At the start of the academic year, I told you a little bit about my adventures over the summer of 2021, and one of the highlights was the Foodies Festival at Tatton Park and meeting a MasterChef finalist.
I enjoyed it so much that it got me thinking. I approached the MC and asked if he felt it would be possible for me to help out in future, so he said to email one of his colleagues which I duly did.
My hopes were raised but then nothing. I heard absolutely nothing back. It was disappointing but people are not obliged to answer your email and they must get loads of requests. It was also during the Festival season so no doubt they were concentrating on that.
Anyway undeterred, I revisited the website over the winter and dug out another contact, offered my services and BINGO! Mhairi responded almost immediately with a big fat yes.
Consequently a few weeks ago I found myself at Syon Park in a tent (chef’s theatre) with some of the big names of the culinary scene. My duties consisted mainly of pouring (and drinking) fizz and exotic alcoholic cocktails for the chefs before and after their 30-minute demos. I prepared the demo area, sorted out equipment, took tickets and did quite a bit of washing up. And when the technician was working in another area, I also made sure the audience could see all the action by switching between cameras to get the best view on the TV screens. In between times I spent a lot of time chatting to some great chefs and getting the inside track on what the industry is really like.
Masterchef finalist Pookie was a born entertainer and dazzled in the limelight, despite it being her first public demo. She had the audience in a fit of giggles. Atul Kochhar was the ultimate professional, yet utterly charming with it. Likewise, Thomas Leatherbarrow and Tom Booton whose expertise, organisation and dedication are models for us all. Not content with two days in the tent, Thomas was overseeing a prestigious wedding for 2,500 guests the following day before flying off to Egypt for another high profile event, then back to the UK. Jet set chef or what?
Then there was Eddie Scott, the MasterChef winner who came to the show on all three days and keenly supported his fellow chefs. He talked about his plans to set up his own restaurant and how he was gaining industry experience by working at a Michelin-starred pub close to his home in Beverley.
Our very own Brummie winner Dan Lee took to the stage along with Daniel Marreiros, Ryan Baker, Jamie Holme and Aaron Middleton, producing great dishes in a matter of minutes with limited equipment. MasterChef finalists Santosh Shah and Philli Armitage-Martin created a buzz when they teamed up for a Ready Steady Cook competition while Shelina Permalloo and Tony Rodd also drew in the crowds.
Some chefs were nervous, others supremely confident and relaxed but their love of food and cooking shone through. It was a fantastic atmosphere made more so by the evident camaraderie between the chefs. They were modest and humble and made a point of supporting each other in and out of the tent. Moreover, they were very appreciative of my help and made a point of saying so.
But perhaps the person who made the biggest impression on me was Jon Watts of ITV’s This Morning show. His story is truly remarkable and a lesson to us all that we can put the past behind us.
He left school at 16 but by 18 was in a young offender’s institution serving a six-year sentence. But in a strange way it was the making of him. He learned to cook as part of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and became the first person in custody to achieve Bronze, Silver and Gold awards. Two weeks before his release, he was awarded his Gold at the palace by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. He has worked with Jamie Oliver since and started his own business, and he goes back to cook at Windsor Castle several times a year.
But he also goes back into prisons and schools to talk about his experience and help motivate others. Jon really was an inspiration and proof that the past does not have to hold you back.
As for me, I will be heading back to the Foodies Festival as soon as I can.
Photo: Ryan Baker, Philli Armitage-Martin, Santosh Shah and Thomas Leatherbarrow.