everyone, restaurant hours can be very long, but I love it. I have never wanted to do anything else.
The brief is to create exceptional dishes fit to serve at this year’s banquet held at the All England Tennis Club. Their creations must celebrate ‘A Taste of Summer’ reflecting the tastes, smells and colours of this time of year and paying tribute to the history and prestige of the Wimbledon Championships. Guest judges will include tennis royalty, icons such as Sue Barker, Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski and Judy Murray. Holding eight Michelin stars between them the Veteran Judges include Daniel Clifford, Angela Hartnett, Nathan Outlaw, Tom Aitkens and Michael O’Hare.
We wish Ally all the best in the series!