Once upon a time, there was a true foodie who was given the most perfect gift by her fabulous husband. Appealing to her fascination for everything edible, the gift was being whisked away for a weekend to be surrounded by hundreds of artisan producers, cookery demos and celebrity chefs.
That’s right, this is a story of the BBC Good Food Show Winter, and the foodie in question was myself, treated to a trip to the NEC Birmingham at the end of November last year.
I did my reasearch into the different zones and activities of the exhibition but I was still taken aback by the vastness of this edible utopia. Initially, we wandered around in a delicious daze, randomly trying whatever we could get our hands on in some kind of food frenzy. Before, that is, it dawned on us that we actually had two full days to attack this and to try to savour, rather than binge on the delights at our fingertips.
There’s no doubt about it, I was in heaven. Not only were we surrounded by an endless larder of every food, drink and related product imaginable, but we also had a pick of activities to enjoy.
With such a glutton of tasty morsels to experience, it’s difficult to pick a top five. But on the three hour drive home, eager to digest every mouthful of the weekend, that’s just what we did…
No. 5: A World of Cheese
I’ve never seen so much of it in one place at once. But this wasn’t just a few too many cheese producers booking the same area of the exhibition. This was no accident. It was the World Cheese Awards.
There were some beautiful looking specimens, everything from goats cheese to mozzerella, manchego to Cheddar. But the dairy crown this year went to a Gruyère – a Gruyère AOP Premier Cru, to be precise.
A very worthy winner, I’m sure, but I don’t envy those judges one bit. I like a good wedge of cheese as much as the next person, especially accompanied by a sweet chutney and a glug of red wine, but those poor buggers had to shortlist down from 2,727 entries to just 16 before deciding which was best. That’s something of a cheese overload.
Mind you, there were 250 judges. I bet they all had interesting dreams that night.
No. 4: Tom Kerridge
What’s not to like about the infectiously happy Bristolian? Tom Kerridge entertained the audience with his cookery tips whilst working his magic on two delicious savoury recipes, the first being seasonal venison chops with cranberries and red wine. The second was a tasty looking mussels dish with chorizo and tomatoes – not something I’ve seen mussels cooked with before but I’ll certainly be giving it a go myself.
He started by sweating the chopped chorizo to release the bright orange oil, then added onions, garlic and peppers, plus some red chillies for heat. He then cooked flour in the pan as the base to a sauce and added white wine. Finally he threw in the cleaned mussels to steam for around 8 minutes and stirred in the diced tomatoes at the end, with a sprinkling of chopped parsley to finish.
How these celebrity chefs manage to multi task in front of an audience I don’t know, but Tom certainly managed it with a smile on his face and an understated confidence, a very likeable chap!
No 3: Beer Tasting
Well, with all the sampling of food and watching of demos we’d worked up a thirst, so we settled down for an hour to learn a thing or two about real ale. Far from a room full of bearded men huddled around a bar, this was a really fun, interactive session where us participants had the pleasure of slurping five different beers, from light and fruity to dark and dangerous.
The session was run by the Campaign for Real Ale and had just the right balance of theory of the brewing process, mixed with the opportunity to try plenty of real life examples.
To do them justice, a review of all five of the beers we tasted would need a blog of their own (watch this space…) but for now I’ll just give a mention to the one with the most amusing name: What the Fox’s Hat, a golden number with a refreshing light flavour. Plus, my favourite beer of the afternoon, Gravediggers, which was dark black with hints of red when held up to the light. I love stout-type flavours and this beer also had a taste of chocolate to it – even better!
After this we were definitely merry – the beer tasting was a clear highlight of the weekend. All the beers came from the Church End Brewery in Warwickshire so I’ll definitely be paying them a visit if I’m ever in that neck of the woods.
No. 2: James Martin Cookery Demo
As much as I enjoyed watching Tom Kerridge, there is another Chef who has the edge over him. A fellow Northerner who loves food and posesses endless cookery talents as well as a quick sense of humour. It may be predictable, but the James Martin demo was the runner-up highlight of my show.
And although it was clear that he’d been out the night before ‘team building’ with the crew around the bars of Birmingham, he didn’t disappoint. In fact, I think it added to the performance as we saw an ‘unedited’ version of Chef Martin, the like of which is somewhat censored on his BBC Saturday Kitchen series.
After ploughing into the crowd to have selfies taken with a few lucky people, he rustled up some of the recipes from his new cookbook ‘Sweet’ whilst taking great pleasure in less than squeaky clean hygienic practices. No, he wasn’t just being lax in his morning-after state, it was a pot shot at a regular Saturday Kitchen viewer who apparently phones into the show every week without fail to complain about something she’s seen, which she feels is a health and safety hazard. He clearly took great pleasure in this mic take and it was highly amusing to watch.
As well as the performance, he created some beautiful looking desserts, including a coconut cake using the ingredient of the moment, coconut oil, and an impressively structured raspberry millefeuille. It was all over too quickly though, I could have sat there all day being entertained by the butter-loving Yorkshireman, but at least I have my memories. Oh, and his Sweet cookbook which Father Christmas kindly brought down my chimney a month later!
No. 1: Rubbing Shoulders with the Celebs
What could possily beat an almost front row seat watching my favourite chef doing his thing? Well, rubbing shoulders with him, of course.
That’s right, I was lucky enough to don a pair of chef whites and meet the man Martin himself.
Along with thousands of other visitors who were daft enough to stick their heads through a hole in the life size cardboard cut out, that is! No, that dream shall have to go unfulfilled, for now…
So there we are, my top five highlights of the Winter Good Food Show. I may not have been in touching distance of Mr Martin but at least I got to witness his cookery genius. I left a happy foodie bunny, albeit a few pounds heavier.
This was definitely a Winter’s tale of food and drink with a big fat happy ending.