On Sunday my family and I attended the BBC Good Food Show at Olympia in London. The British Broadcasting Corporation holds several Good Food Shows every year in throughout the UK. They are a coming together of food and beverage producers, television personalities and people who love food and drink - so they are my kind of place!
I was more excited about the show on Sunday than I have ever been before as it afforded an opportunity to see Nigella Lawson cooking live. Back in 2003, when Nigella published her book "How to be a Domestic Goddess", I had gotten to the stage where cooking stressed me out completely. Although I was good at it, I was getting myself so worked up about doing everything perfectly I had stopped enjoying it. Dinner parties were no longer fun, they were incredibly stressful events that often found me near to tears in the kitchen. Nigella's relaxed attitude - and her firmly tongue in cheek use of the word "domestic goddess" - encouraged me to get back in there and enjoy myself. It was life changing. I've been a huge fan ever since.
I've been to several BBC Good Food shows before, but never one at Olympia. I have to say it is the best venue I have ever visited. The layout of the hall it was held in was such that you did not feel claustrophobic, despite the fact it was very busy. You could easily visit all the exhibitors and taste their wares. There was a really lovely atmosphere as well. Most of the exhibitors were hugely enthusiastic about their products and it showed. The funniest was a chap at a kiosk selling home-made fudge who was shouting "Come here my lovelies and taste my fudge" to all the girls. Let's just say he didn't have to ask anyone twice! All in all, there were a huge number of exhibitors at Olympia - organic producers, small farmers, the slow food movement, butchers, bakers, candy makers – almost everything you could imagine. There was even an entire section of producers of Gluten Free products. From bread to cookies and cakes to ice cream cones, there were a huge number of products available for those with a gluten allergy. Although I don't have any allergies, I tasted many of them and you really could not tell they were not "the real thing" - even the white bread! And as for some of the cookies and cakes, well, they were among the most delicious packaged products I have ever tasted.
In the centre of the hall was "The Restaurant Experience" - a section of kiosks from ten of London's top restaurants. Each one was producing small portions of their signature dishes that you could buy for your lunch. Sterling was exchanged for "dining currency" - which bore a strong resemblance to poker chips - in 1, 2 and 5 DC (dining currency) denominations. Most dishes cost between 3 and 5 DC. We were lucky enough to have reserved seats in the VIP area so we were able to sit down with a menu and decide what we wanted for starter, main course and dessert. There were suggested wines for each course as well although I stuck to soft drinks. The lovely thing was you could have as many dishes as you liked (budget permitting of course!) from as many of the kiosks as you wanted. For example, my starter was a fabulous Szechuan miso soup from Kai Mayfair, followed by Italian Tortellini with pork ragu at Refettorio and then dessert at Sumosan. Dessert was amazing - dark chocolate fondant filled with white chocolate, baked in the oven and then covered in green tea chocolate sauce. It looked beautiful and tasted delicious.
There was also an entire section where you could taste wines and spirits. I tend to avoid this section as it can lead to serious headaches, but it is a great opportunity to try new things and order wines and spirits at a serious discount. But as this was a daytime event (I rarely drink alcohol before 6pm), I resisted temptation and confined my beverage purchases to half a dozen bottles of a fabulous non-alcoholic ginger wine for mulling from Gran Stead's Ginger and some lovely cordials from the Pixley Berries Company.
The highlight of the day was Nigella Lawson’s presentation in the Icon Theatre. She was demonstrating how to make her edible Christmas Tree decorations. The nice thing about her demonstration was that she made you feel like you could actually make what she had, and that it didn’t matter if it wasn’t picture perfect, it really only mattered that you had fun doing it. It is such a refreshing attitude in these days of “perfect” this and “perfect” that! Nothing against Martha Stewart, but I always feel vaguely inadequate when I look at her flawless projects. I much prefer Nigella’s attitude – particularly as I am a recovering perfectionist! I left the presentation positively inspired and ready to do lots of Christmas baking this year.
Nigella has just published another book entitled Nigella Christmas, a gorgeous coffee table book, full of wonderful photographs as well as her inimitable writing. It transpired that she was doing a book signing after her presentation. I did not realise that my VIP pass meant that I would be taken straight to the front of the queue, so when I arrived at the signing and was immediately whisked up to meet the lady herself, I was a bit taken aback. I have always admired Nigella’s relaxed and joyful attitude towards food and cooking and I think her books are just amazing so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet her. It was just the speed with which the opportunity presented itself was very startling and I found myself almost speechless. I need not have been nervous though. As you can see from the photograph above (that’s me in blue on the right), she is just as relaxed and friendly in person as she comes across in her writing and appears to be on television. I have met quite a number of high profile people over the years but I have never before met anyone in the public eye who was quite as genuine and unaffected as she was.
It was a really super show this year, one that all three of us enjoyed. There was plenty to hold the interest of both the 21st Century Husband and the 21st Century Teenager. As for me, I’m happy anywhere that good food, wine and inspiration come together. So bring on the mincemeat, glace cherries and candied peel, I’m all fired up and ready to get started on the Christmas preparations!