So… I’m just back from a day trip to Jamie Oliver’s ‘Big Feastival with Alex James’ (Catchy title n’est pas?) Well actually I'm not. But my little sister is, so this is a guest blog post from her. Over to you Foodie Sis...
The "Feastival" is in its second year, but this was the first time it was held on Alex James’s farm near Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire. Last year Alex held a ‘Harvest Festival’ on his farm but it all went a bit wrong. Somehow the event organisers made a mess of it all, ended up in administration and left a few folks out of pocket. Nice to see Alex was brave enough to give it another go and I’m sure having Jamie Oliver's name next to his helped to draw in the crowds of foodies required.
The Feastival runs for a full weekend with camping available and is advertised as being family friendly. Tickets were not cheap. Camping & weekend entrance was priced at £130pp and although under 12’s went free, 12-17years were charged at £70. I only had the energy (and almost enough funding) to get along for one day which set me back £43 on a special offer (regular price was £50 + booking fee). For the musically inclined the Saturday acts included Paloma Faith, The Noisettes, The Cuban Brothers and a few more. The Sunday line up included Texas, Razorlight and the Guillemots which I must admit tempted me rather more – but I was mainly there for the foodie delights!
We arrived just as the festival gates were opening at 11am. It was easy enough to get to the festival site, plenty of signs and folks showing us where in the big grassy field to park (the parking was free which was a bonus!) There was a short queue to get in and wristbanded up and then Feastival!
My first instincts weren’t overly great… it was quite quiet still and the field had a fair amount of open space – but as it had just opened up it gave us the opportunity to get our bearings and have a mooch around. We found the kids area/circus tent along with helter skelter, tea cups and swing boats. Tried and tested the compulsory portapods (which I was please to see had proper sinks/troughs outside with running water and squirty anti-bac soap available!)
And then made a bee-line for the foodie stalls (aka Artisan Food market). There were a decent amount of stalls however, I guess as always I’d have liked to see more! We were suitably plied with tasters and nibbley bits from most. My favourits were the cheeses from Thornby Moor Dairy who did a lovely range of cows, goats and ewes milk cheeses both soft and hard and the goat’s ice cream from the Greedy Goats. Their pistachio ice cream was to die for and very popular with my lactose intolerant friend. Stainswick Farm also deserves a mention with some very tasty Rape Seed oils.
Once we’d nibbled our way around the stands we began to make our plans for the day. Neither of us were that bothered about the music – so we consolidated our efforts on the cooking demo arena line up. Valentine Warner opened up but.. erm.. yeah.. we missed him! (I think we were lured away in chase of Churros y chocolate - YUM very good non-greasy Churros! We realised that Jamie was up next so we headed up to the ‘ELECTROLUX’ sponsored demo tent. By the end of the day we definitely KNEW who the sponsors were as the compare chap ran through the same spiel before each chef stepped up ‘Did YOU know that Electrolux kitchen equipment is used in over 50% of all Michelin starred restaurants across Europe?’ Well I certainly do now!
Anyhoos – Jamie arrived helped by the crazy Italian Gennaro Contaldo (One of ‘The Two Greedy Italians’ and former mentor of Jamie). I’m sure the demo would have looked great from nearer the front – but there were now LOTS of people around wanting to see a bit of Jamie. The food sounded tasty enough… Jamie cooked ‘A perfect steak’ – hmm perhaps a tad dull for a supposedly ‘foodie’ audience? But there was much laughs between the two chefs to make up for it.
|One of the rare glimpses of Jamie & Gennaro from the early show.|
From this demo we realised our strategy had to be ‘Get to the previous demo early if you want to be able to see who is coming up next'. We tried this strategy for Simon Rogan and had a perfectly clear view to his demo. All was going really well… until he started cooking, whilst Jamie’s perfect steak might have been a bit basic, Simon’s stuffed Grouse was way above the average foodies’ homely capabilities. He took bits of Grouse and minced them all up, added a pint of blood to it and made a cling-film sausage – which was to be sous-vide for 8hours at 63C (or something like that). I rapidly lost interest… the food was too complicated (and I’d never make it) but most of all – he was just a bit DULL!
And so off for another wander. I’d spied Alex James’s’s’s (?) Cheese Shed on the way past and he was just about to launch a new cheese to his range. As per usual the crowds had gathered and no matter how hard I tried to peer in, it all remained a bit of a blur… (geddit?) and I gave up my venture to catch a glimpse of Alex with his new cheese.
We decided to go for another explore and hit the Vintage Tea Rooms. They were beautifully set out with a wide range of teas and cakes. I supped on a delightful pot of Earl Grey whilst my friend tucked in to some chocolate cake. Lovely to get a decent seat for a while! They were doing a brisk trade indeed.
|Mark Hix and Alex James (including nipples & belly button – why that t-shirt Alex?? Could strain a cheese through it!)|
But all was not lost in the hunt for Alex James and his cheese! A quick dive back to the demo area and eh voila! Mark Hix was being (not so ably) assisted by Alex James himself. An unusual pairing. Alex James knows a lot about cheese and possibly the words/notes to a few Blur songs – but not a lot else! He was given a task of making some kinda salad using his cheese… gourmet dining it was not! My eyes rolled when Mark Hix started enthusing about his main ingredient. He was cooking… Grouse! (Yeah I know they are in season and are suitably tasty – BUT have you ever cooked one/seen one for sale anywhere??). Anyway, Alex was called away as he was doing a bit of jamming with Jamie and The Producers on the main stage and was replaced by Mark Sergeant (former head chef for Mr Ramsey, who now has his own restaurants in Folkestone) who livened up the proceedings a bit!
|Mark Sergeant, Jamie and Mark Hix|
The proceedings livened up a bit with once Jamie joined in with the cooking. We stayed and watched Mark Sergeant cook up some tasty treats. The cooking was all getting a bit chaotic by this stage, Mark Hix cooked up some kinda mushroomy eggs dish and Mark Sergeant cooked up… I have no idea what – must have been memorable!
The next chap on the demo list was Rakesh Ravindran Nair (from the Cinnamon Club in London) who cooked up a very tasty looking curried white fish in a banana leaf parcel. He did a good demo - actually was interested in what he was cooking compared to some of the other chefs! And it definitely made me want to visit the Cinnamon club someday. They operate with a ‘seasonal’ menu which focuses on food specifically from one region in India (& surrounding areas) – sounds wonderful! And from the smells wafting through the crowds likely to taste wonderful too.
|Jamie & Gennaro with Crazy fish in Crazy Waters!|
The final demo of the evening was back to Gennaro Contaldo who was joined on stage with Jamie as his sous. He is indeed a character – but it was enjoyable to watch him cook. He cooked a sea bass in ‘crazy water’ – pan simmered in a flavoursome tomatoey/herbie cooking liquor. He served it up with some freshly made tagliatelle and it looked delicious! (Now Big Sis – WHY have you never made fresh pasta before now?? It’s sooo easy and the kids would LOVE it!). A great finish to a day’s worth of demonstrations.
And so we wandered back to the stalls ready to do our purchasing. I’d already treated myself to a years Jamie’s magazine subscription at £29 which I didn’t reckon was too bad a deal when I also got a back issue magazine, a copy of Jamie’s Italy book, a Jamie’s micrograter , a magazine yearbook cookbook and a feastival cook book as well! We’d made our minds up to buy some goats cheese and perhaps a flavoured oil or vinegar. But we’d missed our opportunity! The stalls had all shut for the evening! G’ah! Serves us right for getting hooked on demos! But we weren’t too devastated.
One of the other features of the Feastival was their ‘restaurant’ type stalls and stands scattered around. You could buy meals from ‘Jamie’s Italian’, ‘Barbecoa’, ‘The Cinnamon Club’, ‘Hungry Gecko’ (remember Jackie Kearney from Masterchef and her love of Street food?), Brindian Roast (indian influences with British cuts of meat –sounded devine!) and lots lots more. Having just watched Rakesh Nair doing a demo, I was drawn to tasting something from the Cinnamon club prior to calling it a day. The menu sounded lovely and I chose a spiced chicken wrap with a spiced herb dressing on it. It was AMAZINGLY tasty. Definitely the best thing I’d tasted all day. If I’d have been able to stuff anything else in by that time I would have tried everything on their menu!
And so we wandered a bit, watched a little bit of the Noisette, and took stock of us going home nearly empty handed as far as foody goodness goes! Overall we had a lovely day out. Beautiful to be outside and in a field. Great to be entertained with some fun demos. Nice to try a few foodie treats. Oh and there was music as well…
Would I go back? Yes I think I would. Overall I am a little underwhelmed by it all. Perhaps if I’d brought my chair along… and consumed some alcohol… and bought the goat’s cheese in time… and they didn’t cook GROUSE all the time.. Oh well! There’s always next year!