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When Artsy Met Masterchef

November 29, 2010

Every year, the Birmingham NEC plays host to the BBC Good Food Show, both Winter and Summer. This year, Melv (D34DPIXEL) and myself (foxinabox1988) were lucky enough to be able to go to the Winter show, courtesy of parental generosity providing our tickets and transport. All in all, it was good day out. We came home happy (despite the snow that threatened to cull our day of fun) and full of cheese, with only slightly bruised toes and ankles.

As those of you who have attended NEC events like this before (the Clothes Show, for example, operates on the same format) will know, when you go to a show like this, you get to see some sort of show. Our choices were between a Saturday Kitchen extravaganza of some description presented by James Martin, or a MASTERCHEF COOK OFF presented by Gregg Wallace and John Torode. As enormous Masterchef fans, the choice for us was simple. Cook off. All the way. And we were not disappointed. The 11.30am showing that we attended was a cook off between 2010 amateur winner Dhruv Baker and 2010 celebrity winner Lisa Faulkener, who each prepared a different dish featuring one common ingredient; in this case, scallops. Now, I’m no seafood fan, but even I would have eaten what these guys prepared. It was fascinating to watch them at work and observe the techniques they use to present their food so it looks like plate-art. In Row R, we were too far back to be eligible for any of the freebies that were handed out to the audience who were sat closer to the stage (less far for the presenters to walk), but I wouldn’t have wanted to be, to be honest. The “stalls”, as it were, are all on one level, so if you get somebody tall sitting in front of you, you can’t see a thing. Further back, its tiered a bit better so tall people aren’t such an inconvenience to behold if faced with. I’d gladly sacrifice my eligibility for a good view of the stage any day. And watching Dhruv and Lisa turn something I’d normally turn my nose up at into something I’d gladly tuck into was worth the price of the ticket in itself.

After the cook-off (and lunch), we started to peruse the stalls a little in search of tasty samples and unusual things that might be worth buying. It wasn’t long before I spotted the Masterchef section of the show, where demonstrations were being held throughout the day, as well as recipe book signings by Wallace and Torode at certain times. It just so happened that as we were passing and contemplating buying the book, such a signing was taking place, so we were naughty and we indulged (well, Melv did – I just went along for the ride). I get a bit starstruck when meeting celebrities and so couldn’t bring myself to do more than grin like an idiot, but I was really wishing I’d brought a little tuppaware of my spag bol so that I could ask them what they thought of my palette! Anyhow, Melv got his book signed, and now I think it’ll probably reside safely on a shelf forever because we won’t dare touch it to cook any of the recipes! And that’s how Artsy met Masterchef. We really did!

After this, we wandered further through the stalls, sampling bits of speciality cheese, crackers, chilli sauce, cassis, whisky, soup, ice cream and various other things, laughing at euphemistic company names like “Pussy Natural Energy” and “The Well Hung Meat Company”, and generally trying to stay together as a group in among the throngs of people. We also picked up quite a few recipe cards for speciality dishes we thought looked quite tasty and not too complicated for us to cook, so watch this space to see how they turn out. We noticed that there was a very large exhibition of the nation’s best speciality cheeses, but we weren’t allowed to eat them. It also seemed to us that all the best things that were for sale, such as the fancy home-made chocolates and pork pies, weren’t available to try as a sample before purchase. I understand that not all vendors can afford to give their wares away to greedy punters who probably won’t buy anything, but really, how are you supposed to trust that a certain pork pie is the best you’ll ever taste without tasting prior to purchase? It’s a risky gamble to take.

Aside from the lack of samples in places (which I realise makes me sound horrendous, but freebies are amazing), the only other downside of the day was the crowd. I’m personally not a fan of huge quantities of people in small places as it is (claustrophobia is a terrible thing), but huge quantities of people, some with OAP-style shopping trollies for dragging their purchases around, some with push/wheelchairs for their young and elderly respectively, is just too much. Across the day, all of us complained of being cut up or mown down by somebody with a trolley or a push/wheelchair. It’s like they just don’t look where they’re going and expect everyone else to adopt the same attitude. Perhaps this is our fault for being too courteous in looking where we’re going, but I don’t like having my toes mown over and I can’t imagine anyone else would either if I were to do it to them. The crowd too appeared to lack politeness. Instead of claiming their free sample and then stepping away when they clearly had no intent of purchasing anything, many people stood, blocking the displays so that people who perhaps WOULD have bought something couldn’t get close. There was also a problem with queue-jumping in that many people, hankering for a freebie, would barge through, knocking people who had been waiting patiently out of the way. I know this is how they do things on the continent, but I thought the British prided themselves on their superior manners and ability to patiently wait their turn. Bad Brits.

To the best of my knowledge, the tickets cost £23.50 each, which included entry to the Masterchef Cook-Off, and a show guidebook, which contained a floor-plan of the exhibition space, adverts, and HUNDREDS OF RECIPES by the chefs appearing at the show over the course of the few days it runs for. I’m told that the guide alone is worth £10, and I’d say it was worth the money just for the sheer mass of recipes I got to take home to have a go at. The day was really good value for money – I would have paid a good chunk of the ticket price just to see the cook-off, and had we come on a weekday rather than the Sunday, I daresay many of our complaints would have been appeased. But it was what it was, and we are very much looking forward to the Summer Show in spite of our bruised toes and ankles. And now, of course, I want to Masterchef everything I cook to turn it into plate-art…

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