Mike Fairbrass gushes at the BAFTA awards dinner menu preview night.
In The Spencer Suite at the Grosvenor House hotel,, a small gathering of food writers, bloggers and industry types gather to preview the food and wines chosen for the upcoming The70th British Academy Film Awards(for sponsorship reasons the EE British Academy Film Awards), more commonly known as the BAFTAs.
We stand with our glass of Taittinger as we are told the evening will comprise of some words from those involved in the sparkly evening’s catering, then samples of the food will circulate. Lynn from Taittinger tells us the UK is the biggest drinker of their bubbles and the family owned brand is about to open a new vineyard in Kent. If anyone can make Kenttinger work they can.
Next, Paul from New Zealand’s Auckland winery Villa Maria, talks about their Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2016 and Private Bin Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 chosen for the stars to quaff. Huge bowled long stemmed glasses of the red are handed out and I switch from the champers. Very quaffable it is too. Ten thousand glasses will be guzzled on the night, Ryan Gosling’s going to love it.
The Grosvenor House Hotel’s executive chef Nigel Boschetti speaks next giving us some impressive stats: 1800 luvvies attend the event including 200 celebrity veggies to cater for. This year they will be preparing 200kilos of venison accompanied by a quarter of a ton of spuds followed by 62 Kilos of chocolate desert. I’m hungry.
After the speeches we mingle. Wine man Paul is from York and apart from telling me what a long occasional commute he has, also tells me that the founder of Villa Maria, George, planted just a single acre in 1961 and throughout that decade ran the winery as a one man band until he could start to expand in the 70s.
Today, Villa Maria employs more than 250 permanent staff, exports wine to over 50 countries worldwide and is the most awarded winery in New Zealand. We should also thank George for pioneering the introduction of the screw cap which means we can all get at the stuff quicker. Grosvenor staff top us up, Cheers George.
My deft arm halts a platter of canapÃƒÂ©, thankfully the food is beginning as all this booze is falling into an empty stomach. Montenegro goats cheese is sandwiched by crispy mango toffee discs combo which sounds geographically odd but the cheese is good and works with the mango sugar disc although it boasts adhesive properties enough to make NASA curious. Although tasty, it may be a test for Judy Dentures on the night.
I corner chef Nigel figuring he will know when more solid fuel might be brought out. Nigel is a lovely down to earth chap and before long he’s telling me how he got into what was then called’catering’. At sixteen he was considering it but his mechanic mate persuaded him to go for a job as a grease monkey. He didn’t get the job and later found out his dad, preferring the chef option, phoned ahead on the day of his interview to tell them his son Ã¢â‚¬Å“doesn’t know one end of a screwdriver from the otherÃ¢â‚¬Â so into catering he went working his way up through the hotels all the way to Park Lane presiding over a team of thirty five chefs and cooking for thousands. At fifty six he still feels indebted to his dad.
I spy more platters cruising by and I nab Mini fish and chips on newspaper printed rice paper are excellent Ã¢â‚¬â€œ my guess these will be Ken Loach’s favourite. More platters circulate with Cornish Crab salad, celery and apple jelly and burnt celeriac mayonnaise – deliciously light and fresh. This, I imagine, will be right up Emily Blunt’s street.
As Nigel is cheffing for all these celebs, I ask him why he isn’t a celebrity himself given that almost every other person who went into catering now is. He said the only telly he’s done is an outing on Sunday Brunch. He tells the story of feeling a bit bewildered as he didn’t know when the cameras were on or not, but he cooked something whilst having a nice chat with Simon Rimmer and they have asked him back, presumably because he came across as natural.
The taster sized star of BAFTA’s show makes it’s entrance; juicy Venison Denham Estate Wellington, Juniper berry jus, potato gratin, glazed red cabbage, buttered swede and stem broccoli. It’s uncomplicated, high quality stuff washed down with more wine Nigel has managed to find even as the night reaches it’s denouement, he was obviously the best person to talk to. Velvety mini chocolate desserts are a final delight as the curtain comes down on the event.
Nigel says the food at a large ceremony should be like the music in a film. Too loud and it’s encroaching, to soft and it adds nothing and goes unnoticed. He’s right and he’s been getting the balance right for the last nine years.
As the cold air of Park Lane hits my face it occurs to me that maybe I’m a tad drunk so I decide to walk to the train station – no limo for me. The food will be excellent at the BAFTAs so it’s a shame neither I nor, I suspect, you are going, but I do now know the luvvies are in safe hands with Nigel and his team.
The EE British Academy Film Awards will take place on 12th February on BBC One. For further information please visit: http://www.bafta.org