A few weeks back was the Taste of London Food Festival in Regent’s park. In the last 5 or so years I have been lucky enough to attend through work, as well as visiting the one in Dubai last year. It is a great foodie event, with stands from some of the top restaurants in the UK and also a range of other food and drink stands selling everything from pink peppercorn gin to chorizo from Somerset and truffle oil by the gallon.

This year however I had a very different experience at Taste as I was working on one of the restaurant stands. A friend of mine works for Taste and posted on Facebook that they were looking for people to work and as I am currently unemployed and looking for any experience I can get I jumped at the chance.

The work was a pretty gruelling 5 days and a total of 8 4-5 hour sessions in this little stand, promoting and selling 3 dishes that the chefs had created specially for Taste.

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Me and a colleague were front of house, taking orders, taking payment, putting the orders through to the kitchen in the back and serving. It was a great experience, over 55,000 people come through the door over the 5 days so each session is pretty manic, but lots of fun.

The stall we were working on was the culmination of a partnership between Ford (yes the cars) and Taste of London to promote 3 up and coming young chefs. This initiative was called Protege by Ford. These 3 young lads were mentored by top chefs and had created a dish each that we were selling in our little stall, alongside this the guys were also running a pop up restaurant next door

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These chefs and their dishes were:

Derek Johnstone

Mentored by Michel Roux Jr.

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Derek was the winner of the first Masterchef Professionals. Winning this gained him a job at La Gavroche working with Michel Roux Jr (lucky bloke!). He is Scottish and is currently head chef at the Golf Inn in Gullane.

Derek’s dish was an amazing Whisky cured salmon. First the salmon was cured in Glenkinchie scotch and then smoked using the whisky barrels to add further whisky flavour. This was then served up with a deep fried Haggis Fritter – an absolute winner. There was also served with a sea buckthorn puree. Sea Buckthorn is a small berry which is citrus in flavour (sharp like pink grapefruit).

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The Salmon was some of the best I’ve ever tasted (I ate so much of it over the 5 days) it retained a bite as it was cured and lightly smoked but had a rich, deep flavour, the whisky was subtle but added another layer of flavour. Finally the Buckthorn puree added a sharpness to the dish which really finished it off.

Chris Thompson

Mentored by Dan Docherty

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Chris works at the Duck and Waffle (great breakfasts!). He grew up in Thailand and Grimsby, which I guess is why he works with unusual food combinations. His dish was, for me, the highlight of the 3 and was the top seller by a considerable margin. It was a slow cooked (up to 24 hour) short rib of beef, served simply with slices of turnip on top and with a miso and jalapeno sauce.

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The beef as you would expect was so tender and moist and just melted in the mouth. The Miso and Jalapeno sauce was subtle not overpowering the meat, but just added a little heat and a great after taste of jalapeno. I lost track of how much of this I ate, but couldnt have been far off a whole rack of short ribs!

IMG_0339Ben Donkin

Mentored by Simon Rogan

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Ben works in the amazing (or so I am told) L’enclume in Cumbria. He was the youngest of the lot, and looked about 15 (I know this makes me sound old!). He has worked in L’enclume since he was 15 and worked his way up, working closely wiyth the supremely talented Simon Rogan there.

Ben’s dish was the dessert which was strawberries, served with aerated yoghurt, apricot puree, oat crumb and a delicious sweet cicely snow. Cicely is a plant similar to bracken, Ben took this and used it as a base for a granita – bright green in colour with a subtle aniseed taste, unusual but very refreshing.

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This was an incredibly fresh, light and refreshing dessert just what you need after all the beef! The Strawberries were macerated with sugar to make them even sweeter and the aerated yoghurt was creamy and light. All in all a very accomplished dish.

So this was my life for 5 days, living and breathing these dishes. I even woke up on day 3 dreaming of these dishes and taking orders. However despite this it was a great time, I really enjoyed working with the characters in the kitchen,

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IMG_0318putting orders through (2 salmon, 2 beef etc) making me feel like a chef, and also getting some invaluable customer service experience. It was however a very different taste experience than I was used to – not helped by the Pilsner van being parked directly opposite our stall, making me crave a pint all day!

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nor by the fact that, on our break between shifts the only food available was from the staff canteen, which despite being surrounded by such wonderful food and inspiration was serving up some of the most beige food possible, such as this:

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But of course I was being paid, so shouldnt complain!

Next year I hope I will be back to being on the other side, sampling all the amazing food in offer, although its a pretty pricey affair, so gonna need to set up and sell a lot of coffees before June 2016!

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