I know it’s been a little slow at F&G recently, but that doesn’t mean that behind the scenes I haven’t been continuing to explore and celebrate food. There is an overwhelming backlog of culinary delights that I would love to shower you with, but there just ain’t time with an active toddler to actually sit my exhausted butt down and blog. Or more accurately, whenever there is time, it is spent prone on the sofa mindlessly staring at the tele-box. And what?
Anyway, a recent gastronomic high I just had to share with you. A couple of weeks ago, as part of the Brighton and Hove Food Festival the Brighton Food Society – of which I’m a founding member – hosted an evening of seaside-based fun, food and frolics for the culinary-enlighted of the Brighton scene. This is the second such event that the BFS has put on, but the first that I have been able to get involved with.
From the start I chickened out of being responsible for an entire course – the pressure was just too much for me to bear on my virgin voyage into mass catering. But I was well up for rolling up my proverbial sleeves and getting stuck in with the cooking, so I nominated myself as general kitchen dogsbody (after being assured that there would be a KP for the really hard work… Princess as I am, I’m not made for an evening elbow deep in pots and pans). And I was really looking forward to a long hard, but responsibility-free day slogging away in the kitchen. However, my plans were slightly scuppered when, at the eleventh-hour, I was put in charge of canapés! OK, ok, not exactly the most high-pressured course of the evening, but the opener, and you know what they say… ‘you only have one chance to make a first impression.’ If the canapés were crap, that was basically it for the evening (or that’s what the panicked voice in my head was telling me). Delusions of grandeur aside, I stepped up to the plate and knuckled down to designing some (hopefully) delicious bites of seafoody canapés.
On the day, we arrived at 10am and immediately got to work on the prep. Four kilos of crevettes had to be shelled and deveined. Dates had to be destoned. Fillets of plaice had to be trimmed. Then there was the stock, bisque and puds to make, the chickens to roast, not to mention the brioche buns to mix, kneed, prove, form, prove again and bake. Then the small matter of those canapés.
Needless to say, before we knew it the clock struck 5pm and we were really under the cloche (masterchef speak for ‘in the shit’). But miraculously by the time the guests had finished their glasses of Nyetimber Classic Cuvée and had their fill of canapés, we were ready to start plating the starter of “seagull” burgers, served in brioche buns, with home-pickled cucumbers, homemade tomato ketchup and mayo. Joe’s masterpiece was a total hit, and everyone in the kitchen happily scoffed the extras in the short lull before the next course.
Sam Bilton’s main was a somewhat ambitious undertaking. I think we all had sleepless nights about pan-frying fish for 37 guests, but in the end the boys (Andy and Joe) absolutely knocked them out with ease. Each fillet was served with a potato rosti, a filo-wrapped crevette, langoustine bisque, and samphire. They looked absolutely beautiful on the plate – we were all dead proud!
Next came a selection of coastal cheeses (and a well-received break in the kitchen), organised by BFS co-founder and cheese-chap Patrick McGuigan, before the dessert of “Toffee Apple” sticky toffee pudding from the other co-founder Andy Lynes. As someone who can’t see sticky toffee pudding on a menu without ordering it, I can confirm that this version really was triumphant. Plates were thoroughly licked clean. I snaffled the leftovers (including a plastic cup full of the caramel sauce) home, and boy oh boy it was even awesome the next day (and the day after that). Unfortunately, there wasn’t any of the accompanying madeira, provided by Butler’s Wine Cellar, for me to smuggle home to enjoy with it.
After that epic feast, everyone was just too stuffed for Matthew Drennan’s beautiful petit-fours of mini bourbons, jammie dodgers, and other nostalgic biccies. They were added to the guest’s goodie bags to enjoy at home.
All-in-all it was an amazing evening. The food seemed to go down well, and I was really proud of what we produced. Sure, it was exhausting, but it was equally exhilarating. I feel like I learned tonnes, and it was a fantastic experience. I’m still not sure I’d want to be completely responsible for a course next time, but I would definitely throw myself into the kitchen again. Though next time I think I’ll clear the diary the next day – I felt like I’d run a marathon, and had to get up with Finn at 7am. Well, that’s motherhood I guess.
I must give a shout-out to Euan McDonald who along with Patrick oversaw the dressing of the room (think buckets and spades, wind-breakers, and pier games), and front of house. They completely transformed the slightly dreary Brighthelm cafe into a seaside paradise. Thanks also to Becky for her front of house skillz.
For a full list of the generous donations to the event, please see BFS website. Recipes for all the dishes will also be posted there soon.