Great British Menu 2024: behind the scenes with chef Ben Palmer

Trencherman’s Guide chef Ben Palmer made it all the way to the banquet in the BBC’s Great British Menu 2024 with his golden beetroot starter Firefly. The head chef of The Sardine Factory in Looe reveals the pressures of being on the show, what the judges are really like, and his future plans

Biggest pressures of being on Great British Menu 2024?

The biggest pressures of the show are wanting yourself and your food to come across the very best they can. I was adamant that I was going to be myself and try to relax into the process as much as I could, not to think about the cameras and everyone else. Because I had put a lot of time, care and thought into my dishes, I was hopeful that if I took the time and executed them as I had practised, then they would speak for themselves. 

In terms of the schedule, it was very early starts. Filming Monday to Friday, finishing with the judges’ chamber on Friday, which was a really long day: lots of early starts and late nights, which was physically and mentally tough. Going back to the finals week was much the same, but the production team were great at keeping the coffee topped up which was a huge help.

What are the judges like when the cameras are turned off?

The veteran judges are awesome. Tom Aikens, who was our veteran judge for the regionals was a great guy. I have always been in awe of him as he’s such a formidable chef, but he’s friendly and down to earth. Tom Kerridge made sure that he came into the kitchen to say hello and talk through the day; he was always checking in on how we were feeling – he’s a great guy. Andi Oliver is amazing – I love her! She’s a style icon and we had some great laughs while filming. She really knows her stuff when it comes to food. I admire the amount of work that she does. 

The South West chefs seemed super supportive of each other. Was that really the case?

I’m so happy with the way the South West came across. It really showed everyone what a great region we are. Don’t get me wrong, it is a competition, but we always had each other’s backs and checked in on each other, which I think is really important. 

firefly dish featured on great british menu 2024
Ben’s banquet starter Firefly for Great British Menu 2024. Image: BBC

High points?

The greatest high point was without a doubt winning the starter to the banquet in Paris. All I wanted to do was to cook my whole menu in the regionals week: to showcase my food. To have won the region and go into the finals week was incredible, but to win on the first day of finals week was a dream come true. For it to be my first time on the show and go all the way, I am still coming to terms with it now – I have to pinch myself. Coming just one point behind with my main course was also pretty epic, although it would have been a sensational amount of work if I had to take two courses to the banquet!

Describe the experience of cooking at the banquet.

The banquet was incredible. To be cooking in the ambassador’s residence was such an experience and one I will never forget. The heritage in that kitchen was amazing; there is still memorabilia from when the Roux brothers cooked there years ago and it was an honour to be cooking in such an iconic environment. The banquet service itself was a push – the farmers’ strikes in Paris at the time really put us up against it.

How did you create Firefly?

My thought process was obviously long – researching Cornwall and its links to the Olympics – starting from when the flame arrived in Culdrose in 2012 before the relay. I really wanted to make sure that I incorporated this into one of my dishes. As this was the start of the Olympics in the UK, I knew that this would be the perfect way to start my menu off. I wanted to replicate the flame and its arrival in Cornwall, so naturally was drawn to the golden beetroot for its colour. I delved into the world of golden beetroot and Firefly was created. 

Any big plans now that the show has aired?

I have lots of work in the pipeline for this year. The restaurant is exceptionally busy at the moment which is really humbling. We’re currently running my Great British Menu 2024 menu until the end of May. The response has been amazing; I love being able to offer the dishes that are close to my heart for people to try. I have lots of guest appearances coming up throughout the year too, so watch this space! I really want to thank everyone for their support – it has been incredible.

Ben Palmer of The Sardine Factory in Looe competed in the South West heat of Great British Menu 2024 with fellow Trencherman’s Guide chefs Elly Wentworth of The Angel – Taste of Devon in Dartmouth, Mike Naidoo of Catch at the Old Fish Market in Weymouth and Andi Tuck of Harbour House in Flushing.

Events

june, 2024

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