Monday, 6 May 2013

Exeter SW Festival of Food & Drink

Every now and again, I am tempted to up sticks and move to the South West. There's so much to love about the area's coast and countryside, it's a picture perfect contrast to Manchester's urban clutter. And then there's the amazing produce. The warmer climate means more variety with heady hints of the continent, especially with such astounding, albeit expensive, seafood.

Last year I worked (as a trader) at Exeter SW Festival, and I barely saw beyond a 20 metre radius from Barbarella. Aside from hiking two miles back and forth to the garage to try and fix, what now appears to be, an unfixable tow car. I learnt loads from the experience, that's for sure.

The truth of the matter is me and James (Nathan) got slammed last year. Our menus were too complicated, we underestimated our prep and we were left shorthanded due to vehicle disasters and slightly drunk missing staff. Obviously that put me in a great mood ;0) The weekend ended with me getting my head stuck in a small cupboard at the back of Barbarella! My sister thought I was laughing, when I was in fact crying. At this point I thought I might quit.  But I didn't (obviously) and I moved onwards and upwards, and since learning that some of my toughest experiences are the best learning I've ever done.

When I was invited back to Exeter this year, I was a little tempted to take part as a trader. Not least because I wanted to see how far I'd come. But now Barbarella is sitting pretty in the garden at the Beech Inn, I decided I would take a day or two off from the kitchen and go and enjoy one of my favourite food and drink festivals, in one of my favourite parts of the country.

My highlights have to include catching up with Michael Caines, who has been such a tremendous mentor to me during the last year. We had a little laugh about my comparative naievty last year, how much I've learned and what a difference a year makes.  

Spiced cauliflower & lentil pie from Tom's pies
Lee and I had some great food including a perfectly delicious (and seasonal) leek and spring green risotto with Devon blue from Antonia's kitchen, and I finally got to sample Tom's pies after missing out last year.  Some salted fudge from Roly's also went down rather well, and I was starting to enjoy an elderflower mojito, when I remembered I had a demo in the later afternoon.

Great times catching up with old friends and making some new ones was just lovely.  Had a really fun time with Anton Piotrowski and his gorgeous funny wife and friends.  The After Dark action at the festival started for me with a cook off against Anton, last years joint winner of MasterChef Professionals (no pressure then :0/).  All for fun of course, and I don't mind admitting he whooped me big time with lots of fancy chef-fy stuff.  I really must look up whether a compressed fruit is really simply just pressed!

Salsify your soul!
I made a trio of Thai tasters, with a little fine dining twist on three classic street food dishes.  I got a little over spicy with the tom yum shot, but the salsify fritters went down well.

I couldn't get salsify 'oop north' but Total Produce came to the rescue thanks to Gregg's old veg pal, Charlie Hicks, who hooked me up for a supply. I also had to 'borrow' some ingredients from the hotel kitchen after having my liquids confiscated at the airport. Apparently the container has to actually state it's 100ml, so my 50ml ones, unlabelled, were not acceptable!

James Nathan and Dhruv Baker ended the cookery theatre day with their cook off - not sure who won as think I had my nose in a wine glass by then but we all went on to have a great night fuelled by excellent music, dancing and Pizza Dragon pizzas, and culminating with cocktails at Abode.  

Had to be up at a reasonable time, as I was first in the cookery theatre with Rob Andrew, head chef from Riverford Farm.  I toned down the heat in the tom yum and upped the fragrancy with a seaweed broth.  Rob made some amazing food with the best of the seasons vegetables from the farm, but this time I pipped it.  Although maybe Michael was being kind after me losing to Anton.  Anyway it's all in good fun.
Tom Yum broth with tofu, Pad Thai in crispy noodle basket & salsify coconut fritters
After the dem, had a lovely food chat with Rob and we even helped a lady plan the vegan elements for her mother's 80th birthday menu for a dinner for 200 people. I spent the rest of the day eating (and maybe the odd drink) and picking up non liquid treats to take home.  Rob kindly gave me some delicious Cornish blue and Lee was rather chuffed with his Dartmoor Farm's special edition chilli sauce 'Ring of Fire' (in a bottle labelled 100ml of course).

I also had a quick hello with Matt Follas and was rather inspired to explore the use of candy floss after watching his demo. Chilli candy floss? Er yes please!


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