From Wednesday 18th June to Sunday 22nd June, Regents Park in London was transformed into an immense food festival; Taste of London had arrived and with it the biggest showcase of food, drink and culinary excellence I had ever seen. Sure I had heard of Taste of London, but I’d never visited so when I received the invite to head down and showcase Noisette Bakehouse as a representative for the YBF’s (Young British Foodies), I pretty much jumped atop of my oven and did a little dance.
The line up read like the most mouthwatering menu you can ever imagine, and the amazing variety of food on offer was unlike anything you would normally get to experience. I don’t know anywhere else that you could grab a beautiful bun stuffed with grilled sea bass, coriander miso and kimchi courtesy of the hip Flesh and Buns, then follow it up with some gastronomic classics, such as Veloute de mais, crevettes, grises et amandes (or sweetcorn soup with shrimps and roast almond puree for those lost in translation) from the legendary Le Gavroche.
I entered the YBF’s last year and was a finalist with my street food venture, the Madeleine Express, so this gig seemed just my kinda thing, a chance to pop up in London with my bakes at what was to be the equivalent of a Michelin Starred Street Feast. Unfortunately on this occasion Madeleine wasn’t allowed to ride with me, so I assembled my crack team (Mum, Sister, Dad and Husband) to transport everything we would need down to London to present our offerings on the stand kindly provided by the YBF’s.
Taking the stand in the days before, had been fellow YBF representatives, Hansen and Lydersen, and Tozino with Gosnell‘s Mead to follow on Sunday after our little stint. As much as I was excited to be showcasing amongst the likes Duck and Waffle, Bleeding Heart and Salt Yard, I was just as excited to be there in toe with the talented salmon smoker, charcuterie master and honey fermenting mean meadists. The only downside is the fact that I couldn’t get my hands on any of their delicious grub.
We arrived onsite early on Saturday morning, (the 5am alarm wasn’t needed, that much excitement would never allow me to sleep in), we grabbed our passes and found our way to stand G8A to set up for the day. The pitch was in a great position with a view of the VIP area, which sat alongside the huge tent housing offerings from Salt Yard, Theo Randall at the Intercontinental, Le Gavroche with the Masterchef himself, Michel Roux Jr in attendance. At the end of our row was just the bar I wanted to see, manned by Chase Vodka I was intent upon grabbing a Marmalade Mule or two should I get the chance.
To my immense delight I saw that Bread Ahead Bakery were set up just opposite, to the right. For those of you who might not be familiar with the amazingly talented Justin Gellatly (really? where have you been? get on it!) he was resident pastry chef at St John Restaurant under the guidance of Fergus Henderson, champion of Nose to Tail dining. Justin left to peruse his passion for baking, playing his role in bringing ‘real bread’ back to the fore with beautiful long fermented loaves that have wowed the crowds on stalls at Borough Market and Maltby street for years. He set up Bread Ahead Bakery with Matthew Jones, in a permanent brick and mortar instalment at Borough Market in 2013. I could write a whole post on how inspirational this guy is, but I am merely a guest here and it would be rude to out stay my welcome so I will cut to the chase, he makes the best doughnuts you will ever eat in your life and if you are ever in London I suggest you make a beeline for them and feed yourself silly.
The site slowly started to fill with everyone else rushing about to get ready for another day, deliveries of ice were coming in left right and centre, as were fresh bread, boxes of fresh fish and bottles upon bottle of the fizzy stuff, corks soon to pop. I saw a few ‘celebrity’ chefs come and go and plenty more that I didn’t, all dressed in their freshly laundered whites and aprons all equally important in preparing for the mass catering operation, primed to showcase their skills and get ready for service. Michel Roux Jr passed the stand a couple of times as I set up before donning his whites and setting to signing a mountain of cook books.
I took my opportunity, parcelled up some Madeleines and paid him a visit. I have never been a contestant nor even applied for Masterchef, but as soon as I approached with my little brown box I could’ve been on set presenting him with my signature dish. What was intended as a funny little gesture of kindness turned into something I hadn’t signed up for. I half expected him to say ‘oh great yeah thanks’, have a quick cheeky snap with him and then just walk away sort of awkward and giggly. But no, he took the box held it, commented ‘nice presentation’, I explained they were Madeleines, that I had a little stand down there with the green tablecloth and that I had baked them at home, back in Leeds. He replied ‘What yourself?’, I said ‘Yes, every one’, he sort of half scoffed and said ‘Each one, by hand?’, he grabbed my hand, turned it over a bit to examine, ‘Yes I baked each and everyone by hand!’, I don’t think he believed me (why would he). He took a bite, took another and ate a whole Madeleine right there in front of me, ‘very good’, he remarked and closed up the box, ‘I will save these for my cup of tea later’. A bit agog, he threw his arm round me, we had the cheeky pic and off I went, a bit wobbly legged and in need of the Marmalade Mule (shame the bar wasn’t open yet)!
Finally at 12 pm the gates open to visitors and the park soon filled up with masses of people eager to try as much as they could. There were lots and lots of drinks being given out here and there, samples galore of all sorts of little treats and plenty of guests made their way over to our stand to have a browse.
We had obviously brought the best seller, Salt Caramel Brownie along with honey caramels, lavender and lemon shortbread, a selection of tarts filled with new season jams, the buckle, as well as vegan and gluten free bakes. I’m pleased to report that the brownie went down as well at Taste as it does here in Leeds, with people returning to buy more before they left. I met some great people who clearly loved their food and were complimentary about what they saw on offer.
The intrigue and questions gave me the opportunity to talk about how we started out and why we were there. I couldn’t really have asked for more. I was kept busy the whole day and had little chance to walk around the site to see everything, but luckily enough I was brought a mismatch of treats to form the weirdest picnic I have ever had – some mighty fine sushi from Sake No Hana, silky sweet soup as mentioned before from Le Gavroche, along with a ballotine of chicken with puy lentils, a delectably tasty cheese and olive stick and custard doughnut from Bread Ahead, Scallops from Theo Randall and super hot Mexican Cactus Tacos from Mestizo.
At 6pm I headed over to the Cook Skills Theatre to do a cookery demo, Valentine Warner was to compere and I was on straight after Jason Atherton (no pressure there then). A little nervous with fear and excitement, I just hoped they would understand my accent. I had the voices of the ever charming boys from North Star going round my head, they had suggested I get someone to voice dub over me…that is how unlikely they thought they would understand my ‘funny wakey’ accent If you want to see the demo for yourself, just follow the link here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gm2FT8olnK4
Over the five days a number of YBF finalists and winners had been given the opportunity to take to the stage to demonstrate their talents. Ole from Hansen and Lydersen was sandwiched in between demos from Vivek Singh and René Redzepi, but obviously kept his cool and had apparently impressed with his tales of piano playing whilst gently smoking his salmon, Iltud from Charcuterie Ltd showed the crowd how he likes his sausages, Gringa Dairy wowed with her curds and whey and Lucie Bennett assembled a beautiful Frasier cake, displaying her perfection for patisserie.
The whole experience was fantastic from start to finish, none of it would’ve been possible without the YBF’s. They continue to provide the perfect opportunity for young British businesses like mine to showcase what they have to offer. There is no doubt that we can hold our own alongside the all star Michelin crowd, and I urge any food or drink enthusiast setting out in business to get their application into the YBF’s, before entries close for this years competition on the 30th July.
I sincerely hope this isn’t the last time that I get to team up with such amazing talent, and you can bet your last salt caramel brownie that the YBF’s will be the first to get their hands on the Michelin stars of the future.
So that’s the news from London, in the local news i’m pretty excited to let you all know that on my return to Leeds, I headed straight off the train to sign the lease on a proper brick and mortar bakery of my own! In a few weeks time I will be moving out of the little domestic kitchen that has served me so well over the past year into a space that is a little more suitable. There won’t be any fancy upscaling of machinery or equipment just yet, my Mum’s ancient and bashed Kenwood will be making the move with me, but the extra space will allow me to develop our range of baked goods even more. It won’t be in a city centre, but here in the village I started the Bakehouse, it has a great space that I hope to turn into a small retail shop and coffee/tea spot at the start of next year, with a pretty neat space outback to grow herbs, fruit and edible flowers.
Photo credit: Noisette Bakehouse