Interview with Nat Tallents representing South West on Great British Menu 2021 – Women In the Food Industry
Great British Menu (GBM) returned to our screens in March 2021 for series 16. 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. Continuing our series, our co-founder, Mecca Ibrahim, interviewed Nat Tallents. Formerly Executive Chef of The Box Kitchen & Bar which is a museum and arts centre in the heart of Plymouth, Nat is now a consultant chef with a private catering company – Food by Nat Tallents. Nat is representing the South West.
How did you start working in the hospitality world and where did you train to be a chef?
I started when I was 14 as a waitress and have been in hospitality ever since. I started cooking when I was 25 and worked for a chef in the North, who trained me, and within two years I was head chef. I didn’t originally know what I wanted to do but as soon as I started cooking it all fell into place.
How has lockdown been going for you?
I had nine out of 12 months out during lockdown and it’s been the first time since I was 14 that I had that long off. It really gave me a new perspective on life as to what’s important and how I feel about things. It was the first time I’d cooked for myself for a long time. It was nice to just stop for a minute and open up a whole can of worms to have thinking time. It’s been hard but good to have that time.
This is your first time on Great British Menu, how did you get onto the show and how did you prepare for the British innovation theme at GBM?
As with many people this year, I was approached by GBM through Instagram. With everything that was going on in the world, that’s how they got in touch.
Preparing wise, I was actually opening up our restaurant by the time I got the brief, so that was quite intense. So I had a few weeks of restaurant opening, preparing menus, working on the brief and bursting with excitement as I wasn’t able to tell anyone about the show. At first with science & innovation, I thought what am I going to do about this. But once I got into the research, I was full of ideas and walking around with a pen and paper all the time.
How was it working under the cameras?
I went into it thinking, well I did MasterChef The Professionals in 2012, it’s going to be fine, I know what’s happening. But I didn’t have a clue how different it would be. There were a lot more cameras, it was a lot more intense and with Covid there were less people. I wasn’t quite prepared for having a camera watching me constantly. You’re having to commentate on what you are doing and I found that quite nerve wracking. But I have to say the crew were incredible. When you’re having a moment, they’re saying “come on you can do it”.
Which was the hardest course to prepare for?
It probably would have been the fish course. I can’t eat a lot of fish – I have an intolerance to lots of fish. So it was difficult to make something amazing, but not too safe. I used squid ink in my dish which I couldn’t actually taste as it as a bit of a gamble. There is a lot of pressure to do well with fish being in Cornwall.
GBM is very much known for its props, did you embrace the props on the show?
That was the fun bit of it, as in your restaurant you don’t always have the chance to play with dishes in the same way. So that was one of the things I was most looking forward to making props and having a play with how you present food as well. It was really fun.
Which chef that you have worked with has given you the most inspiration?
It’s probably my mentor Tim Bilton. He was on Great British Menu about 10-11 years ago. I was working for him at the time. He taught me a lot and taught me to cook basically. I have a lot of respect for him.
If you were marooned on a desert island, what was the one type of dish you could happily live on?
I am going to say scallops as it’s my favourite thing. Scallops or mussels I could quite happily eat them every day.
Finally, what do you know now that you wish you could have told your younger self when you were starting out?
To take a moment and stop sometimes. To take a breath and take things in. I was always quite fast and rushed through a lot and made spontaneous decisions. But sometimes it good to slow down a bit. It’s good to have passion and be driven, but sometimes you need to slow down and look after yourself.
Nat will be appearing on Great British Menu from Wednesday 12th May 2021 representing the South West. Look out for more in our series of interviews with the great women chefs on Great British Menu 2021 soon.