Once upon a time I won a trip to London…Day 3

Day 3 of my London trip…that I won for designing a World Cup pie for the British High Commission.

London, Day 3

Dear Diary

Today I woke up feeling a bit under the weather, it seems the lovely English weather is playing havoc with my rather weak South African immune system. I’ve started losing my voice and I sound similar to what Barry White must have sounded like at his prime. Nevertheless today will be another packed day of discovering London. We begin the ‘main event’ of my trip here…the food. A weekend filled with visits to the Real Food Festival, the Borough Market, Corrigan’s and a sample of the London restaurant scene.

I have now gotten used to the continental breakfast down at the hotel ‘restaurant’. No more straying towards the bacon and sausages for me! Having cold cheese and cold cuts of meat with croissants for breakfast is a bit foreign to me but when in Rome…Whilst in my room I decided to have a quick look at the options available for room service. A quick glance at ‘Fish and Chips – £6.50’ soon made me realise room service was not an option for me!

I was to meet Anthony at Earls Court which, I was told by a friend of mine, is London’s version of what we have as The Coca-Cola Dome. Exhibitions and concerts are held there often with the most recent big ticket event being the Brit Awards. Luckily I didn’t get lost this time but the battery level on my camera was starting to worry me, (Double note to myself: NEVER forget the camera battery charger ever again).

As I also didn’t have a phone yet I had to purchase a pre-paid calling card. It allowed me another chance to make use of another famed London feature…the red telephone booth. Plastered with rather ‘interesting’ adverts of ‘services’ offered by even more ‘interesting’ characters I ignored these and made my calls via booths round the corner from Earls Court. After trying 3 phones I eventually found one that worked and proceeded to tell Anthony about my presence outside the building.

On entering Earls Court I was struck by the sheer size of the place. The building is rather deceptively large, from the outside it is seemingly just a concrete building, but once you enter you realise the facade of the exterior hides a huge hall which today was filled with all manner of delightful things that make us foodies giddy with excitement.

The first stall I spotted (or rather was shown to by Anthony) was a pen with a rather large but strangely serene water buffalo chewing away on brunch. I wouldn’t call it’s food gastronomically impressive but clearly it hit the spot as she chewed away whilst the gathering crowd stared at the animal renowned for the mozzarella cheese made from its milk. I was soon to learn her name was Petal and that she weighed in at a rather dainty 700kgs. Petal is said to eat over 50kgs of grass a day and was born 13 years ago.

Next to Petal was another pen but this one was filled with Middle White piglets. It suddenly hit me that although we were all gushing at how cute they looked in a few months they’d be supper or breakfast in someone’s home. Although the thought is rather harsh it’s a reality of the profession I have decided to enter into. Unless one is appreciative of where their produce and ingredients come from they will not give them the due respect when preparing them in the kitchen. So on that note we bid the farm animals goodbye and moved onto the Real Food as they name of the festival so proudly proclaimed.

 We passed by stalls selling and showcasing homemade biscuits. Although rustic looking they were packaged professionally. That was the main note in most of the stalls on the day, every stall owner showed pride in their produce and 80% of the things we saw were organic and sustainable. Anthony and I wondered aloud if our farmers and producers would be capable of such a vast array of products and ingredients that were free from biological and chemical interference. We sampled pomegranate juice that was 100% pomegranate. It was interesting to hear that the ‘pomegranate juice’ most of us buy isn’t exactly 100% pomegranate. You could taste the difference immediately.

We then decided to head off to one of the many chef presentations that were being held every hour. The chef who was on at the time was Richard Bertinet, a famed chef from France who is renowned for his belief in ‘real’ bread. He was very funny and at the same time informative. Typically French he made little snide remarks about people cooking skills and old school ‘house wife’ methods. He used the ‘skills’ of 2 ‘volunteers’ from the audience to help him with his demonstration. One was a house wife and the other an engineer. Richard explained the concept of absorption rate of flour but said one should never add more water than what the recipe calls for, even if it feels like the dough is not right. This was news to my ears! He also showed the audience a technique of folding air into the bread dough that I had never seen before. At the same time he cooked us a fish and vegetable soup that was perfect for the weather that day. His presentation was refreshing and also educational and afterwards Anthony, Alex (Anthony friend from London who had joined us for the show) and I managed to get him to sign a book and take a picture.

From there we walked around the floor and found a lot of little wonders and interesting products. We stumbled upon a lady called Fiona Sciolti who makes ‘botanical’ chocolates. On further enquiry I discovered that by the term botanical she means that her artisan chocolates are flavoured exclusively with natural ingredients she forages for in the countryside. We sampled some of them and were pleasantly surprised. Alex, who recently started foraging herself, began a conversation that seemed to go on for hours with Fiona! Anthony and I decided to go discover more fascinating parts of the show before time ran out and left Alex and Fiona chatting away.

There were stalls selling all kinds of weird and wonderful things such as tomato chilli jam, homemade risotto balls, 100% vegan cuisine and we found a gentleman who owned a bakery that makes over 90 different types of bread. There was a parma ham, parmesan and wine tasting stall (which was quite popular for obvious reasons!) and a pesto making company who made such awesome pesto I had to buy a bottle. We saw purple potatoes that were naturally purple. The owner of the stall said that the potatoes remained purple even after cooking and that you could make purple mash from them. Hmmm, my chef’s hat started thinking some interesting thoughts. The thought of purple chips killed those thoughts though. We couldn’t come to a British food show without sampling the local drinks of cause. I had fruit ale that Alex recommended. It was different to the ales I had tasted before and was slightly cloudy, not dissimilar to fermented ginger beer back home. We then moved on to sample real Sloe Gin and something called Sloe Vodka. We debated which was better tasting until we realised the combination of the ales and the gin and vodka on an empty stomach was not a good idea. Back to food we agreed! We sampled giant olives the size of small limes and then we happened upon a farm stall that sold…BILTONG. I kid you not, biltong in London.

The name of the farm is Laverstoke Park Farm and we were to soon discover the reason for the strange sighting of biltong at a British food show was that the owner of the farm was Jodi Scheckter…he of Formula 1 fame and also a proud South African. The farms main produce is buffalo and they use it in everything. They had buffalo ice cream (which tasted amazing), they had buffalo mozzarella, buffalo milk (which tasted rather interesting, although related to the cow the taste of buffalo milk is an acquired one), we then moved on to what we had really come there to do…sample their buffalo burgers. Firstly let me state that although we’re known for our large portions in South Africa, the burgers they served us were quite generous. As we walked around looking for a table suitable enough to hold them people stared and made remarks such as, “woah, look at that!”.

We sat down in a tea garden where we were not supposed to but they did not mind, on sighting one of our burgers one of the attendants at the garden came and asked us where we bought them and soon ran off to get one himself! It was rather refreshing to see the term Rooibos was now being used instead of the anglicised ‘red bush’ on the tea menu. Slowly but surely South African products and cuisine seem to be making their mark overseas. We were met up by more of Alex’s friends and it was whilst sitting and chatting that Alex said decided that I couldn’t leave London without having tried a good ol’ English cream tea. I was soon to learn that the term ‘cream tea’ refers to tea being served with scones, jam and clotted cream. I had Earl Grey tea with my scone. I sliced the scone (I was told that it was the civilized thing to do) and proceeded to spread some apricot jam on it, I then opened the tub of clotted cream and to my astonishment saw a block of cholesterol! I was told that this was perfectly safe and the civilized thing to do was to spread the cream generously over the jam and to NOT do the American thing and close it like a burger. Being surrounded by English people I decided to follow their instructions and so bit into my scone covered in jam and cholesterol. A sip of Earl Grey and I felt perfectly English for a minute. The Queen would have been proud. We proceeded to debate the state of the British Elections and the results and soon were told it was closing time and time for us to find our way home. During our chat we were greeted by the rather short stature of one certain chef named Raymond Blanc. I tried to not act like a teenage groupie and sat as the man was interviewed a few feet away from us. I was rather surprised at how short he was, he also seemed to have injured his leg and was walking with a crutch.

Although not as busy as my previous days, day 3 was by far the most interesting in terms of food and discovering British food.

The producers are passionate about their products and the industry. We spent almost half an hour discussing milk with a dairy farmer at one stage and how different strains of cows are actually causing illness and how lactose intolerance is linked to the pasteurization of milk. They are friendly and eager to educate anyone willing to lend an ear. I couldn’t help but yearn for something similar back home, we have the farms and the passion but we just lack the initiative to bring it all together to educate the South African market on fresh, natural produce and it’s benefits.

I got back onto the Tube and headed back to the hotel to nurse my quickly disappearing voice and my even worse cough.
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