Kirk Haworth on Great British Menu

Author: Joanna Flood
Date: March 25, 2024
Category: News

Kirk Haworth Great British Menu

From scoring a perfect 10 from Michael O’Hare to crafting a ping-pong inspired ‘no fish’ dish, we chatted to chef partner and plant-based revolutionist Kirk Haworth, to hear what it’s really like competing on the iconic Great British Menu (GBM).

What motivated you to sign up for GBM a second time round?

I hate losing! I thought I knew myself pretty well, but I wasn’t in the best place when I competed the first time and I made lots of mistakes as a result. This time I was adamant I wanted to learn from my mistakes. How you learn from your failures is key to how you succeed.

What are your coping mechanisms cooking under pressure?

I didn’t cope the first time, so I knew I had to work on myself. I did lots of practice runs where I’d make mistakes on purpose, stayed calm and timed myself to see if I could pull it back. My mindset had shifted to “if I do mess up that sponge, I can re-do it if I stay calm”. It allowed me not to be anxious. Although it’s challenging when there’s cameras in front of you – mistakes make good TV! But staying calm from the start is my top piece of advice, because if you make one mistake, it could be downhill from there.

Kirk’s fish dish inspired by the sport of ping pong 

Can you tell us about your fish dish you presented in the final and the story behind it?

This year’s brief, celebrating the Olympics was a tough one. I’ve always loved ping pong; I don’t think it gets the acknowledgement it deserves (watch the Japanese team on YouTube, they are insane!)

I had this vision to create ceramic ping pong balls and put food in theme. The dish was designed to be eaten a certain way. The nori cracker table tennis bats and ball-shaped bowls of parsley porridge and seaweed salad together, then you cross over to the back to eat the plant-based cream cheese and seaweed caviar. That was inspired by the classic English posh snack – caviar cream cheese crumpets. I wanted to stay true to what I believe in, so I wasn’t going to create a ‘fake fish’ dish. I just wanted to cook delicious food inspired by plants.

What’s been the reaction from peers and the wider industry? Has it opened more people’s eyes to what’s possible?

It’s an interesting one. When you win, you find out who the real people are. The reaction from the public has been insane. I’ve had some amazing messages from chefs, but more so the public – they’ve been so invested!

But honestly, I’m not bothered. I used to care about that kind of thing when I was younger, but I’m not now. Your mindset is everything – I don’t need other people to tell me who I am if I’m happy within myself. You can have all the talent in the world and work harder than anyone, but if you don’t have the inner strength, it means nothing. I’ve been in that situation, so I really do know.

I had a message from Adam Smith, an incredible chef trained in classical French cookery. In my eyes he’s one of the best chefs in the country, so his reaction meant a lot to me.

What challenges have you faced competing in culinary competitions?

It’s a battle of the mind! Some of us suffer with imposter syndrome – we’re all human. But it’s something I’ve worked hard on. I used to cover the wall of my bedroom with sticky notes saying, ‘you’re going to get better’ or ‘don’t quit’. Every night and morning I’d read them, so I started to programme myself. When you have these negative thoughts, you have to get rid of them. Mindset and investing in yourself is key.

Can you share any behind-the-scenes experience from your time on the show?

It was such a great group of people – we all wanted each other to win, everyone was supporting each other. There was no bitterness, so the environment was great. That’s what we need to work towards in our own kitchens – a positive kitchen culture, it’s so important.

You go through so many mind worries – “are the judges going to get the dish?” but you must stick to your guns and believe in yourself. Getting a 10 off Michael O’Hare (for my fish dish that didn’t contain fish!) was insane – that was just the bonus!

What was the most memorable moment or highlight during your journey to the final?

On Thursday’s show, I got four tens from the judges and a win, so what a way to end. I did go a bit crazy! At the time it didn’t feel real. Probably because I was so tired; I only slept three hours a night because the adrenaline and pressure is so intense – I can’t even remember how I reacted. I did however say to the producer “can you make sure I smile this time?” because I was so emotionally invested before.

It’s starting to sink in now, and I feel proud of myself.

Looking ahead, what does 2024 look like for you?

The plan is to open my restaurant in Shoreditch in June, so I’ll be focused on that; I just want it to be the best place ever. Somewhere that embodies mine and Keeley’s values – good hospitality, kindness and making people feel special. No trendy ‘trying to be cool’ vibes, just somewhere with great service, good wine and non-alcoholic drinks with a twist, and tasty food. I’ve waited twenty years for somewhere to call my own space so I’m just excited to have a home for my things!

You can catch Kirk and all the GBM action over on BBC iPlayer.