Michael Bremner’s dish the ‘Grass is Greener’ wins main course to present at the Great British Menu Banquet at Wimbledon

Bas Oonk at 64 Degrees. Brighton & Hove Food and Drink Festival's International Chef Exchange [ICEx] is bringing together chefs from around the world in this unique cultural exchange. Michael Bremner of 64 Degrees in Brighton, UK, visited Restaurant Basaal, Den Haag, Holland to showcase the best of Sussex Food and Drink. He prepared a six course meal there which was served, accompanied by Sussex Ridgeview Wines and Blackdown Spirits along with wines by Karacter and genever from Van Kleef, to Dutch chefs, producers, dignitaries, and others. This week Bas Oonk, head chef and proprietor of Basaal, makes the return visit to 64 Degrees in Brighton. His superb six course meal was served with liqueurs from Van Kleef and wines from Ridgeview and Henry Butler. The exchange also includes time to visit other local restaurants, producers and to get a flavour of the city itself. More information from Brighton& Hove Food Festival http://brightonfoodfestival.com/international-chef-exchange/ photo © Julia Claxton. photo ©Julia Claxton

Brighton chef Michael Bremner of 64 Degrees stole the show on BBC Two’s Great British Menu. Nick Mosley, Festival Director catches up with him about the trials and tribulations of participating one of the UK’s most popular food programmes.

Its been a busy year for chef Michael Bremner of Brighton’s 64 Degrees. Alongside Great British Menu, he’s been hard at work with the opening of a new beachfront restaurant – Murmur –, and cooking for the food festival’s International Chef Exchange in the Caribbean. Add this to the day-to-day operations of 64 Degrees and being a dad, and it scarcely seems possible he can squeeze it all into his working week.

A couple of weeks ago, 64 Degrees featured again in the top 100 restaurants in the National Restaurant Awards, firmly placing Michael and he’s team at the top of the tree not only here in Sussex but also in the UK. But the hot news this week is his storming performance on Great British Menu, his second year on the show.

You appeared on last year’s Great British Menu, is it regular for chefs to be invited back again?

I think it depends on how well you did the first time around. There have been a few chefs appear on the show more than once, this year I was on again with Tommy Banks and Phil Carmichael who were both on it last year too for the finals week, and Ally McGrath in the Scottish regionals.

How nerve-wracking is the filming? Do you mind seeing yourself on TV?

It is very nerve-wracking. The first year going in obviously it’s a brand new kitchen to work in so that itself is challenging, let alone having multiple cameras on you. Coming on the second time is even worse in a way as you want to do better than you did the first time. I don’t mind seeing myself on TV, they’ve been kind with the editing.

Tell us about a typical filming day?

You’d leave the hotel at 6am and have a coffee and snack at the studio. For the regionals, you’re in your chef whites in the kitchen ready for 7am to do a few establishing shots, meet the veteran chef and start preparing for your dish. You then get a lunch break before cooking another course in the afternoon. There’s lots of waiting around and lots of repetition, which is what makes it so tiring really.

Did you get on with the other chefs? Although you are competing against each other are chefs supportive of one another?

Although it was extremely tough, the relationships amongst all the chefs competing are amazing. I think there’s a lot of mutual respect amongst everyone as all the dishes being produced were such a high standard. I think it’s that feeling that you all know what each other’s going through, especially in finals week. I’m even still in touch with all the guys from last year.

Are the judges fair?

It’s their jobs to be extremely critical so I would say they’re fair, even if some people might not always agree with them. At the end of the day it’s a competition, which is at a very high standard, so they’ve got to nit-pick to get what they think is the best, and opinions are obviously subjective. Over the last couple of years, I wouldn’t say that a ‘wrong’ dish has ever been chosen for the banquet because there have been so many incredible dishes to choose from with such fine margins between them.

You had an interesting journey with the judges on your winning dish – The Grass is Greener. Tell us about that.

I had a bad day in the regionals cooking for Nathan Outlaw and the dish didn’t exactly go as I had planned. I spoke to the production team and there was even talk of changing the dish for the judges, but I wanted to stick with the tongue because it was a dish that I believed in. I changed a few techniques with the cooking and altered the presentation slightly and was lucky enough to get 10s across the board from the judges.

What was the biggest challenge?

The whole experience is so taxing, both regionals and finals week. If anything it’s the pressure you put yourself under – you know that you’re showcasing what you can do on national television, so if you put in 100% it’s the hardest thing any chef will do in there careers. That’s definitely how I feel anyway.

What’s been your family’s reaction to your TV ‘career’?!

They’ve been extremely supportive. My family are the most important thing for me, so having them behind me is massive and I don’t think I could have done it without them. They’ve been quite involved with a lot of the filming and coming with me to different places when I’ve been researching. My daughter, Bonnie, has been refusing to go to bed on time all week so she can watch how I get on.

Did you agree to participate this year for yourself, or to promote 64 Degrees?

A bit of both really. Essentially it is an individual competition but it does have a massive impact on the restaurant.

Although you were competing in the Scottish round, do you think there will be a positive knock-on effect for the culinary scene in Brighton & Hove?

I hope so. We have found that people have been coming down to Brighton from all over because of the show, and if they’re staying the night they’ll probably go to a hotel and eat elsewhere for other meals so hopefully it has a bit of a knock-on effect, especially as there are so many great places to eat in Brighton at the moment.

Any more media work in the pipeline or are you hanging up your microphone and focusing on the kitchen?

You never know what’s round the corner.

Michael’s new venture, Murmur, opens in the seafront arches near the i360 in mid-July. Michael will be cooking alongside guest chef Craig Jones from Cap Maison in St Lucia for the opening gala dinner of the Brighton & Hove Food and Drink Festival on Thursday 24 August – book HERE


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