Good Food and Wine Show 2011
Before I moved to Cape Town last year, I remember Ben attending the Good Food and Wine Show (GFWS), Gordon Ramsay was one of the guest chefs – it sounded like the sort of event that you just don’t get in Plymouth, England where I was living. So, naturally this year I was keen to attend.
One of the entries on my bucket list (I even wrote it on the giant blackboard at AfrikaBurn) is to take Ben for dinner at the three michelin starred restuarant, The Fat Duck in Bray, UK. I’m particularly spoilt and he bought me a GFWS ticket to the chefs in action theatre to see one of this years GFWS guest chefs – none other than fat duck owner – Heston Blumenthal!
From reading around the food communities blogs and tweets the last few days, there’s been mixed reviews from the GFWS this year. So here are my highlights and disappointments.
The GFWS is a huge event. This is great as it attracts a huge variety of businesses, from small producers to big corporations. I have to say the over commercial aspect of it didn’t appeal to me, as someone who has been spoilt since moving to Cape Town by the variety of small markets which have a much more personal touch. In my mind, over produced ready meals don’t really have a place at an event I’d hope would showcase the best the food world has to offer, neither do fast food companies (who shall remain nameless) who don’t have an ethical leg to stand on. In my mind that is not “good” food. But anyway, I appreciate this huge event must need the input of such entities to make it as big and as appealing to Capetonians on mass.
Despite this, I did have some really good chats with some local producers, and I was pleased to see many familiar faces from the markets. Highlights from the local producers were some great halloumi and other cheeses from Green Goose organic farm, delicious fruit and vegetable juice from Dr Juice and great canapes from Odeds kitchen. The olive oil from Vesuvio was really nice and their rich, simple olive paste will, I think, be a hit when it’s out on the shelves soon. My favourite product of the show was the delicious chocolates from DV. I’ve never tasted so much variety of flavour in 70% raw cacao chocolate before.
One thing that irks me generally, is the marketing of products as premium when they don’t contain the best possible ingredients. This was always a big problem for me with sausages in the UK. You pay a premium price for Tesco’s premium “finest” sausages for example. But these sausages, although containing more of it, usually contain only the same poorly treated pig meat as the cheaper brands. I do not like the way they stand as premium, next to genuine, high welfare products. At least I guess, in the UK, I had the RSPCA freedom foods labels among others as some insight in to whether I was buying something I would term premium. In South Africa – although there is a lot of great local produce, I’ve yet to find any free range labels I can really trust. There was an array of great looking charcuterie at the GFWS but none could I find that even claimed free range, the best that I could find was pasture reared. This is not premium produce in my mind and I dislike it being marketed as such.
However there is some hope. It’s not impossible here to trace your meat back to its source, which is often just up the road. You’ll have already seen my post about my great local deli (Gogo’s) which show cases some fabulous free range products, along with supplier information. At the GFWS I got a chance to speak to Jeanne Groenewald of Elgin Chickens – who supply much of the chicken Ben and I buy at Woolworths and Pick n Pay. She was lovely, instantly identifying me as the “overly enthusiastic free range British chick” (thanks Hazel). She had some pictures and movies of her chickens and has offered me the chance to see them – watch this space. I also have plans to finally hunt down some charcuterie which will match my ethical criteria. It’s just a shame more wasn’t made of this at the GFWS, there’s a huge consumer basis here in CT for food, and great potential I think for growth in this farming sector. Maybe next year the real premium produce will be show cased as those which are not just high in taste standards but ethical ones as well.
There was a small selection of cooked meal type food to eat – certainly not on the scale of Taste of Cape Town. I had some scallops from Five Flies, something I love having in the UK but after finding out they are imported here, I doubt I will be having them again any time soon. They were still delicious and a nice treat. Ben was less impressed with his lamb but more than happy with the empanadas we bought from Orinoco.
On to something a little less serious. Wine. I think this is where the show really became a memorable day for me. We were treated as well as at any vineyard by several wonderful promoters and vineyard owners. They discussed their products in depth with us and asked us about our experiences at the show and our life as Brits in SA. We bought a delicious pinotage from Jacksons vineyard and a “Cape Harmony” red blend from Lorraine. Wine on the whole was very well priced at the show and it was comforting to see that the commercialism associated with the ticket expenses had not extended to this area. We tried some great wine called “Appollis” – this is owned by the farm workers of one farm and is certified by the Fairtrade world wide label. We discussed the Fairtrade movement in South Africa with the stall holder and I really hope this idea takes off.
Other than wine there was also some representation from the spirits and beers industry. I was pleased to have a really good ale – Whale Tale from Bostons Brewery. These are rare in South Africa so I think I will have to buy a stock pile :) We also thoroughly enjoyed our time in the Conjure cognac lounge. I had a free taste with ginger ale – which was really nice – I wish I’d bought a bottle of Rogers/Jorgensens distillery Savingnac for this purpose now!
On to the star attraction of the day – Heston! Arriving at the chefs in action theatre I was confronted with a terribly disorganised queueing system and overheard that the lady at the front has been queueing for an hour and a half. People proceeded to push in to the roughly formed queue and we meandered around a little bit of poorly constructed queue lane. I know people mock the British for their love of queueing, but honestly, it is the fair and peaceful way to deal with people – especially with so many evidently selfish folk who have no respect for others. When we queued to get tickets to see David Attenborough and people jumped the queue, I was ready to forcibly lift them up and put them in their deserved place at the back, and that was for a free ticket, for Heston, people had paid. In this instance I wasn’t hugely bothered, I was just happy to see Heston, we hadn’t paid out for VIP, so I was ok, but I do wish people would learn to queue!! Luckily I was on my own so I managed to get a seat fairly close to the front.
Heston was great, charming and an engaging speaker. He didn’t cook. I’ve heard a few people criticise this, but come on, what is Heston going to cook for about 300 home cooks?! I don’t know about the more wealthy among us, but I certainly don’t have a centrifuge at home and I very much doubt my supervisor would agree to letting me use our liquid nitrogen to cook bacon! I really enjoyed Hestons discussion and experiment showing the differences between taste and flavour and his visual display and run through of the method behind the madness of several of the fat duck dishes was cool. He gave some brilliant, in depth and from the heart answers to the questions asked from the audience. Despite being sat in the “cheap seats” I did manage to get the attention of the chair to ask him my question (I’m getting good at this after David Attenborough, if you look a little crazy and overexcited it seems to help :P). Apparently if he could cook for anyone in history it would be Einstein (cue pleased giggles from me). But he also told me a great story about how food is intimately connected to our personalities and memories. One old lady he presented with a bag of sweets (traditional meal ending at the fat duck), burst in to tears, overwhelmed by previously forgotten memories of her Grandmother. It was very touching.
So Heston was great, but I was definitely disappointed by the organisation of the GFWS. Entry tickets are definitely worth the cost – in wine tasting alone. However the Chefs in Action tickets do not include this and at R350 for the cheap seats (where you are made to feel a little bit like economy class), R750 for “VIP” where you are actually involved in the show and up to R1500 for a “master class” I think they are pushing it. My friend Tandy had a really terrible experience at her James Martin masterclass. To make it worth the cost for the participants, I think they should have made it a smaller theatre and charged the R350 to just enough people to make it an intimate and special experience. Hopefully they will improve this for next year and tempt me back.
All in all I had a wonderful day. Getting to talk to one of my favourite celebrity chefs and spending a day discussing food and wine with Ben was lovely. But I didn’t feel the event itself was as special as Taste of Cape Town, or as good value for money. As someone who really loves food I also don’t think the event really represented “good” food – I would have thought this impossible in Cape Town.