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The sound of theGreat British Menu

Matt Bacon, one the UK's leading TV sound recordists, worked on the successful Great British Menu produced by Optomen for the BBC. Since 2005, Matt has been working as a

Matt Bacon (pictured, below), one the UK’s leading TV sound recordists, worked on the successful Great British Menu produced by Optomen for the BBC. Since 2005, Matt has been working as a freelance sound supervisor and sound recordist on television dramas, reality shows and documentaries as well as a variety of entertainment productions.

“Now in production for its tenth series; Great British Menu is still as popular as ever and Matt is proud to have worked on every show.”

“The show is a prime time cooking contest whereby the nation’s top chefs compete for the chance of cooking a course at the series banquet held for a topical cause. Each week three chefs from a region of the UK start by cooking their four course menu (starter, fish, mains, desert) for a veteran chef of the competition. These have included previous GBM winners and two-star Michelin chefs Marcus Wareing, Tom Kerridge and Daniel Clifford. The veteran chef scores each course and ultimately decides which two chefs make it through to the judges’ chamber where each chef must present their four course menu to Matthew Fort, Pru Leith and Oliver Peyton who taste and award marks for style, flavour and relevance to the brief.

The winner of each region goes through to the final where they must once again cook their four course menu for the judges in the hope one of their dishes is chosen for the banquet. Only the best four dishes (in the judges opinion) will succeed!”

Matt described his techniques, his sound trolley and his equipment line up: “I use Lectrosonics pretty extensively.” He explained. “In this kitchen I use four Lectrosonics SMDB transmitters on block 606 (UK Channel 38) to feed SRb receivers which are housed in a Lectrosonics Octopack that uses a combination of ALP 620 and SNA 600 antennae. I also use a Lectrosonics IFB system (a T4 transmitter with multiple R1a receiver packs) to allow the director to speak to the cameramen via covert earpieces.”

“The lavalier microphones I use for the Lectrosonics SMDB transmitters are all white Sanken COS-11s. I have experimented using other brands of lavalier microphone in the past, including those by DPA and Countryman, but always return to the COS-11 as I have found them to be extremely durable, reliable and ultimately the most suitable in a noisy kitchen environment. They also stay white the longest of any microphone I’ve used in a busy kitchen.

As for the set up; it’s not a complex rig necessarily but it needs to be rock solid as there is no going back on a show recorded in real time, especially when the chefs are delivering dishes like soufflés, we can’t go once more for sound! Filming takes place in sets across multiple floors but we essentially need to cover five filming zones (kitchen, judges’ chamber, tasting kitchen, 360 space and the green room) which my Lectrosonics system does successfully without the need for having antennae distribution in each zone.

The three chefs all cook in the kitchen at the same time which often leads to a great deal of unscripted and unprompted banter so can be a challenge to provide a broadcast mix – especially when blast chillers, vac pack machines, dehydrators, pressure cookers and ice cream makers are being used – so their wireless microphones and the veterans is recorded to a Sound Devices 633 so that post production have the ISO’s to fall back too if necessary.

In this type of show we can’t stop the whole kitchen for an interview because everything is so time critical so I often find myself having to mix two separate conversations at once which can be… interesting at times. There are up to six cameras filming at any one time so they don’t miss a beat and neither can we in the audio department. In the finals week when all the eight regional winners return to compete against each other we are using around 20 frequencies so careful planning is taken to make sure everything is intermod free (which is always a challenge when filming in London, especially when there is another studio virtually next door!).

I can’t do all this alone. I am once again joined on this series by my good friend Kenny Ralston who fulfils two roles. The first is of a PSC sound recordist when filming the veteran chef around the studio (when they are not interacting with the chefs in the kitchen). The second is of a mixer when he mixes the judges in the judging chamber where we have another fully-equipped sound cart.

“Why did I choose Lectrosonics? I was introduced to Lectro years ago when I worked as a boom op. Several mixers I worked with used T1 transmitters and R1 receivers as their IFB system of choice due to its rugged design, clear signal and reliability. Following OFCOM’s decision a few years ago to move the PMSE market from Channel 69 to Channel 38, I took the opportunity to refresh all my wireless equipment. After trialling a number of systems, I found the Lectrosonics SMDB/SR series shone above everything else as being light (big consideration when you are having to carry lots of receivers in your mixer bag) and ultimately the most flexible as the duel receiver could be slotted into a broadcast camera to be used as a link – which was rare back then. I also liked they had a European Service Centre in the UK (Raycom Limited) and how the transmitters could be totally controlled hands free using an iPhone app. No longer do we need to carry a screwdriver, put our hands down a contestant’s top or up their backs!

A lot of the shows I work on require me to work alongside other recordists and more often than not find they also have taken the Lectrosonics route. With bandwidth available for TV and film use continually being reduced, it will be interesting to see what Lectrosonics come up with next.” He concluded.

The new series of Great British Menu is due to be aired this summer.