Feature: Osso's Ally McGrath returns to Great British Menu

CHEF ALLY MCGRATH returns to the BBC’s Great British Menu next where he hopes to improve on last year’s performance that saw him cook for the judges.  On that occasion, Ally ‘s progress was halted by fellow Scot Michael Bremner, whom he will face again in this year’s heats. The Peebles-based chef will be hoping to use that experience to improve his fortunes in the 2017 competition.

Ally opened his restaurant, Osso, in 2007 and it is based in the picturesque town of Peebles in the Scottish borders.   As with last year, Ally will be the only chef from the Scottish heats actually cooking in Scotland with Bremner behind the stove at his Brighton-based eatery, 64 degrees, and debutant Angela Malik running a catering company in London. This year’s brief is centred around summer cooking, where victors will serve their dishes at the Wimbledon Championships – some feather in any chef’s cap (or hat!).

With its relaxed atmosphere and commitment to sourcing local produce, Osso is a firm favourite with the locals in Peebles. The family-run restaurant holds a coveted Bib Gourmand – the only restaurant to do so in the borders.  Ally’s success in the area has led to him recently taking over as Executive Chef at Pebbles Golf Club.  With being so busy, I wondered how the chef found time to practise for this year’s competition:

“I am very lucky that I have such a good team and I can sneak away and try to get an extra hour or so concentrating on the GBM menu rather than the restaurant one. It just takes over everything. You end up thinking about it constantly: is it up to scratch? Does it fit the brief? Can you do it in the time? And then all, of a sudden you go 'Ah! And what about this?!' It's crazy.”

The Scot, who trained under the likes of banquet veteran Richard Corrigan, narrowly lost out on finals week at GBM 2016.  I wondered what he learned from that and if the experience would boost his confidence this time around.

“I think you learn that you've really got to respect the competition and that you need to give it your all.  We had a lot on last year in the run up to filming and I made a couple of mistakes that I shouldn't have; I basically didn't have the time to practise as much as I should have.

“This year I have practised lots more. There has been a lot of fine tuning and tweaking, so I know exactly how I want it. It did boost my confidence a little. You know what's expected and the standard that is required, but I felt the pressure a lot more this year. I really want to go further this year!”

With food tourism such a huge industry these days, a show like Great British Menu can really propel a restaurant into the spotlight, also bringing financial gains to the local area.  Ally told me about the impact the show had on both him personally and the restaurant:

“It has had a huge effect on me and the business. It puts you on a national level and I wasn't really expecting that. We discovered that people were booking for a couple of months in advance, rather than a couple of weekends – it was great. As for the media, it's quite hard to keep up with things after the show airs; last year I basically dealt with Twitter after the show until midnight, then turned it off. It's just crazy!”

 The Scottish heats begin next week (Monday, 29 May) where Ally will compete against Angela and Michael to represent Scotland at Wimbledon.  Unfortunately, Ally wouldn’t give much away about his menu beforehand, telling me to watch out for his dessert:
“I love it! I think it’s amazing!” Be sure to tune in and find out how he does.

You can wish Ally all the best and Tweet him @OssoAlly.