The making of a culinary genius

    A new ITV daytime cooking show called Culinary Genius came to its grand finale last week and the winner of the first series was Bruce McMichael, Manager of Tunbridge Wells Farmers’ market and Times food contributor. Here he explains to Eileen Leahy how he managed to stand the kitchen’s heat in order to be crowned champion of a very hotly contested cookery competition

    CASH COW Bruce McMichael wins

    CELEBRITY TV chef Gordon Ramsay’s hit new ITV cookery talent show has just crowned its inaugural winner and he may just be familiar to you if you visit your local Farmers’ Market or regularly read the Times’ Food and Drink pages, to which he is a contributor.
    Last Friday it was announced that Tunbridge Wells Farmers’ Market manager Bruce McMichael had won the Culinary Genius competition and he is currently basking in gourmet glory after a tense cook-off between three finalists. He was in good – and familiar – company as the town’s own celebrity chef Rosemary Shrager happened to judge five episodes of the popular series.
    Spread over a month, the competition featured a different celebrity chef each week. These included Gordon Ramsay, Rosemary Shrager, Phil Vickery, and for the final week, Michelin-starred Jean-Christophe Novelli who helped decide that Bruce was the show’s rightful winner.
    Described by an ITV insider as a ‘high-drama cooking competition’ which sees nine amateur cooks do battle in a ‘wrestling-ring style studio, competing against each other in tough tasks designed to push them to their limits’ it certainly provided tonnes of tension but this didn’t seem to phase Bruce.
    “It was a fantastic experience,” he says. “I love cooking at home for family and friends and was thrilled to reach the final and hear Jean-Christophe describe my winning dish of Turbot en Papillote as ‘delicious’. It was great to learn some chopping and filleting skills from a Michelin-starred chef and then go on to use them in order to win the competition.”
    Each hour long show starts with nine amateur home cooks, and involves two knock-out rounds in which three contestants are eliminated, leaving three for the final cook-off. Presented by TV favourite Fern Britton who came to fame through the popular BBC2 series Ready Steady Cook back in the 1990s, contestants are tested on knife and chopping skills and ultimately on their culinary creativity.
    Walking into the studio for the first time which Bruce says was described by the production team as a ‘cauldron’ of noise, cameras, technicians, lights and a cheering audience, was he admits a bit of a ‘daunting experience’.
    “Nine contestants enter the studio to stand in front of a cooking station with cooker, sink, a range of knives and kitchen tools and a huge, silvery coloured cloche with lights flashing dramatically as the studio lights dim at the start of the knockout round,” explains Bruce.

    ‘I love cooking at home for family and friends and was thrilled to reach the final
    and hear Jean-Christophe describe my winning dish as delicious’

    “Before the first and second round, Jean-Christophe gathered us around and gave us a masterclass in chopping and slicing chip-sized pieces of sweet potato, and then for the six of us who had made it through the first round, he showed us how to fillet a turbot, which is one of the more expensive fish you’ll find on a fishmongers slab.”
    Three contestants are then eliminated after the first and second rounds, before the three finalists get two minutes to choose ingredients from the studio’s larder and fridge, which are packed full of fresh herbs, potatoes and pasta, fruit and veg, oils and vinegar. They are not however allowed to return to top up on supplies.
    With just 25 minutes to cook something that will really impress the chefs, Bruce’s final dish of Turbot en Papillote, which he accompanied with crushed new potatoes, a lightly spiced tomato and pepper sauce and samphire garnish won the day – and the title of Culinary Genius. “I was absolutely thrilled to win the competition, especially as my food was judged by Jean-Christophe, a Michelin-starred chef. I was quite nervous at the start especially cooking in front of a live audience and celebrity chef but Fern was lovely, very supportive and funny and helped us relax. It was a brilliant experience!”
    You can catch episodes of Culinary Genius on the ITV Hub. If you want to see Bruce in action then he will be running cooking demos at the Tenterden Food Festival, Tonbridge Food Festival and Kent County Show. See their websites for specific dates and details. He can also be found at Tunbridge Wells Farmers’ Market which runs on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of every month outside the Town Hall.