So I won a blogging competition. On Facebook, with Thomas Cook. I don’t enter many competitions, but I’d been on a blogging course and thought why not? After all it combined the two loves of my life, travel and food. The winning post was about the first time I ever ate Moussaka on a Greek Ferry back in 1979.
Even better, the prize was a day cooking with James Martin. He is a Yorkshire man and cooks proper food, using butter, cream and salt. A man after my own heart.
Weirdly, I was really nervous about the day. I don’t know why, I am rarely star struck and not into the whole celebrity thing. Indeed, when I read Hello or Grazia at the hairdressers I really don’t know who they are writing about unless it is someone from Friends. I do watch Saturday Kitchen occasionally, and wanted to know why they no longer have non famous guests on the show. Forgot to ask him that.
Indeed, I was so embarrassed at the way some of the participants were quite frankly fawning over the poor man, I was uncharacteristically quiet. Yes, me, quiet.
I was surprised that 3 of the winners were serial competition enterers and, in my humble opinion,
slightly spoiled the experience: by talking over him, challenging him and frankly not relishing the experience as much as those like me who had worked hard and felt privileged to be there. One even offered to lobby the fishermen to get more cod cheeks on the market!.
Then there were the ones who thought they were as good as cooks as he is, questioning his techniques. Really, this man has far more knowledge and clout in the world of food than you ever will have. And no, I did not admire his watch as one sycophant suggested I did to ‘get in his good books’. Yes, that was suggested by one winner.
However I handled a live crab for the first and possibly last time in my life and plunged it into hot water. I did make bit of a splash, so keen was I to let go of an animal with sharp claws. James, as dry witted as ever commented, ‘It’s not Tom Daley’.
I enjoyed bashing the cooked claws and flaking the crab meat for a magnificent risotto we all enjoyed at lunch. I buttered and sugared moulds for the yummy chocolate puddings and learned the best way to peel tomatoes, which is one really handy tip I will take away with me. I used to plunge them into hot water and wait for the skin to start to peel away, now I know to plunge them into ice cold water after the hot water, so they don’t keep cooking and go all soggy. And to put a cross on the base and remove the core (or as Mom used to say, pull the plug out).
I enjoyed the very good wine (not as much as some people did). Tasting it made me pine for New Zealand, evoking happy memories of sipping wine on bean bags at Wither Hills vineyard…… but the variety of food at lunch and at the afternoon demonstration almost made up for it.
After lunch we watched as James made pea soup, fillet of lamb, seared tuna and cheesecake. Despite having eaten well at lunch we all made sure we tasted everything.
The finale, of course, was James showing off his sugar spinning, on his cheats gateaux.
Did I enjoy the day? Yes, absolutely. The location was lovely, the food was fabulous and James Martin wasn’t up himself. Indeed he was very down to earth and didn’t mind that the tea towel he used to strain the crab shell infused oil was described by me as ‘cleanish’.
What would I do different? The community activist in me would loved to have seen it hosted at Central Street Cookery School. This is next door to the venue we were at and part of St Luke’s Trust who are doing really great things in the community. They have a roof garden and bees! How lovely if the money used to pay for the day had been invested in this community?
The organiser/control freak in me would have liked name badges so I could remember everyone’s names and James could have known who we all were, so he didn’t have to call us all ‘you’!
However when food looks as good as this and tastes even better, I can just about forgive the latter.