Having had a few weeks away I wanted to squeeze as much as possible into the last few weeks of the summer. It seems that everyone and their grandmother goes to music festivals these days, but it’s not really my scene. In my youth it was only hard core music fans that went to festivals. I had a memorable weekend at Donington Monsters of Rock festival in the early 90s, but I was pretty sure that once I ‘grew up’ I wouldn’t have to consider going off to some mud-drenched field, being unable to wash properly whilst surrounded by various drunken idiots dancing to the music in their heads. But the demographic has changed it seems, and now everyone from baby boomers to actual babies go off to Glastonbury and the like.
Luckily I can escape the pressure to partake of these delights because I have different sorts of festivals to keep me occupied. I’ve written before about my work with Foodies Festival (www.foodiesfestival.com). I’ve cooked on their stages many times now, but this time I had been asked to host the main Chef’s theatre at the Oxford show, acting as compère for the other chefs performing in the live cooking theatre.
My enhanced role meant a mid-week photo call in a damp, drizzly Headington Park which gives incredible views over the ‘dreaming spires’ of the city. I met Tony Rodd (MasterChef finalist 2015) and Chris Bentham (Head Chef at The Black Boy gastro-pub) where we posed with vegetables and kitchen implements until the photographer was happy with his shots, much to the amusement of the passing dog walkers. But we made the front pages so it was all worth it!
I’m not usually nervous before cooking on stage, but hosting was a slightly different matter. I had to research my chefs, ensure the audience knew what was happening, get incommunicative chefs to talk and get garrulous chefs to stick to the time limits!
I worked with some brilliant chefs including two of my real food heroes, the inimitable Giancarlo Caldesi and the simply wonderful Sophie Grigson. I also hosted Anne Shooter, whose book Sesame & Spice is brilliant, featuring baking recipes inspired by Anne’s Jewish roots and travels in the Middle-East. Anne made the most delicious baklava with an orange blossom syrup which was ridiculously more-ish.
Finally I met János Vereš, a Hungarian-born chef who is the head chef at the Hind’s Head in Bray, a Michelin-starred gastropub under Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck group. János cured and then tea-smoked a side of salmon which he served with soda bread, home-made butter and pickled cucumber. Simple; classic but absolutely perfectly executed.
A really full day, but one I genuinely loved. People who know me well, know that I can talk non-stop when I’m passionate about something or when I meet interesting people for the first time, so I really felt in my element. This is the first time I’ve hosted a cookery theatre, but I really hope it won’t be the last.