GREAT British Menu contestant Emily Watkins has been cooking up success, making it through to the final of the TV competition.
And for the Oxfordshire chef, the prize – cooking a wartime-themed banquet for D-Day veterans – would have added poignancy as both her grandfathers served in the Second World War.
Mother-of-three Mrs Watkins said: “It’s a very personal prize.
“My mother’s father, Nigel Gray, volunteered in the Royal Navy Reserves when he was 19.
“He served for two years on HMS Valiant before he was move on to a small torpedo ship.
“Unfortunately his ship was blown up, and then he was picked up by the Germans.
“He spent the rest of the war being moved from one prisoner-of-war camp to another.
“It must have been horrific for him but he never talked about it. He was a very smiley grandpa and just got on with his life.”
On her paternal side, the connection to D-Day is closer.
Mrs Watkins, 35, said: “My father’s father, Commander Robin Watkins, was involved with the planning of D-Day.
“He served on ships but was back in the war offices in London and, as far as we can tell, was very important in the planning of the attack.”
Mrs Watkins will go up against the winning chefs from other regions – Northern Ireland, North West, Central, and South East – for the honour of cooking a wartime-themed banquet at St Paul’s Cathedral to honour veterans of D-Day.
- Emily Watkins at work in the kitchen
The five finalists will each cook their four dishes – a starter, a fish course, main and dessert – and judges will score each one out of 10 to decide who makes the final.
Chefs were told their menus must evoke the wartime spirit, as well as tasting delicious.
Mrs Watkins, who is chef and proprietor of the Kingham Plough, near Chipping Norton, has come out on top of the South West heat and reached the last round of the hit show.
She said: “It’s been absolutely amazing, everyone has been really supportive. There have been millions of emails from people who have visited the pub which is really exciting.”
While the rest of us will have to wait until the show airs on BBC2 from June 2 to June 6, Mrs Watkins already knows the result, but is sworn to secrecy as to who won.
Giving nothing away, she said: “I’ve worked hard on perfecting and refining my dishes, there is no room for the silly mistakes I made in earlier rounds due to the pressure of the competition.
“I really did my very best.”
- Grandfather Nigel Gray
Mrs Watkins, who has three children, Alfie, four, Grace, three and Wilbur, 10 months, runs the pub with her husband Miles Lampson.
She took part in last year’s Comic Relief-themed Great British Menu, making it to the second round.
She said: “I have forced myself to watch it this year. Last time I couldn’t bear it.
“You don’t actually know what they say about it and what they really think when you’re filming, so it’s really interesting to hear the feedback and learn how to improve and do better.
“Having got to the final it makes you even hungrier to get to the end. There are so many stages and rounds that you’ve gone through.
“And it’s not just for me, but for everybody who supported me, my family and my team at the pub.”