Interview with Marianne Lumb representing Central region 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 chef and restaurateur Marianne Lumb who is representing the central region.

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

I started out as a big foodie at home. My father was a butcher and my mother used to cook beautiful things. But it wasn’t until I was 21 studying for an architecture degree (which I really didn’t enjoy) that I decided to leave and start training as a chef. I came back home to Leicestershire (where I am now) and worked in some restaurants that my father used to deliver meat to. I worked at a very busy Nottingham restaurant called Sonny’s. (It was owned by Rebecca Mascarenhas who works with Phil Howard as his business partner) It was a cracking restaurant and I spent a really fun, but informative time there.

My main training was at Gravetye Manor in Sussex. A beautiful one Michelin starred restaurant, in a traditional English country house with a gorgeous walled vegetable garden. After 5 split shifts, on my days off, I would travel to London and do dinner parties. I was 21 then, that was 27 years ago. I can’t believe how much energy I had!

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

I just asked to come back on (the producer had always maintained that “the door was always open”) and when they said yes I was delighted. Obviously it had been quite a while since I was on previously (2017). I was in the midst of running my very busy little London restaurant (“Marianne” which won the Hardens award for the Top Gastronomic Experience 2017).  I thought it was about time to get back in. I believe a competition is good for you, to be out of your comfort zone is a valuable experience – but not easy, obviously!

When preparing for the theme, I initially locked myself away in a kitchen for 3 months. It was tremendous fun – delving back into nostalgic childhood memories. The Magic Roundabout and Brambly Hedge. A great brief – very different to the one I had last time (100 years of the NHS)  but that is the beauty of Great British Menu, so much creativity and opportunity to let your imagination run wild.

How did the show differ to the previous time you were on?

It was very very different. For a start, it is a different location for filming.  Food wise there is a lot more to do; – you have to produce canapes and pre desserts, which you didn’t have to do before. In the same time scale.  It’s tougher.  Also, you have to do a plant based starter – not easy at all.  The kitchen is even better!  It is like cooking at NASA. It’s awesome.  The team are brilliant, they just want you to cook your best and and give you as much support as you need to do so. All in all it was a joy going back.

Which was the hardest course to prepare for?

I found them all hard to prepare for, it’s not the sort of food I would normally cook. But I think my vegan starter was the hardest. I was trying to make a vegan version of a dish that’s very traditional to the area I come from.

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

I did embrace the props but I’m afraid there wasn’t any dressing up this year!  (Marianne dressed up as a Doctor in scrubs to present one of her courses in 2017!). Someone else did in my heat though. The thing is I always want my food to look very, very elegant. So I don’t over prop. I like it to fit in and look sophisticated. That said, my favourite props were for my fish course.

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

I’ve been lucky to have some very talented chef friends (Mark Best & Tim Allen)  I would say the most talented is Pierre Koffmann. He’s been so kind. He is so inspirational. He is a gentleman. He is a genius chef. Him and his wife Claire have been incredibly kind to me and I feel honoured to know them.

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

Well I would take full advantage of the fresh fish. We had an amazing private chef gig in the Caribbean over new year. The fish there was just out of this world. We had mahi-mahi, swordfish, fresh tuna. It was just another level. So I would have to say fresh tuna, I could happily live on that.

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

I hope I don’t sound too corny. But I think with the word “impossible”, if I knew that could also mean “I’m possible”, then that would have been very useful. The sky’s the limit.

Marianne will be appearing on Great British Menu from Tuesday 21st March 2023 representing the Central Region.  Look out for more in our series of interviews with the great women chefs on Great British Menu 2023.

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