Interview with Gemma Austin representing Northern Ireland on Great British Menu 2023 – Women In the Food Industry

Great British Menu (GBM) returned to our screens in January 2023 for series 18. The BBC Two show puts the nation’s most talented chefs to the test. At Women in the Food Industry we are interviewing the strong female line-up of chefs from across Britain competing to serve their dish at the final banquet. To continue our series, our co-founder, Mecca Ibrahim, interviewed Gemma Austin chef patron of A Peculiar Tea, in Belfast.

How did you start working in the food world and where did you train to be a chef?

I originally trained as a nurse. After a back problem I had to leave that career and fell into cooking. I started working in a place in Belfast called Slim’s Kitchen. Did a wee bit of training there. I went back to uni and did a culinary arts degree. But in terms of actual training it was through books and experimentation that through any prestigious restaurants.

This is your third time on Great British Menu, how were you approached and how did you prepare for the animation theme?

The producer phoned and asked whether I would be interested in doing it again. I sort of hummed and haaed about it because obviously being on a third year in a row is a lot of pressure.  But I always promised myself three times. But this is definitely the end.

My restaurant does themed menus, so we had already done the best of Roald Dahl menu and things like that as a theme. My style of cooking is trying to make our dishes as animated as possible so that helped. I’m a big kid at heart. So I was able to use my imagination massively. I couldn’t have been more thrilled with the theme.

How did the show differ to the previous two times you were on?

It was definitely my favourite theme to date so was great to prepare for. Also as I knew it was my last year it was certainly all or nothing. I wanted to really enjoy it and I really did. We had a great time.

Which was the hardest course to prepare for?

I always find the main course the hardest to prepare for as I think it’s what the judges put the highest expectations on. My background is pastry, so I would struggle more with the savoury side than with the dessert.

GBM is very much known for its props, did you embrace the props on the show?

I always do. I love telling a story with food. The fact that it was an animation theme meant we could really go all out on the props which was fab.

Which chef that you have worked with has given you the most inspiration?

I haven’t really worked with any well known or prestigious chefs. As opposed to working with, most of my inspiration comes from Clare Smyth. I am a huge fan of what she has achieved in the industry. I’ve always held  her on a pedestal and strive to be where she and other female chefs have reached.

Gemma Austin and her team at A Peculiar Tea

If you were marooned on a desert island, what was the one type of dish you could happily live on?

I always said potatoes and gravy in the past. When you grow up in Northern Ireland that’s the pinnacle of eating. I think I went with mash before but let’s go with bread this time as it’s so versatile.

Finally, what do you know now that you wish you could have told your younger self when you were starting out?

The main thing would be to not listen to the haters. Especially being on Great British Menu you subject yourself to listening to people who aren’t that nice and don’t have nice things to say. The main thing is not to listen to them. You need to just push forward and do what you are good at doing. The industry is still consider a boy’s game. We are the stage now when things are starting to change a lot and it’s nice to see that females  are being respected and represented in the same way male chefs are.

Gemma will be appearing on Great British Menu from Tuesday 14th March 2023 representing Northern Ireland.  Look out for more in our series of interviews with the great women chefs on Great British Menu 2023.

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