…Summer, 2013 @ Birmingham NEC
For my birthday, I was bought tickets (by my in-laws) for Mrs^ and I to go to the show, but this was not designed to be not a present for the 2 of us to enjoy equally (when it comes to food she know’s what she likes). She was more than happy to come along, walk around & see the shows, despite being less interested in the actual food aspects.
To make the most of the day (and to beat as much of the later-in-the-day busy-ness as possible) we had a relatively early start and we were on the train(s) over to Birmingham Int’l by 8:30. After navigating the long (long) hallways of the NEC, much aided by the escalators and travelators, we rocked up in-front of the entrance to the hall(s) that the show was taking place in. With our tickets came a voucher for a free show-bag (a huge bag-for-life style big bag), and boy did it come in useful – we had brought our own, but this extra one made our lives easier.
After studying the map in the Show Guide we formulated a plan; we’d go across the hall down one ‘aisle’ then back down the next one over, thereby covering the whole area with as little retracing-of-our-steps as possible (a HT to the Travelling Salesman Problem). The only restriction being that we had to be in front of the Supertheatre at our showtime(s).
After only a short walk down our first aisle, the first stall we struck upon was one touting Celtic Spirits (flavoured brandies & whiskies). I wasn’t sure whether my body was ready for alcohol at something short of 10am, but I was wrong. I think it was just what I needed to take the edge of the caffeine rush that I had going. After I had tried all 3 of their liqueurs we walked away with a large bottle of my favourite, and if we were to continue at that rate it was going to be a long and expensive day. (We did come back right at the end of the day to pick up a 3-pack of samples as a present, as nothing else had jumped out at us quite like these whiskies).
Next came breakfast (my second of the day, the first was left-over birthday cake). At the end of our first pass across the hall we came across one of the many seating areas that are surrounded by food court stalls. I’m never one to turn down a hog roast, so that was my choice made. I didn’t manage to get a photo of what I was about to tuck into as it was just too delicious looking and I was hungry, but I did go back to get a picture of where it came from. 🙂
The next part of the show has turned into a bit of a blur (there are a lot of the same type of stall, placed everywhere; flavoured alcohols, various meats with interesting curing/spicing, sweet treats, and kitchen gadgets). I’m pretty sure it was at this point that we picked up a 2 sets of rather efficient looking (sharp) peelers – the 3 of them peel, julienne & ribbon. This was followed soon after by a very sharp set of knives, which I didn’t know I needed (clearly the guy did a good job on selling them). 😉 We also had picked up some flavours of fudge, Fudge Kitchen, pretty early on (I think), as well as me tasting a few wines and a variety of spirits. The last stop before ‘lunch’ was to buy some cocktail premixes, funkin, (sans alcohol this time, we’ll add that later) – I’d actually been looking for these in the supermarkets for a while, but they had become scarce as soon as I was interested.
Our main events of the day were our 2 back-to-back trips to the Supertheatre. Sprinkled with gratuitous name drops for Tesco and the other sponsors, the shows are almost the biggest draw to these things, with the celebrity names that are contained within. First up, at 12 o’clock, we saw Great British Bake Off’s Mary Berry & John Whaite give us demonstrations of Mary’s all-in-one orange cake, and John’s goat’s cheese & caramelised onion flat-bread (video). The chat between the 2 of them was good fun, they spent most of their time recalling moments from the season of the show just gone, and making references to how tough judge Paul Hollywood can be on the show. Unfortunately for Paul-fans out there he wasn’t at the show today, he was off doing, as Mary put it, “something to do with motor-cars, he loves his cars”, so a decent excuse. One very specific anecdotes they told was about John, the strudel mix and the food processor. For all those who saw the show, they will know how events unravelled (no spoilers for anyone still wanting to catch up at any point). Their food looked delicious and I could’ve quite easily polished a few servings from both plates right then.
As soon as the GBBO show had finished we were back into the Supertheatre for round II, the MasterChef Judges, John Torode & Greg Wallace, who were ‘cooking us lunch’. Greg made an asparagus moose followed by poached figs with yoghurt & honey, all while John was making 2 SE-Asian dishes: lobster thai green curry and something along sweet and sour with deep-fired tofu, pineapple & lots of chillies. It was clear that these guys had known eachother for years and had been working together in front of the camera for most of that time, as they had the rapport and the back-and-fore patter down. They kept dropping in awful (and I mean seriously awful) vaguely cooking related puns, that got no reaction whatsoever from the crowd, but Greg did get a whoop when he used the classic, “here’s one I prepared earlier”. In my opinion, his best joke of the show came when he was explaining how to combine beaten egg whites into a mixture without loosing all the volume that had been built up, the technique was apparently first developed by the German, Baron Stirrenfold.
All the recipes looked so simple at the hands of the experts, and should be really easy for me to replicate – that’s right isn’t it?
After lunch came a veritable binge on alcohol tastings. I must’ve tried >4 different gins from various stalls, as well as an Amaretto, some vodkas (we bought some of the chocolate-y stuff), a gin-based take on Pimms (which was delicious) and a few more wines (those are just the ones I can specifically remember – there were a lot). Each was extremely tasty in it’s own way, and a lot smoother than you’d find in a supermarket brand, but at the prices they were selling them for, the taste was all I was going to be walking away with on that day. It was at this point in the day that I stumbled across some other things I’d been wanting for a long time, but had never gotten round to laying my hands on. I picked up 2 different sizes of mousse-rings and a pair of large(r than table) spoons (for serving or folding mixtures).
By this point we had passed by every stall (with as little repetition as possible 🙂 ) and taken a glance at most of the stages that were spread around. If I needed a new recipe book I could’ve bought one and had it signed at the Signing Stand, or perhaps watched different chefs at the Interview Stage, or on extra demo-stages. If we hadn’t been eating all day we could’ve eaten at one of the versions of the MasterChef restaurants/tapas bars or at the Good Food kitchen. There was soo much more that we could’ve crammed in, but we were happy with the choices that we’d made (we didn’t even touch the BBC Gardeners’ World Show that was attached in the adjacent show-halls).
Our final port of call before heading for home was the pub, to gather our stuff, rearrange our bags into an easily carry-able state, but mainly to take the weight off our feet for just a few minutes.
All in all, a great day – that place was a foodie’s dream. Utterly shattering, rather expensive and definitely something to do again 😀 Maybe next time we’ll go to see more shows, interviews and cooking demonstrations, and perhaps only buy a few items early on in the day. Getting new books and having them signed is certainly one thing to do if I find a niche that needs filling 😉 – I didn’t need another book for my shelf(ves), I already have too many that I use all too rarely.
The show does a good job with it’s social media interaction, lots of tweets (via their Twitter account or on #BBCGFS) during the day to keep you on top of what is happening where around the show halls. Together with the app that allows you to program your choice of shows + desired visits in order to help you day run as smoothly as possible, and so you don’t forget to see you favourite chefs.
Top Tips for a top time:
- Comfortable shoes & light clothing (it gets rather warm)
- Bring large bags
- Bring lots of cash (although the queues at the ATMs were non-existent, they did charge.)
- Arrive early, you’ll get more done without the denser crowds of later on.
- Watch out for the folding trolleys that are dragged by a large number of visitors.
- Book Supertheatre tickets for over lunch-time/late afternoon – miss being on the floor during the busiest periods.
- Taste everything, even if you’re only 50% interested, the stall-holders are always good to chat to and you might find that you stumble across a gem.
- Download the show app, and together with the website plan your day in advance, that way you’ll find yourself in the right places when your favourite chefs/stars are due to be appearing.
- Take a fully charged phone (& get the NEC WiFi to actually work – the mobile web dies when it gets busy, late morning-ish).