The main reason for my visit to the smoke was because I won a prize. I do a lot of competitions, you see, and occasionally I get a nice win. This particular prize, I don't actually remember entering the competition but an email arrived informing me I'd won tickets to something called Start More Live, an event hosted by Tim Lovejoy to promote the new Ford Focus. Not only had I won tickets, it included accommodation and travel to London. Initially, I thought I couldn't go because it fell on the same day as school sports day but my husband suggested I went because it was always possible that sports day would be cancelled. So, arrangements were duly made for me to go to London and someone to have the children before school on Thursday. And off I went, calling into Disney on the way.
After arriving at the hotel, enjoying a room of my own and time to think for myself, I met with a group of other winners in the hotel foyer who bussed us to the "secret location" where the event was to take place. In truth, it had a name (The Sorting Office - guess we all know what used to be), but really it was just a vast empty space. Inside were a couple of cars, a stage for a private gig by The Enemy, a bar (free drinks!) and five separate zones.We were all encouraged to swipe in at all five zones to enter another competition. There were different things to do in the different zones - play with gadgets, do a bit of "driving", learn or attempt some trick shots at golf. And I got to sit inside aforementioned new car. It wasn't mine to drive away, more's the pity.
But the thing that interested me the most was the food. And I don't just mean the canapés they kept bringing round. No, there was a food zone with some presentations by Stefan Gates, the TV presenter and food writer. Now, I love his children's programme Gastronuts so I went and had a quick chat to him whilst he was getting ready for his first presentation. Unfortunately, I wandered off and lost track of time, missing the very start of the presentation, so I watched from the sides and was intrigued enough to hang round, get a place nearer the front and go through it all again a little while later.
Now, I've seen some food demos in my time. This was nothing like them. Stefan's philosophy is to make food exciting and extraordinary. The first thing he did was to cover cocktail sausages in 24carat gold leaf. As I was near the front, I got to have a go - and managed to cock that up as the stuff is very fragile and goes all over the place. I got to taste it - it tasted like sausage. The gold leaf has no taste and no nutritional value - which begs the question why do it? But people do it, for the decorative aspect.
We also got to try instant jellyfish, which really didn't taste of very much until it was made into a salad with some seaweed and some fungus (sorry Stefan, I've forgotten the name of it), with a sesame oil dressing.
Next was the tour de force. Lamb's testicles. Apparently, it's all the rage in Afghanistan. Who knew? Stefan had prepared some earlier and cooked slices in butter and garlic - which as he says, can make pretty much anything taste nice. I tried some, and I can report.... it was reminiscent of chicken. Sorry, I know it is a cliché but it didn't have a strong taste or distinctive texture and all I could equate it to was chicken.
And I almost forgot - he made musical instruments out of carrots by drilling into them. Basically, a big hole at one end, a small one at the other, which meet somewhere in the middle and a reed that was made out of a plastic drinking straw and we were away. A quick but rubbish chorus of Baa Baa Black Sheep - the finalists on Britain's Got Talent can rest easy that we've not found the winning formula.
The whole point of Stefan's presentation was to make food memorable. It certainly did that! It turned food into a real adventure, which is pretty much as it should be. I tried things that I had no idea that I was going to try before I turned up at the event. I'm not even sure I wanted to. That is, to some extent, down to Stefan's presenting style - his enthusiasm, passion and knowledge of all things food related draws you in, and carries you along. I figure I don't allow my children to be picky and my rule with them is that they must at least try things before saying they don't like them. I tried them, and mostly, really liked them. They're not necessarily every day things, but nonetheless, I can say I've eaten insects and jellyfish.
Oh yes, and testicles. Thanks Stefan!