Friday, 14 May 2010

Good Food & Wine Show: the good, the bad, and the Gordon

I never miss a Gordon Ramsay show on TV if I can possibly help it, so there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to see the world's most famous chef in action at Cape Town's Good Food and Wine Show. At R750 (about $100), the 'VIP' tickets were staggeringly expensive, but my husband surprised me by presenting me with one as my early birthday present.

Ever since I read Ramsay's fascinating autobiography, Humble Pie, a few years ago, I have greatly admired him, and have followed his career with interest. Yes, I know he swears like a sailor and can be unspeakably rude to colleagues, minions and foes, but I dig Gordon anyway. Not only because he's knee-wateringly sexy (let's get that one out of the way, shall we?) but also because he's tenacious, talented, kind-hearted, hard-working and -  most important of all -  utterly fearless.

Fearlessness is a quality I desperately admire in people who have it. I'm not a fearful person (fearlessness is not the opposite of fearful) but I would love to have total conviction, and an unswerving faith, in my own abilities. 'Only with absolute fearlessness can we slay the dragons of mediocrity that invade our gardens,' design icon George Lois once said, and that is a sentiment that rings very true for me. I would also love to have big enough balls to tell annoying people to fuck right off (I am getting better at this, the older I become).

It's Ramsay's loathing of mediocrity that is his greatest asset, and I have no doubt that this is why he has become, in the culinary world at least, a global super-star.  Both my teenage sons (who usually read only encyclopaedic fantasy epics) raced through Humble Pie and regularly watch his shows with relish and a lot of guffawing. I heartily endorse their admiration of Ramsay because I would like them, both kind-hearted and clever boys, to be fearless in their adult lives.

So, that's why I wanted to see the man in action.  And his show this morning was great: he was funny, warm and polite.  But, my goodness, he had to work hard to get a belly laugh out of a rather subdued Cape Town audience.  Half his rude jokes went right over their heads, and when he asked how the audience liked the T-shirt he was wearing (our national soccer team's official jersey) he raised - disgracefully - only a feeble cheer from a mostly pale-skinned housewifely audience.

I wasn't blown away by Ramsay's humdrum choice of demo dishes - a potato-and-haddock soup, sticky chicken and tarte tatin - and would have loved to have seen him demonstrate something more edgy and challenging, and something we haven't seen made on TV a hundred times.  But this was a minor disappointment, compared to what came next.

When the show ended, we VIP-ticket-holders were told to stay in our seats, while the rest of the audience - the cheap seats - filed out.  Oh, goody, I thought.  Now for the expensive part of our tickets!  What would this be?  Another short demo? A Q&A session?  Perhaps - gasp - a free stream of expletives?  But it turned out that we were held back in class only to receive our  'free', pre-signed copies of Ramsay's book Easy.  By the time we got outside, the queue for book-signing queue was 150 deep.  At this point, I wandered away to sample a few goodies at the nearby stalls.  When I rejoined the queue, some time later, I stood patiently in line and eventually found myself in a band of infuriated VIP ticket holders who'd been told they couldn't meet Ramsay, or have their books personalised, because they were 'too far behind' in the queue.  The security guards were heckled, feet were stamped, fists were shook and I enthusiastically joined the fracas, because I wanted to ask Ramsay to sign my copy of Humble Pie. Eventually some organiser or manager pitched up, reluctantly peeled her cell phone away from her ear, and snottily told the people who'd parted with R750 to 'calm down'.  Standing next to a sign saying 'VIP Book Signings' she said, without a trace of irony, 'You got what you paid for'.

The long and the short of it?  If you'd bought a cheap seat (and let this be a lesson to me my husband) you got the long end of the stick, and a face-to-face meeting with His Ramsayness. If you were rattling your jewellery in the prime seats, you got a poke in the eye.

But what of the rest of the show?  I don't mean to sound like a grumbler, but I am always disappointed by big food events like these, because of the dearth of really interesting, innovative food producers. I see that my sentiments are shared by my fellow blogger, Sam of Drizzle and Dip, who posted this about the event.

I'm not interested in stalls peddling knives, gimmicky vegetable turners and expensive casserole dishes, and I cannot understand why bath salts, soaps and crappy powdered stocks are featured at a good food show.  There is always a surfeit of stalls selling olives, olive oil, tapenade, chilli sauces and pickles, and never enough emphasis on small producers of excellent artisanal cheeses, sausages, breads and the like.

Having said that, there were a few stalls that really stood out for me, and I came back with two bags laden with some outstanding local produce.

Though I'm not mad about bottled sauces, I have to applaud Pesto Princess for their delicious, knock-your-socks-off pastes and pestos.  One of the best products in this show, in my opinion, is Pesto Princess's gorgeous fresh Chimichurri, a zingy Argentinian paste of coriander, parsley, chilli, garlic and lemon.  Their fresh chermoula and berebere pastes are as fresh, sparky and delicious, I bet, as anything you'll taste in Morocco or Ethiopia.   In second place is an exceptional, award-winning hand-made camembert by La Petite France. With its velvety skin, melting texture and exquisite creaminess and flavour, this is a cheese worth lying under a train for.  I also bought a side of a most beautiful and delicate smoked trout from Harty's of Somerset West, and several packs of excellent home-made sausages -  Toulouse, Swedish, Chourico and a devilish 'Diablo' -  from Rudi's of Gordon's Bay. And I was delighted to see tasty, tender pork neck on sale at the Ranch Meat Centres stall. I've been hunting for a good supplier of pork neck since I moved to Cape Town, spurred by the fact that recipes for pork neck are by far and away the most visited pages on this site.

I wish I could give you details for all these producers, but most of them are so small that they don't have websites.  The official website for this show doesn't list suppliers' details (the dragons of mediocrity have invaded that garden) but I did collect some cards, and will happily send you email contact details for these suppliers if you want them.  (I'm not going to post them here, for fear of their email addresses being harvested and spammed). My email address is hobray at gmail dot com.

PS I did request an interview with Ramsay, but all the slots were taken.  The invitation to the media briefing, promised to me by the reigning pee-ar, never arrived.  Those pesky dragons again.

POSTSCRIPT: I see that visitors who paid big money to attend the Gordon Ramsay event at his Maze restaurant were also upset.  Read the organisers' response, and comments from readers.
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Sam said...

I hate it when a lack of forward planning on the part of the organisers results in a dissapointed customer, it really shouldnt be like that, especially at R750. I would have loved to see Gord,suspected a bun fight and loathe queuing,so opted for Willie and Luke on Thursday and the experience was delightful. As for the exhibition, a few small interesting producers but overall I was underwhelmed

Juno said...

Thanks for the comment Sam. I agree, underwhelming. There are so many outstanding food producers out there, but I guess they just can't afford the exhibition fees.

Marisa said...

Wow, that is truly appalling Juno, and no wonder you were so upset. R750 is not small change and to then receive such shoddy treatment is a disgrace.

I tend to agree with you re these type of exhibitions - as you mentioned there isn't enough variety in the goods on offer. I love olives an pickles, but after about 10 of those stalls I get a bit tired of them and want to see something else. Perhaps it is the high exhibition fees that are keeping our small and upcoming food producers away from these events? Wish there was something we could do about that fact.

Koek! said...

I adored Pesto Princess's stall, but that was about the only highlight for me... That, and Giorgio Locatelli on Thursday night (I wouldn't have minded seeing Ramsey, but I was pretty certain Friday evening was going to be a total bun fight). Sorry you had a bad time - sounds like the event organisers need to catch a wake-up. Nothing like having a blog to vent on!

Juno said...

Marisa, Robyn: glad I'm not the only one who felt let down by the quality of the stalls. I was beginning to think I was just a Mrs Picky-Pants. Sorry I missed Locatelli.

Juno said...

Postscript: I have received a very gracious tweet from GourmetSA, the organisers of the show, saying: 'Thanks for your feedback. It all helps to bring you a better show next year'.

That, I appreciate. The wind has been taken out of my sails and all is forgiven.

Daran said...

If you think you had a shoddy experience you should have seen how badly the R1500 charity dinner went. Even less Gordon Ramsay and nothing whatsoever to show for it. Some reviews here :