Mike butters up the judges at the YBF Awards launch dinner. He's no longer young it's true, but he is British and hopeful.
Neat black hoarding masks the empty former office building as I approach, it’s the venue for tonight’s launch of the Young British Foodie Awards.
180 The Strand is owned by a company called Vinyl Factory, who cannily bought up record pressing machinery when CD’s swept in - and now have the only pressing plant in the UK. Those profits now fund a host of arts enterprises in venues like this.
On the first floor, behind a glass façade framing river views, the space has 50ft of table set for tonight’s dinner. I grab a Gordon’s ‘Old Shirley’ (Sloe gin and grenadine) and set about locating the organisers.
The YBF’s were founded by Amy Thorne, of TASTE PR, journalist Chloe Scott-Moncrieff and Lily Jones, AKA Lily Vanilli of cake baking fame. She tells me the food and drink scene seemed only to award chefs who already had celebrity, so their idea was to celebrate the grassroots industry talent and seven years later it’s the place to spot rising talent.
So get involved by nominating those who enhance your food experiences - they may follow in the footsteps of previous finalists including Tom Sellers, John Chantarasak, Tomos Parry and Elizabeth Allen. Last years winner; Luke Van Cockerill is our chef tonight and we sample his delicious juicy lamb wrap canapés as we examine the menu, I have high hopes for his main course, simply entitled ‘Cow’.
As we take our seats I notice a separate table stacked high with wheels of cheese and related delicacies, might there be a goodie bag?
Vast round Sourdoughs adorn the table and baker Lilly is eager to dig in, attacking one with her bread knife before waiters bring a basket of cut pieces.
A noticeably appreciative hubbub rises around the ‘Ampersand’ butter by Grant Harrington. It’s bright yellow, creamy and salty and I’m reminded of the rule of thumb that if the bread and butter is excellent, you know the rest of the food will be too.
The YBF awards aren’t just for chefs, with a range of categories including bakers, alcohol mixers and shakers, a ‘Meat’ category for charcutiers, butchers and smokers, a ‘Vegetable’ award (won last year by Padstow Kitchen Gardens), a ‘Food Sharing’ award for social media types and a ‘Fresh Voices in Food Writing’ award for, well, for me, obviously.
There’s also a ‘Front of House’ category for the often forgotten sommeliers, managers, waiters and maitre d’s and an ‘Honorary’ award for things that don’t fit into other categories, from cheese to ice cream makers. The final ‘Giving Back’ award is new for 2018 and I talk to judge Danny McCubbin, who is celebrating fifteen years since he set up Fifteen with Jamie Oliver. It’s his job to search out people who enrich their community through food and drink.
Danny says he also works with San Patrignano, an Italian vineyard supplying tonight’s wines. Their initiative helps people battling drink and drug problems through making wine, which sounds counter-intuitive to me, but to support this good work, I sample both their AulenteBianco and Rosso at regular intervals even though I don’t have an alcohol problem in any way, at all, no sir, not me.
Luke’s ‘cow’ does not disappoint; a simple delicious portion of meat served with an intriguing oblong block of tasty yielding nobody-knows-what. Once I track Luke down I discover it’s a mix of potato, cabbage and kimchi, half steamed and half roasted for a tofu-like texture with a pleasing exterior crisp.
Tonight’s beef was all from one single animal, which, Luke tells me, won ‘Best Individual Cow’ at The 2017 Cow Awards. So an award-winning cow presented by an award-winning chef at an awards launch - Niche work if you can get it.
Other menu contributors include Kitty Travers of La Grotta Ices with a fresh tasting lemongrass and pineapple sorbet followed by a lovely final dish of lime, coconut, palm sugar and salted honeycomb by baker of the year 2017, Terri Mercieca, of Happy Endings dessert pop up.
Just when I think we’re done, Harrods great wall of cheese is declared open for guests to help themselves, not just to nibble at - apparently the whole lot has to go tonight.
A well mannered middle class feeding frenzy follows. People say ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’ whilst hacking giant lumps of Keen’s Extra mature Cheddar into bags to cart home. I load up with a wedge of Colston Bassett’s handmade Stilton, some Smeraldo white truffle Pecorino and a couple of posh chutneys before I back off in case I hurt someone.
I try to leave but a Tanqueray brand ambassador shoves a bottle of gin at me and, as if that wasn’t enough, we’re then all given individual leather trimmed Harrods bread bags containing one of the huge sourdough’s into which, we’re told, our personal initials have been carved.
I thank all involved for an enjoyable event as I heave all my booty to street level and conclude I deserve an Uber home, but once en route, I peek inside my bread bag to admire my initials and discover my bread has MG carved not MF. I stifle the tears as I can already hear my wife’s laughter.
In another Uber, on another street, MG is furious.