When they called it "Gordon Ramsay's Taste of Christmas", they weren't kidding. It really was a Gordon Ramsay show. Enormous booths giving out samplers of G&T mixed with Gordon's, as advertised by Ramsay. Half of the 8 restaurants available for sampling were Ramsay properties. The pseudo-pub in the back corner was Ramsay-branded. There were Ramsay book-signings for Ramsay books. There were enormous photos of the celebrity chef. Every admission ticket came with a ticket for the Ramsay cooking demonstration show. This months' Restaurant magazine tells me he's the world's best-paid chef. No wonder, with all that sponsorship and his face all over the place. He's an industry. Gordon Ramsay Holdings is growing about as fast as Pizza Express, apparently.
We'd reserved tickets for the first cooking show of the day in a giant amphitheatre, capable of holding approximately 2500 people. It was practicaly an arena, with multiple large screens to help with viewing the ads and the demonstration. With the help of an oddball, guitar-playing crowd-rouser/wine advice giver, and a sidekick from one of his t.v. shows, Ramsay tossed giant inflatable Christmas puddings at the audience, ran around energetically, and cooked three good-looking dishes I would happily try at home. Eight audience members were up on stage to sample an apple-parsnip-celery soup; duck breast on caramelized endive and brussel sprouts fried with duck fat and ground almonds; and a pear and frangipane tart. Thanks indirectly to the final competition trivia questions, and directly to fjm, I have learned that English minestrone is a special dish, not to be confused with Italian minestrone. It was all bizarre, embarassing, and highly entertaining in turns.
The high-end restaurant samplers are my primary lure to Taste of London. Taste of Christmas offered a meager 8 restaurants to sample, all of whose booths were massively be-queued. I started with a warming and comforting pumpkin velouté with parmesan toast from the York & Albany booth; the slow-cooked pork belly with savoy cabbage, pumpkin purée, mint and caper juice from Simpsons had too many flavors, but was, at heart, robust and pleasant. (See also my Simpsons story, posted the other day.)
My sampling highlight was my third and last dish, from Maze, coconut pannacotta with mango and black olive caramel. Each element worked its magic, although the overall dish was halfway between a granita and a milk pudding in consistency and coldness. The black olive caramel added a lovely bit of piquant saltiness which contrasted beautifully with the small doses of summer-sweet mango. It was worth waiting in the very long line to obtain. Alas, not all the restaurants on the menu were purveying their wares every day, so no chestnut tagliatelle with wild mushrooms from Zafferano for me.
The rest of the event was comprised of hundreds of booths, primarily selling food and drinks, but secondarily selling non-food present-like objects. Around the edges were other cooking demonstrations. Throughout were lavish numbers of free samples of foods and drinks. We wandered around nibbling on cheese and nuts and sips of wine and rum and vodka.
- The men representing Waitrose were handing out mince pies. I asked them to tell me about them. They said they were mince pies. (Brand? Variety? Details, please, we're at a food show!)
- A choir of Swedish angels, appropriately topped with be-candled wreaths and apparently advertising Volvos, sang the Santa Lucia song. I only know it in Italian, so it was slightly surprising to find it comes in other languages.
- This month's Restaurant magazine included a mention of Purbeck's new quince sorbet. As someone who has a quince tag on LJ, this caught my attention and I went over to their booth in the hopes of trying it. Alas, they had not come with their sorbets, but I can recommend their Christmas pudding ice cream, made with finely-ground real Christmas puddings. It has all the rich complexity of the pudding, but isn't a heavy-handed ice cream. It would still work well with other flavors and sauces.
No question, but I prefer Taste of London to this, but I'd consider going back, ideally on a more off-peak day when, by early afternoon, the corridors aren't choked with solid masses of humanity.