As a student, there are two things which hold a very important place in my day-to-day life; food and free stuff. Therefore, I was over the moon to discover that in my new role as Head of Arts, I am able to attend and review the BBC Good Food Show, an event dedicated to these two fantastic things. Hosted at the NEC in Birmingham this summer, the Good Food Show gathers together some of best UK chefs and cooking experts, recognisable brands and independent companies all under one (rather enormous) roof to showcase their culinary expertise and innovative kitchen creations. It’s the perfect day out for food lovers, budding chefs or just people who like being handed free tasters.
Upon arrival at the show, my companion and I were rather overwhelmed by the buzzing atmosphere and the infinite stream of stalls, but we picked up a guide with a handy map, chose a starting point and got stuck in. The show had a few established and recognisable brands there advertising new versions and flavours of their products. For example, Lotus Biscoff were promoting their new biscuit spreads (drool) and Lindt chocolate were handing out free squares of their new Dark Roasted Hazelnut and Dark Raspberry Intense Excellence bars (double drool). These brands were fun to get freebies from but more interesting were the independent companies which you may not have heard of before – some were student friendly but others were definitely not. Void of writing a 4000-word essay detailing every single thing I tried (there was A LOT), here’s some info on a few of the products which caught my eye and whether they would work for a student market.
This company is based in Shrewsbury and makes artisan cheeses, taking their multi-award-winning mature cheddar and adding crazy flavours to it. These flavours include Irish Whiskey and Stem Ginger; Little Winker, Ale and Mustard; Sticky Toffee; Jalapeno and Lime and Smokey Peppadew and Garlic. I grabbed a slightly less adventurous but extremely delicious Caramelised Onion and Rioja flavour mature cheddar. Mmm just thinking about it makes my mouth water.
All of their cheeses are suitable for vegetarians and most of them are gluten free too. They are also, in my opinion, pretty affordable at £4.50 a piece.
Blacks Cheese refers affectionately to their customers as ‘Mice’ and pride themselves on good customer service, with a money back guarantee if you’re not 100% satisfied. You can check out all their flavours and order online at their website:
I Heart Vodka
Don’t we all. This company, set up in Cheshire, makes flavoured vodkas which have a lower alcohol content at 20% and can be used to mix into cocktails or be drunk on the rocks. Their flavours include raspberry, salted caramel, passionfruit, elderflower, and blackcurrant. I tried passionfruit as it’s one of my favourite flavours and found it really tasty and not too sweet. I can imagine myself adding this to my very standard pre-drinks beverage to make it a bit more exotic.
Their website is currently down for maintenance, but in the meantime you can visit their Facebook page to find out more and see if they’re attending any foodie events in your area where you could give them a taste.
The Dukkah Company
I spoke to the founder of The Dukkah Company, the very lovely Jane Sanderson who told me that she came across Dukkah, a blend of nuts, seeds and spices, in North Africa being served with oil and bread as a dipping condiment. Back at home, she began mixing the Dukkah in different combinations of nuts and spices, creating her own special blends to serve as snacks. After a great reception from friends and family, she decided to take it to a farmers’ market. Three years on and the product is doing incredibly well, and it all started in her kitchen!
The Dukkah Company now has six different blends: Hot Sand (chilli based), Coastal (seaweed, mint and cayenne), Dipping Sand (cumin, fennel, coriander and sweet paprika), Hazelnut (with cayenne, paprika and coriander), and Dessert (with pistachios, vanilla, star anise and cinnamon).
We discussed whether the product was suitable for a student market and she said she was keen to try it out, suggesting that if enough students were interested, she might look into doing a student deal on the product. As it stands, a pot costs £3.75, which isn’t too pricey, but I think the main issue with the product appealing to students is that we tend not to hold many dinner parties or particularly sophisticated drinks soirées … or maybe that’s just my house.
Jane was kind enough to give me a pot of her ‘Hot Sand’ blend to try as I’m a big fan of chilli and it is a very tasty and unique snack to have with a refreshing beverage.
Dukkah can also be used as a topping on meat or fish, as an alternative (and gluten free) coating for fishcakes or goujons to your standard breadcrumbs or just as a crunchy topping on a salad. I think the fact that it’s so versatile makes it good value and something worth trying if you enjoy cooking creatively.
You can order the product online and they sell a number of collections and box sets that could make a good gift for a family member.
Spice Entice is a small family business based in Leicester which has been established for over 10 years making curry kits and rubs. A kit contains a marinade sachet, a whole spices sachet, a ground spices sachet and recipe instructions included and they describe their product as being unique as they develop more depth in the dish than other curry kit products, whilst also providing a proper cooking lesson for the user. Starting with Indian curries, their range now includes Indian, Thai, Mexican, Portuguese, Cajun, Jamaican and Moroccan spice kits. Spice pots cost £2.99 and curry kits cost from £2.09 to £2.49 and all of their products are gluten free.
In my chat with one of the company members, it was interesting to find out how the company came about. When founder Ketan Varu was at university in Sheffield, his mum sent him foil packets of spice mixes and handwritten recipes in the post so he could make curries that tasted just like home. His friends showed interest and this gave him the idea to start Spice Entice, creating his own website for the company alongside his IT degree using skills he was developing at the time. I found this pretty inspiring as a current student and admired the entrepreneurial attitude that gave the company its starting point.
This product is probably not for everyone as it depends how keen at cooking you are. I would favour a cheaper option of creating a marinade and spice mix myself at home using spices I have lying around. However, if you can’t be bothered with that and you don’t use spices, particularly the less frequently used spices that occur in curries, often enough to have them sat in your cupboard, this could be a good option for you. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to taste one of their kits in action, so I couldn’t be confident it would make a great dish.
To listen to the chats I had with these companies, check out the Mixcloud recording which is linked below.
During my trip to the BBC Good Food Show I got to see a couple of celeb chefs cooking up a storm.
At the Healthy Kitchen, I saw Madeleine Shaw, a nutritionist and cookery writer who focuses on the healing power of food. She started a blog in 2012 with free recipes and health tips and shot to success – she now runs her own cookery classes, has collected 45 000 YouTube followers and 270 000 Instagram followers, and has released three best-selling recipe books. While she cooked up a summer recipe of sweetcorn fritters with avocado and tomato salsa from her new book ‘A Year of Beautiful Eating’ which contains a section of recipes that utilise the best ingredients for each season, she told us about her journey into healthy eating.
As a younger woman, she found herself with dull skin and hair, very little energy, a huge lack of concentration and digestion problems. Eventually, she realised that it was due to her low nutrient, low fat and calorie restricted diet. Since then, she slowly began to change her diet to include healthy, fresh and whole foods that have since made her happier, healthier and generally more excited about food.
She seemed really lovely and was interesting to listen to and I was impressed with how calmly she cooked under the immense pressure of being watched by 50 people (last time there were too many people around me while I cooked I genuinely set my pan on fire).
I was able to collect tickets to one ‘Supertheatre’ session, which is the biggest stage that they reserve for appearances from the top names. I chose to see Joe Wicks, also known as ‘The Body Coach’, also known as ‘#leanin15’. You’ve probably heard of him as he’s absolutely everywhere at the moment – some people love his excitable, shouty internet presence, others are not so keen, but what he promotes is quite important. He encourages people to throw away their scales (which he refers to as ‘the sad step’) and stop trying out fad, low calorie diets and meal replacements as, he says, they don’t work. Instead, he offers a plan which includes 3 huge meals and 2 snacks plus a short workout every day which will help people burn fat and build muscle in a healthy and enjoyable way.
While he cooked up his Thai green curry with prawns on stage, he told us how it all started in 2013 with a twitter hashtag ‘getleanin2013’ which he used to try and build an audience. Having no idea what he was doing, he was keen to start creating recipes and construct his brand which, after some time, started catching peoples’ attention.
Moving on to a tasty looking pesto penne with grilled tuna, he discussed how important social media has been in the making of his success. Even though he’s selling content now, such as in his recipe books, he emphasised how much he believes in free online content and giving back to his supporters. He also touched on the promotion of body image online and said, ‘loads of people slag off social media for promoting negative body image but I think I’ve used it in a really positive way’.
Watching him live after following a lot of his online videos myself was a treat, and he was just as confident and cheeky in person in front of a large audience as I thought he’d be.
One thing to mention about the show is that, although there’s a huge number of stalls presenting quite a variety of products, a degree of repetition could be seen among a certain few items. In some cases, this was not a problem for me, for example I received tasters from at least four different cheese stalls (I love cheese). In other cases, the popularity of the choice of product puzzled me, such as the four or five stalls advertising toffee flavoured liqueurs, like toffee whiskey or vodka. These were tasty in a very small quantity, but I struggled to see anyone wishing to drink it all night. The repetitions of product type meant that you left the show without having the full range of your taste buds completely satisfied.
All in all, I would definitely recommend the BBC Good Food Show to anyone with even the slightest interest in food as it’s a fabulous and tasty day out with loads of exciting and creative things to see, do and eat. If you’re keen, the BBC Good Food Show Winter is being held at the NEC in Birmingham again from 30th November – 3rd December 2017. That means just a half an hour train journey from Uni station to a land of Christmas-themed food and drink! Buy your tickets now at https://www.bbcgoodfoodshow.com/birmingham-winter and I will most definitely see you there.