What an exciting month September was! After the sleepiness of August when things go a little quiet, the food world burst back into life last month. There was so much happening that I found it hard to choose what to attend. Sometimes I’d like to clone myself just so I could make it to all the different events – though my husband would say one of me is probably enough.

Here are my September highlights (no clones were involved in the making of this month):

 

1. Cookbook Confidential

September started out on a high note with the Cookbook Confidential event hosted by Octopus Publishing at South Bank Centre (one of my favourite places in London). The day included a selection of workshops and talks from food writers, chefs and other food industry experts.

My highlight was ‘How to Write a Cookbook’ with Diana Henry and Kay Plunkett-Hogge. Both are experienced and accomplished food writers, and were upfront and honest about what’s involved in being a success in this field. Interestingly neither has a professional food background, and came to food writing later in their careers. Diana was a journalist and TV producer, and Kaye’s previous life was as a model agent and film producer.

So what traits does a good cookery book writer need? Patience, perfectionism, focus, having something unique to say – and not being scared to put weight on. Diana and Kaye also discussed the work that goes on behind the scenes when developing a book, which isn’t always obvious to a reader. This ranges from research (Kay spent a year of research for her book ‘Heat’) to the range of people involved in the production, such as designers, publishers, editors, stylists and recipe testers to name a few. They also emphasised that to be a good food writer, you need to read. And this includes good fiction, not just food writing. As Diana Henry said in the session, “The job of a food writer is also to be a writer”.

The surprise comedy session of the day was the ‘Food Heroes’ panel discussion with Richard H Turner of Hawksmoor and Turner & George, Dan Doherty of Duck & Waffle and Andrew Wang from A. Wang. I was very pleased to hear Dan Doherty’s measured approach to managing a kitchen; it’s one that doesn’t involve throwing pans and shouting to get the best out of his team. However I think Andrew Wang needs his own comedy show. His descriptions of the Chinese food of his childhood and his honesty about the workings of his kitchen had the whole audience in stitches.

 

September Inspirations

September Inspirations

 

2. Omnivore World Tour

I only found out about Omnivore at the very last minute. But I’m very glad I did. I was treated to a Saturday morning and early afternoon of watching some very accomplished chefs prepare dishes in front of a live audience. It’s not every day you get to witness a pig’s head being skilfully butchered.

The event had an impressive list of chefs on the line-up, including James Lowe of Lyles and Fergus Henderson of St John’s. Fortunately for those of us in the audience, it wasn’t too busy so I was able to get a seat near the front (always helpful when you’re as short as I am).

I loved James Lowe’s approach to ‘tactile’ cooking. People working in his kitchen need to have a genuine connection with and understanding of the ingredients they are cooking, rather than relying on machines to do the work. This was followed by a celebration of good fat and good meat from St John’s. The St John’s team also have to develop a deep understanding of their ingredients; rather than relying  on timers, the ingredients will tell you when they’re ready. As Fergus Henderson said, “[the meat] will be singing to me, telling me it’s cooked”.

In contrast to live butchery and discussions about pork fat, was a beautiful maple syrup-drenched rhubarb and cream dessert created by Stephanie Labelle of Patisserie Rhubarbe. One trick Stephanie shared was that she sometimes uses a little gelatine in her cream when topping desserts. It can help to stabilise and hold the shape of cream, as well as enhance the texture. As I don’t eat meat, I’m going to try this with agar agar flakes instead.

An added bonus was that I got to try the Valrhona Dulcey Blond chocolate used in one of Stephanie’s other dishes. I don’t normally gravitate towards white chocolate, but the rich caramel sweetness of the Dulcey Blond was rather delicious.  It would add an interesting element to desserts containing normal white chocolate – as well as being a slightly naughty chocolate snack on the side.

 

September Inspirations

September Inspirations

 

3. Tate Sensorium

My first attempt at visiting Tate’s Sensorium exhibition was a bit of a failure. I turned up really early and sat in the cafe for a little while happily sipping my soup. I wandered upstairs in what I thought was plenty of time before afternoon tickets were released. I then discovered the line was already beyond the maximum number of tickets available. Oops! (The tickets were for timed slots with 4 people going in at a time.)

Determined not to miss this multi-sensory installation, I turned up the next day, again early, but this time I went straight to the ticket queue. I’m so pleased I made the effort as the exhibition was a novel way to view and experience art. After waiting outside a big door for a few minutes in anticipation, our group of 4 was lead into a darkened room. Each of us was given a little contraption to strap around our wrists. This would measure out response to the paintings.

The exhibition was based around 4 pieces of art. Each was enhanced by engaging the senses in different ways while looking at the artwork. For Richard Hamilton’s Interior II, which depicted the inside of a mid-century home, there were ‘smelling points’ on the wall re-creating scents of the era, such as Pledge. Crackling sounds were then played through speakers, which instantly caused my skin to go goose bumpy. It was a very odd physical reaction.

However the reason I even knew about the exhibition was that chocolate was involved. Paul A Young created a special chocolate for the final piece in the exhibition, Figure in a Landscape by Francis Bacon. It’s a strange and slightly disturbing painting with a distorted grey / black figure and lines of paint smudged down the canvas. It was made even stranger by the sensation of eating a grainy chocolate filled with charcoal, sea salt, cacao nibs and tea, while listening to industrial sounds through headphones.

At the end of the exhibition I was given a print out of my electrodermal activity as measured by the mechanism on my wrist (which essentially measured perspiration as an indicator of excitement). Not surprisingly, my strongest reaction was to the Francis Bacon painting. I guess I’ll never know if it was the chocolate or the art that caused the reaction.

 

September Inspirations

 

4. Meatopia

The fact that I went to Meatopia is possibly a little strange given that I don’t eat meat. However my husband and I were given a couple of tickets, and my husband very much eats meat. I choose not to eat meat for a variety of reasons, but I’m very keen that if people do, they eat the best quality meat they can afford. Better quality meat normally means that the animals have been cared for properly while they’re alive.

Walking into the Tobacco Docks venue where Meatopa was held was like walking into a meaty fog, with smoke pouring out from the different cooking stations. Meatopia is a true celebration of sustainable and rare-bread meat. It’s also a testament to creative approaches of cooking meat on a variety of BBQs and fiery grills. There was twice cooked duck, salt marsh lamb, lamb ribs, brisket, pork belly, poussin, jerk chicken; the list goes on…

Along with meat there was quirky live music, forging of knives (a flying spark even managed to get in my hair!) and a craft beer area. Fortunately for me there was also some ice cream from Sorbitium Ices. My wait in a long queue was well worth it, and I came away with a refreshing combination of umeshu sorbet and a scoop of buttermilk and damson ice cream. Given the number of people waiting behind me, ice cream is clearly a good palate cleanser for meat-eaters.

I did end up smelling of meat smoke, which my husband didn’t think was such a bad thing, but I had a great time watching my friends work their way through the various meaty offerings. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look of pure ecstasy on my husband’s face as he tucked into Smokestak’s brisket. His butter drippy fingers glistening in meat juice were a perfect way to end the day. (Just in case you’re wondering, no, I wasn’t tempted to take a bite of the brisket. (Well not too much…)

 

Meatopia

Meatopia

Meatopia

 

5. Nutribix Launxch

As my Instagram feed attests, I’m a bit of a porridge fiend. However I do (occasionally) try and vary my breakfasts a little. As my stomach can’t cope with too much wheat, I’m always on the lookout for gluten free options. I like to make my own granola sometimes, but it’s good to have other options in the cupboard in case I fancy a change.

In September I was invited to the breakfast launch of a new cereal, Nutribix. There are two varieties, and one uses the grain sorghum, so is completely gluten free. It’s also very low in sugar and salt, which is important as a lot of pre-prepared cereal is full of both.

As well as being treated to a table full of luscious fresh fruit, we were given a demo by food writer and blogger Anna Barnett. Anna has created some recipes for Nutribix, including adding it to a morning smoothie to add texture and thicken the smoothie. Anna also prepared a warming platter of pears, peaches and nectarines roasted with honey and thyme. This was served over the cereal with a big scoop of Greek yoghurt. I’m going to borrow this one for my winter porridge as it was delicious.

I was given some boxes to take away, so I’ve tried out Nutribix for a couple of breakfasts over the last week. I jazzed it up with fruit, cinnamon, cacao nibs and chia seeds. It turned out to be a good option before a run as it wasn’t too heavy. I was also inspired by Anna’s recipes and mixed one into a rhubarb crumble topping for extra crunch.

While Nutribix isn’t going to replace my porridge addiction (I’m not sure anything could!), it’s good to have another option on days when I’m in a rush. I’m also going to try and get my hands on some whole grain sorghum to have a go at cooking it, so I’ll let you know how I get on.

 

Nutribix

 

What did you get up to in September? I’d love to hear your food highlights.

FacebooktwitterpinterestmailFacebooktwitterpinterestmail