Susan Calman on why she's the perfect new host for the revaped pro cooking contest...
When Great British Menu returns to our screens for its 15th series, BBC2’s popular cookery challenge show will have more chefs, more dishes and a brand new host in the shape of stand-up comedian and 2017 Strictly Come Dancing favourite Susan Calman.
As teams of professional chefs from across the UK battle it out in the regional heats, starting next week, Susan – who’s taking over from Jane McDonald on C5 – joins them in the high-pressured kitchen as they put their heart and soul into their cooking, firstly to impress a resident veteran chef.
They’ll all be competing to get their menu to the ‘Judges Chamber’ on Friday where they’ll have to prove to Andi Oliver, Matthew Fort and Oliver Peyton that their dishes are worthy of a place at the final banquet, which this year celebrates children’s literature.
We were invited to the show’s studios in Coventry where, during a break in filming, Susan, 45, reveals why fronting the Great British Menu is a dream come true…
How does it feel to be the host of Great British Menu?
“When the email came through saying they were looking for a new host and I said I’d watched all previous 14 series, I think they thought I was lying. But I’ve watched every series, scored every dish, disagreed with the judges from my sofa – and now I’m hosting it! I love all cooking shows but the cherry on top of this one is always the brief for the final banquet – and this year’s brief of children’s literature is wonderful.”
What do you love about this theme?
“Food is emotion to me and this is the one cooking show that really connects those two things. Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree was one of my favourite books. I just loved this idea of going up the tree and visiting the different lands. When one of the chefs says their dish is based on The Faraway Tree, I’m filled with excitement because I remember reading those books. And I see that same ‘spark’ in the chefs, who are now reading it to their kids.”
Can you tell us about some of the changes this year?
“First of all, there’s a ‘sub brief’ in each of the regions. So, for example, in the London heat, the chefs were given ‘authors from the capital’ and in Northern Ireland it was ‘magical lands and time travel’. There, we had two Narnia dishes because author C.S. Lewis was born in Belfast. This encourages the chefs to think about things so we don’t just end up with loads of Harry Potter dishes!”
And we know the chefs also have to prepare more dishes…
“It’s a six-course menu this time as an amuse-bouche and a pre-dessert course have been added. So, if there’s a tie in the scores, the veteran chef will use the amuse-bouche and the pre-dessert as a decider. Also, one chef now leaves after the fish course. So they may have a great main course – but they have to pull out all the stops if they want to get the chance to cook it.”
We imagine you’ve been tasting lots of lovely food doing this job?
“Oh, it’s awful… it’s the worst job in the world! For this banquet, the dishes have to be something special and I’ve eaten things here that I’ve never eaten before in my life. I’ve tasted several dishes on this show that have made me delighted to be alive!”
Do you enjoy cooking? And do you have a signature dish?
“One of my favourite things in the world to do is cook. My mother’s mantra was ‘I love you, so I feed you’. I’m away a lot, so when I go home my wife Lee [Cormack] and I cook for each other but we have very different styles. She’ll follow a recipe and take about 77 hours, whereas I’ll just put the ingredients in and see what happens. I’m good at making curries and Mexican food but my pastry is terrible. We love going to restaurants, too. Our favourite thing is to go out, eat and mark the dishes as if we’re judges on Great British Menu!”
Great British Menu starts on Wednesday March 18 a 8pm on BBC2.