Two months ago, I spent an afternoon at Somerset House with Heston Blumenthal. I was one of the lucky group invited to his grand chocolate box restaurant, which meant a few happy hours giggling with delight as we tasted one clever creation after another. Most of the audience were chocolate specialists (producers, artisan chocolatiers, retailers…) so I was very fortunate indeed to be there. That was thanks to my dear friend Jen who couldn’t attend but responded to the researcher’s request to recommend others who might fit the bill. The fact I’d written a fair bit about chocolate here on Kavey Eats won the day and I was given my golden ticket.

After an hour or two waiting in a nearby hotel lobby we were finally walked into the grounds of Somerset House, where a giant Black Magic-style chocolate box awaited. It slowly opened out to reveal a small bar and stage in front of which tables, chairs, linen, cutlery and menus were quickly laid out, within a roped-off area. There were pretty plants in pots; there was even a Maitre d’s stand at the entrance. Shown to our seats, we spent the next few hours enjoying the Heston experience.

We were served chocolate-themed drinks – my favourite was the black forest gâteau hot chocolate with a cloud of “chocolate essence” squirted into the glass but we also sampled a gin cocktail, sweet chocolate wine and a chocolate stout. A beautifully painted edible chocolate box with pretty chocolates inside was delivered to each table. And we were fascinated by Heston’s Moos Bar, a beefy version of a Mars-Twix-Milkyway combo. I wish the beef taste was less subtle – I would have liked more evident beefiness!

Lastly, the tables were cleared away and a vast chocolate bar arrived. Each piece had been made by different companies, from mainstream brands to artisan chocolatiers, before being assembled onto a giant bar by Heston’s chefs. With chisels and mallets, Heston and his team broke into the chocolate, piece by piece, and we had a crazy feast, trying the many different fillings.

Heston 1 Heston 3 Heston 4
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Heston 14 Heston 15 Heston 18
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The giant chocolate box, opening out, to reveal Heston’s House of Chocolate, BFG hot chocolate, Moos bar advert, Heston’s team, Heston telling us about his Moos bar, the Moos bars being delivered to our table, a Moos bar, me tasting the Moos bar and declaring “More cow, more cow!”, our reaction to the edible chocolate box, the giant chocolate bar arriving on a forklift, us reacting to the giant chocolate bar, Heston breaking into the first piece, his staff taking over the job, the crowd enjoying the chocolate, me at the end saying “it’s the best one ever – it’s chocolate, and it’s fantastic and it’s in a magical box!”, Heston summing up at the end

If you missed this episode, or the rest of the series, you can catch it on 4OD for a few weeks, here.

 

With enormous thanks to production company Betty for letting me be part of this wonderful experience.

 

Although I find our Masterchef series has become dull and formulaic I really enjoy Masterchef Australia, hosted by Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston. Although the occasional over-the-top sycophancy of some of the contestants can be a little grating, mostly they are just exhuberant and gung-ho in a way we seldom embrace in the UK but ought to a little more; it’s energising! I like the range of challenges the Masterchef Australia contestants are given; so much more varied than our trio of stints in professional kitchen, random staff canteen and cooking for the judges. I also like the masterclasses given by the presenters and guest experts.

One recent evening, we ploughed through a few episodes stacked up on the DVR, including one featuring a masterclass by Matt Preston. I loved the simplicity of his recipe for “pumpkin soup with a twist”, and we made a further simplified version for lunch the very next day, using the organic butternut squash we had in the fridge.

I particularly liked his idea to garnish the soup with bacon and pepitas (pumpkin seeds) candied in brown sugar. Although I have, in the past, carefully saved the seeds from a squash, washed them clean of all the fruit clinging to them and roasted them in the oven, I decided to skip the pepitas this time. I also simplified the overall recipe quite a bit more, skipping the apples, onions, garlic in the soup and the fried sage leaves on top.

It was ridiculously easy and it was rather good; ideal for those who love sweet-savoury combinations.

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Butternut Squash Soup with Candied Bacon

Ingredients
1 butternut squash
1 tub of home-made stock (beef, chicken or vegetable), approximately 1 litre
1 teaspoon mixed spice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
150 grams cubed pancetta, lardons or chopped streaky bacon
3 tablespoons Demerara sugar

Method

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  • While the oven preheated to 180 C, we cut the butternut squash into thirds, sprinkled a teaspoon of mixed spice and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over it and baked in its skin for approximately half an hour.
  • In the meantime, we defrosted a tub of home-made beef stock we had in the freezer.

ButternutSoupCandiedBacon-1821

  • We fried the pancetta until cooked before adding 3 the brown sugar. We cooked these together for a minute or two until the sugar dissolved and darkened. We realised afterwards that it could have done with a minute or two longer in the pan to add a touch more crunch, and may also have benefited from draining some of the rendered bacon fat before adding the sugar. We poured the candied bacon onto a silicon baking sheet to cool.

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  • When the squash was roasted, we peeled the skin away and added it to the stock.

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  • When both were hot we blended the soup till smooth and then seasoned to taste.
  • We served the soup with candied bacon and fresh, soft white bread.

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With so few ingredients, the quality of the organic produce we used gave the finished dish wonderful flavours.

 

Kavey Eats was sent a selection of organic produce by Organic UK Food as part of the Organic Naturally Different campaign.

 

If you’re in the UK and like watching food shows, you’ve probably already seen, or at least heard of, A Question of Taste.

It’s the pilot series of a new quiz show currently airing on BBC2 on Monday nights. Presented by Kirsty Wark, it seems loosely based on the format for A Question of Sport. In a nutshell, two teams of foodies compete for points but no prizes, by answering a range of questions on ingredients and cooking techniques, TV cookery shows and chefs, and even a little food history and science.

Yours truly is one of the contestants; my episode airs at 7.30 pm, Monday 30th January on BBC2.

AQOT 2

My fellow team members are Danny and Dan and together, we are Three Like To Eat.

AQOT 1

Produced by Silver River, the company launched by successful producer Daisy Goodwin, I don’t think the show quite hits the mark and I’ll be surprised if the BBC commission another series, though you never know; food TV is still hot property and this is that rare entity – a family show for all ages, if they don’t get bored silly.

Kirsty Wark is a good presenter, I like her personality and her style, though I’d prefer to see her engage in a lot more banter with the contestants, and make the show more fun and lively. As it is, it feels stilted and dull! The torturous run-through of the rules before each round is… boring in the extreme! And I know I’m not alone in finding William Sitwell’s role in the Kitchen Corner particularly annoying and patronising, even more so having seen that he doesn’t know in real life the information he’s reading out as the resident “expert”. Ever since Countdown had a lexicographer on hand to provide alternative answers and extra information, it seems that other quiz shows feel they must follow suit, and here, it doesn’t seem to work.

That said, I did have a lot of fun participating!

I know I’m going to cringe my way through this, not least because the need to smile throughout filming was strongly impressed on us before we went on air. I’m convinced the result will be Danny and I gurning at each other, whilst Dan looks suavely on!

There’s also a point at which Kirsty miscalls us Three Like It Hot, which makes me giggle for some time. But after the quiz is finished, the crew have her run through a number of do-overs, including that segment… so the audience won’t understand just what I’m giggling at!

For me, it’s been great fun watching the series, as every episode has featured friends of mine, usually at least three people and in one episode, all six contestants!

Watch, enjoy, giggle with derision, but be gentle!

Watch on youtube.

 

I’m glad I attended the filming of Market Kitchen for a second time, after my first experience back in March. That session had been an Easter special, and although there was certainly cooking (and tasting) there were a number of segments (judging egg kits for kids, ranking easter eggs made by a range of celebrities and looking at posh jellies inside fruits) which the audience were not involved in at all.

Last time I went on my own but this time I was joined by a fellow poster from the BBC Food Chat board who responded to my invitation to attend with me. We met at the studios in Kentish Town at 8.20 am, grabbed a quick croissant and tea whilst we signed indemnity and permission forms before being lead upstairs to the studio. There were 19 or 20 in the studio audience this time and we represented a range of ages, backgrounds and interests. One couple had come all the way from Cardiff the night before!

Our presenters this time were Matthew Fort and Tom Parker-Bowles. Fort in particular is very warm and friendly and clearly enjoys interacting with the audience. He would often include us in the banter during filming, as there were often many takes and much silliness. And he would also come and chat to us during the breaks between segments. Tom Parker-Bowles was also friendly, though spent much less time chatting to the audience. I like him as a presenter very much; I prefer his relaxed and warm style to that of Matt Tebbit, who can be somewhat more sarcastic and mocking. Fort was dressed in his usual smart suit; P-B was wearing his characteristic scruffy-teen jeans and jumper. Very much the odd couple but a pair that work really well together.

Although we were given information handouts on arrival, which one must sit on during filming, to keep them out of shot, I decided to leave mine in the storage area, with my bag. So when we saw the three guest chefs, the only one I recognised was Richard Corrigan. With him were two ladies. One was heavily pregnant and casually, comfortably dressed. The other, an attractive, long-haired blonde, was dressed in a rather short, midnight-blue, chiffon dress heavily decorated with silver sequins, complemented by a pair of high-heeled silver stilettos! Uncharitable thoughts about nightclub hostesses popped into my head. I was certainly guilty of judging the book by it’s cover!

Immediately on walking into the studio we were asked to taste three pots of hummus and mark our favourite onto a voting slip. All three were far too dry, especially the first one, which could not hardly be described as a paste at all. That one was distinctly peanuty. One of the others was red and tasted of red peppers, chilli and spices. The other was somewhat more standard. None were very good. The first segment filmed saw Fort ask the chefs about their individual hummus recipes before announcing that Sophie Michell’s had won our audience vote. But, in between filming, it became clear that the chefs hadn’t made their respective hummus dishes – rather the crew had done so according to their recipes. And not very well, from their comments, as Corrigan made comments about the texture and adding in more oil. Sophie was disappointed to learn that her hummus had not been presented to us tasters with her specified toppings of pine nuts and chopped spring onions.

As last time, between every segment, not only were the audience mixed up, in terms of where we were all seated, but the tables and chairs were re-positioned too. A male and female took the place of the two male baristas of last time, one of which was that drop-dead gorgeous South African; he was sadly away in Paris, Fort explained. Shame, as he was rather pleasant eye-candy! But the hot chocolates I opted for were still good, so all was not lost! What was odd to me was how often the barista would deliver empty coffee cups to the audience tables during filming; they were obviously keen to give the impression of a proper cafe atmosphere.

One of the segments that was interesting to observe and passionate too was an interview with Professor Tim Lang about food policy in the UK and glocal food and water crises. Lang is Professor of Food Policy at City University’s Centre for Food Policy. The centre specialises in how public and private policy shapes the food supply chain, what people eat, societal health, environmental consequences and so on. Lang combines research on these issues with active policy making working with public sector as well as non-profit organsations.The main two areas covered in the interview were the amount of food wasted in the UK and the world water shortage. Interesting and sobering stuff.

Sophie Michell proved to be far more professional than I (unfairly) expected (and less prone to fluffing her segments than the presenters or Corrigan). Where she did have to do retakes, it was usually because the floor manager and production crew wanted a different angle or a few seconds longer to film a particular step. She made Russian black tea braised ribs with soy, honey glaze using anise, cassia, ginger and five spice amongst the flavourings. With the exception of the tea, not a hugely unusual or innovative recipe, but one I was looking forward to trying – I adore ribs, I love asian spicing and I love tea too so it sounded very promising. The tea was a mix of lapsang souchong and assam, with the lapsang souchong providing a smokey note to the overall flavour. Sitting at a table of 3 I was rather surprised when the tasting plate came with just two small ribs between us and we were given just a fork each with which to attack them. Having been given the forks, we assumed picking the ribs up with fingers (as any sane person would do to eat such a dish) was not to be done, besides which, we weren’t given a rib each. So we awkwardly pulled meat off the bone with our forks, all under the watchful eyes of the cameras. One of our two ribs had very little meat on it and had subsequently become charred and overcooked. Luckily, the other one had much more meat and a good ratio of fat too, which had kept it moist. The outside was crusted and the inside moist and tender. The flavour was wonderful with a great balance between smokeyness, sweetness and warm spices. This will likely prove to be the first Market Kitchen recipe I actually make the effort to try myself! The ribs were served with a very simple cucumber salad. A good contrast but nothing special.

Corrigan was making a breakfast dish of poached smoked Haddock with mustard, dill and dry cured bacon served on light potato pancakes. The haddock was light and moist, though quite a gentle flavour, not as strong as I would have liked. The mustard sauce was nice but the dill didn’t come through at all, likewise in the pancake, which also had dill added. The pancakes were like wee drop scones and were much lighter and airier than I would ever have imagined potato scones could be. This would be down to the whipped egg whites being folded in to the batter separately from the yolks, I guess. The bacon was from The Ginger Pig and was delicious! Corrigan was genuinely delighted with the positive feedback from the filmed audience tasting feedback. I ended up giving feedback on the haddock – I didn’t love it though it was nice enough but they needed an extra person to comment and those who hadn’t already done so were shying away. I’d rather have given feedback on the ribs, which I liked far more. I doubt mine will be used anyway as I called the pancakes scones and focused on them rather than the haddock itself.

The next main segment was rather odd, but to be fair, I’m definitely not the target audience. A bloke called King Adz came on and talked briefly about the origins of hip hop and American culture before recommending Berlin as the hippest (and cheapest) city in Europe; a buzzing place to visit. I couldn’t follow the connection between American food culture (discussed for maybe as much as 10 seconds) and Berlin city breaks! The segment finished with King Adz blitzing together Dime bars, vanilla ice-cream and milk to create a Dime bar milk shake. It tasted exactly as you’d expect, if you know Dime bars but I was confused by how it related to the topics until I finally noticed in my handout that it was something he’d come across in Berlin. A quick google when I got home told me that King Adz is a writer/ photographer/ editor/ producer/ director whose main expertise is “producing food, travel and culture content for the urban youth demographic”. Having learned, last time I was on MK, that it’s very big with university students (it was Countdown in my day) perhaps this segment was a nod to them but probably left the rest of the audience quite bemused. All a bit odd and slightly surreal.

Last to be filmed was Jo Pratt’s segment. Her main dish was paella cakes made from left-over paella though most of the segment was about cooking the paella itself. I didn’t rate the paella cakes at all, the flavour wasn’t great and I didn’t like the texture much either. Again, they gave us just 2 paella cakes between our table of 4 (and this time, no cutlery at all with which to divide and eat them). Alongside the cakes was a small shot glass of red gazpacho. Very nice but again, not practical to share a single shot glass between 4 strangers with no straws or spoons provided. The (single glass) of sherry spritzer also provided was nothing special either. All in all a disappointing segment.

Throughout the morning various short introduction and voice-over segments were also recorded plus a brief section on the growing trend to grow one’s own vegetables. I’d been looking forward to this, as we’ve been growing our own vegetables for several years now, but it was filmed on the large kitchen table in the corner, making it hard for the audience to see and it was a short segment and therefore very superficial.

We finished before 1pm and headed off. LindaCaterina went home to get on with some work. I headed down to China Town to meet a friend (and her lovely baby boy) for dim sum in China Town.

 

This morning I was part of the small studio audience for Market Kitchen. I don’t know how many of you know/ watch this show; it’s on every weekday on UKTV Food and I probably catch it once a week or so. Part of it’s filmed inside a studio and other segments are filmed outdoors at Borough Market.

I’d applied to be in the audience a few months ago and have been receiving email invitations for a while now, but finally received one for a date I could make (and a guest chef I was keen to see: Michael Caines).

My first surprise was that the studio is in Kentish Town whereas the show always gives me the impression that it’s all located around the Borough Market area. Optomen, the producers, are squirrelled away in a quiet residential area about 10 minutes walk from the tube station.

We were invited to have a croissant and coffee soon after arrival and then sign the contract saying they can do whatever they like with the footage, before being taken up to the studio.

Matt Tebbitt was joined by Simon Rimmer as the guest presenter and Michael Caines and Maria Elia were guest chefs. Oh yes, and Rowland Rivron.

We were made very welcome not only by Scott, the audience researcher (who sorted the invites/ guest list and managed the audience positioning during the show) but also by the rest of the crew, the presenters and guest chefs and the two men manning the coffee station and serving coffee, fruit juice and the most lovely hot chocolate regularly during the show. (The South African one was really gorgeous, try and catch a glimpse of him on the show!)

Rowland Rivron was on to present a few DIY easter egg kits for kids. I’m really not a huge fan of his in terms of TV appearances, but he seemed a friendly enough chappy. As I was sat on the sofa at the back corner of the studio for that segment so couldn’t see anything anyway! That said, when they wrapped that segment up, I did go up and have a peek and a little play with the car egg toys for a few moments!

They also had on these two posh guys that make up “architectural jelly mongers” Bompas and Parr. These two were posher than Harry and William and when one of them claimed that what they’d done was “so wild” I nearly snorted with laughter! Oh and, to celebrate Easter, they were dressed in white body suits with a yellow circle on the fronts – to look like eggs apparently. OK then. Still, they are very successful and rather in vogue at the moment, certainly I’ve come across news reports of jellies in the shape of landmark buildings commissioned for big sparkling events.

None of us in the audience could really see much of anything during this segment as it was filmed at a large table in the corner of the studio, on the opposite side the audience tables. The guests and presenters had their backs to us and the camera men and crew were between the them and us too. The strident duo presented various jellies made in shaped moulds and then some fruit jellies set inside real fruits. They’d taken oranges, made a small hole in the bottom, scooped out all the flesh from that hole and then poured jelly inside, in layers, first orange, then a white layer and then orange and so on. When they cut the oranges in half they were full of stripes of jelly. Looked rather faffy and pointless (and really couldn’t catch more than glimpses) but I’d quite liked to have seen these up close and tasted them but they seemed to miss that out, though they did indicate earlier that they’d do an audience tasting for those.

To be honest, I was quite distracted during this entire segment as from where I sat, as I said, I couldn’t see the jellies very well, but I could see a huge swathe of Simon Rimmer’s bright pink underpants!!! (And yes, I did discuss this with him later!)

Michael Caines’ segment was the best for me, not least because I think he’s great but also because I was sat in a great position and could see what he was doing more clearly than I could see the action in other segments. It still wasn’t ideal as one is sitting in regular chairs peering upwards at the action on a tall kitchen surface so I’m sure I’ll get a better view when I watch it again when it’s aired. But it’s more about being there and watching the filming process than seeing the cooking process as clearly as one does on TV. Caines cooked a John Dory dish with aubergines, tomatoes and courgettes and I was one of those asked to record a little vox pop, possibly to be aired on the show. Of course, although everyone’s chatting when they bring the camera over and it all seems manageable, as soon as the producers shouts for quiet during filming, the focus of the room switches to the subject of filming. I’m a trainer, and so I’m used to speaking to strangers in public, and yet I found it so embarassing that my cheeks were hot and my hands clammy! But my table mates said I did very well, so who knows, maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought and I won’t cringe too badly when I see it! My comment mentioned growing all the vegetables in the recipe in my garden and that I hoped to make it with my own produce later in the year. At least, that’s what I meant to say, who knows what garbled rubbish came out?

Simon Rimmer’s segment was great too, he did a light steamed sponge inspired by Simnel Cake but much lighter and fresher. The chocolate and caramel sauce he made to serve with it was wickedly wonderful! He really is a professional presenter; a one take kind of guy, as opposed to Matt who tended to have to redo his segments quite a bit!

The presenters and guest chefs had a great rapport going at all times and all 4 seemed to enjoy themselves. With the exception of Maria, the gents were all pretty good at chatting to the audience between filming too, which made things more interesting for us.

Maria Elia first did a little interview with Simon about a traditional Easter greek-cypriot bread called Tsoureki before filming her recipe for a savoury baklava. The bread was rather nice, like a dense brioche, and I found it quite moreish, nibbling on it as they recorded her making the balkava. The baklava recipe name lists tomato, feta, almond and dates but the main ingredient was onion and far too few layers of filo for my tastes too. I really didn’t like it at all, so I was glad they didn’t ask me to film any comments about that one. I did enjoy the tzatziki served with it.

Anyway, I’m really glad I went on the show to see how things are done. I was surprised by how much faffing goes on though. Mind you, one of the other ladies in the audience had been on previously fairly recently and said there had been more cooking and less faffing on her first visit so maybe it depends on the guests and contents…

I’d like to go on again to see different guest chefs, so will keep an eye on the invitation emails over coming weeks/ months.

Oh, and you don’t have more than a few morsels of food during the show, so I went down to china town for some lovely dim sum for lunch afterwards!

PS “My” episode will air on the 9th April, if anyone does want to watch!

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