A CORNISH chef has become the first ever winner of the BBC’s Great British Menu to grow up in Cornwall – landing himself a place cooking in the TV show’s famous banquet.

Ben Palmer from Looe fought off national competition on last night’s show (March 18) from seven other finalist chefs during the starter course element of the show. He wowed judges with his exceptional take on a vegan ‘Golden Beetroot’ starter dubbed ‘Firefly’, showcasing an incredibly skilled and artistic nod to the Olympic torch flame ahead of the Paris Olympics.

The show has many well-known links to Cornwall, with many previous Great British Menu chefs established there, however Ben is the first contestant who was actually brought up in the county to make it to the banquet.

Paul Ainsworth won with his dessert ‘At The Fairground’ in 2011 before opening Michelin starred Number 6 in Padstow, while his head chef Chris McClurg also took part in the series in 2022 but represented his homeland, Northern Ireland.

Jude Kereama, originally from New Zealand opened Kota, Porthleven and narrowly missed out on the banquet stage – while Emily Scott of St Tudy Inn who originally travelled down to live in Cornwall for love, also competed in the competition and represented the South West.

Ben said: “I cannot get over this win, it feels like a dream. All I wanted to do was come on the show and cook my full menu, so to get through the South West heats to the finals and then go on to beat off seven other incredibly talents chefs from all across the UK, feels totally unreal. All of the starters were absolutely epic and the talent in the kitchen was off the charts. I am so excited to cook my ‘Firefly’ starter at the banquet and cannot wait to go to Paris and let rip! Can’t wait to see who will be joining me throughout the rest of the week with the fish, main and dessert courses!”

The highly talented chef already boasts two successful restaurants in the seaside town of Looe, one with a Michelin accolade, and has been dreaming of appearing on the show for nearly twenty years, since the show’s inception in 2006.

Ben, who used to rush home from a shift in the kitchen to catch the programme in its earliest days, remembers vividly how much of an impact it had on him and spurred him on to strive for excellence.

Ben continued: “It was the first show of its kind that really showcased in house chef talent on a nationwide platform – it was so exciting to see those who were working so hard in kitchens behind the scenes, who might ordinarily be a little overlooked, being elevated to celebrity status based on their talents alone. Just a very inspiring and exhilarating concept that amplified my natural desire to excel in the space. It added fuel to my fire and to be on the show is proof that if you work hard enough at something you can make great things happen.”

Ben returned to his hometown of Looe to open The Sardine Factory restaurant in July 2018. The team were delighted to receive the prestigious accolade of a Michelin Bib Gourmand in 2019 and have retained it every year since. The Sardine Factory has 80 covers overlooking the stunning harbour with a menu reflecting the ethos of Looe and a passion for local seasonal produce, with an abundance of sustainable fish dishes.

In 2023 Ben went on to open Yamas, a modern Greek restaurant in the town, offering a superb array of traditional cuisine which he developed through a close personal relationship with the country. It was there he met his business partner Nikos Oikonomopoulos and they cooked up a plan for Nikos to fly to Cornwall and run their authentic Greek venue. Nikos hails from the peloponnese region of Kalamata and Ben was introduced to him whilst cooking a dinner at Tikla restauarnt in Kardamyli – and Yamas was born.

Tune in Friday, March 22, from 8pm to watch Ben and the finalists head to Paris for the banquet.