Ex-student Chefs from University College Birmingham go Head-to-head for Great British Menu Glory 

Two top chefs who trained at University College Birmingham have gone head-to-head in the latest series of a BBC professional cooking contest.

Liam Dillon and Harvey Perttola were among four chefs doing battle in the Central region heats for series 17 of the Great British Menu, which began screening on BBC Two on Tuesday.

The show sees professional chefs from around the country showcase their culinary talents through regional heats to earn a place in the nationwide finals, all competing for this year’s prize of cooking a course at a banquet celebrating the 100th anniversary of the BBC’s first wireless programme.

Liam, who graduated with a Culinary Arts Management FdA from the University’s Birmingham College of Food 12 years ago, is the proud owner of The Boat Inn in Lichfield, which holds three AA Rosettes and is listed in the Michelin Guide.

This series marks a second appearance on the Great British Menu for Liam after being eliminated during the regional heats last year.

Fellow contestant Harvey, currently head chef of Restaurant Six at Nottingham’s famous Trent Bridge cricket ground, made his debut appearance in the competition in Tuesday’s episode.

At the age of just 14, he enrolled on University College Birmingham’s Young Chefs Academy, a short weekly course held on Saturdays which provides schoolchildren with an introduction to the world of cookery (see more details below).

Swiftly going on to work in top Birmingham restaurants, he subsequently became the youngest head chef in the city ten years later, as well as reaching the finals of the British Culinary Federation (BCF) Young Chef of the Year competition in 2018.

Kali Davidson, Head of the Birmingham College of Food, said: “We are really proud of the achievements of our alumni Liam and Harvey. It is great to see them excelling in the industry and having the confidence to appear on television showcasing the food they enjoy cooking.

“The Great British Menu allows them the platform to further advance in their careers, and it allows our learners at University College Birmingham to aspire to these heights.”

How the heats unfolded 

Last night’s opening episode of the series saw the duo preparing canapés and cooking a starter and fish course inspired by classic BBC programmes, before having their dishes judged by Birmingham’s Aktar Islam, owner of the Michelin-starred Opheem restaurant on Summer Row.

After last year’s series saw him eliminated during the heats, Liam revealed his hopes of going one better to reach this year’s finals.

“Last year I went for it and it didn’t quite come off,” he said. “But I can’t not keep going for it.”

Scoring six out of ten for his quail starter named ‘Don’t Tell Him, Pike’ – inspired by the sitcom Dad’s Army – Liam went on to impress judge Aktar with his ‘Blue Planet’ fish course, a brill dish inspired by David Attenborough’s documentaries about the human impact on the oceans.

“The link to the brief is very much of the moment,” said Aktar. “The brill was perfect, the salsify added a welcome texture and the texture that came from the chicken skin and the shallot crumb really elevated that dish.”

Receiving a score of eight out of ten was enough to send Liam through to the next episode on Wednesday, when the chefs are challenged to produce a main course and dessert.

Meanwhile Harvey prepared a sweetbread starter named ‘By Order Of The Peaky Blinders’, inspired by the historical Birmingham-based drama series, which scored six out of ten.

He then prepared a monkfish main course called ‘Monkfish Like Mobeen’ – named after local comedian Guz Khan’s series Man Like Mobeen – which included an onion bhaji based on his mother’s recipe.

Judge Aktar praised Harvey for his bhaji. “It was perfect,” he said. “I think your mother would be very proud of you.”

Unfortunately however, his score of seven out of ten was not enough to beat Liam and his other Central rivals, leading to his elimination from the competition.

“You need to leave with your head up high,” said Aktar. “Be proud of what you’ve done, because there has been some incredible cooking.”

Reflecting on his elimination, Harvey said: “It’s obviously a massive disappointment to not get through to cook all my dishes, but I gave it my all. To be here was an absolute honour and a massive achievement anyway.”

The Central heats of Great British Menu continue on Wednesday 2 February from 8pm on BBC Two. You can watch back last night’s opening episode on the BBC iPlayer here

More culinary competitors 

Liam and Harvey are not the only former University College Birmingham chefs to feature on the Great British Menu.

Stuart Collins, owner of Michelin Guide restaurant Docket No. 33 in Shropshire, trained at the Birmingham College of Food two decades ago. He finished ahead of Liam to win the Central region of the competition in last year’s series before making the last two in the starter category of the finals.

Meanwhile there have been other TV competition successes for our students and alumni – among them former Professional Cookery student Dan Lee, who last month returned to talk with current student chefs after being crowned the newest champion of the BBC’s MasterChef: The Professionals in December last year.

He was joined in the same series by current Culinary Arts Management BA (Hons) student Yasmine Selwood, who reached the quarter finals of the competition.

They follow fellow alumni Claire Hutchings, who won the MasterChef: The Professionals Rematch special in 2018, as well as a string of other contestants including Leo Kattou of Birmingham’s Michelin-starred Simpson’s Restaurant and Monty Stonehewer, head chef of the Michelin-starred Peel’s Restaurant in Solihull.

Young Chefs Academy

Our Birmingham College of Food is dedicated to inspiring the next generation of culinary stars, offering a range of opportunities from school age through to postgraduate study.

This includes the Young Chefs Academy, a seven-week programme for schoolchildren aged 14 to 16, which is sponsored by the Savoy Educational Trust and the British Culinary Federation and administered by University College Birmingham.

Delivered through a series of Saturday sessions, the programme teaches students how to prepare and cook a range of starters, main courses, sweets and puddings. In the final session, students prepare appetisers and canapés for invited guests.

Our next Young Chef’s Academy runs from 19 March to 21 May. Find out more here.

University College Birmingham is renowned for providing specialist vocational training for students looking to enter the culinary industry, with world-class facilities and expert tuition provided on a range of college, undergraduate and postgraduate courses as well as apprenticeships.

Discover our full range of courses within our Birmingham College of Food.