Deputy Culture Editor – Food & Drink
Food conventions can seem like a bit of a weird concept. Paying a fair amount just to get into a hall to find a tonne of stalls offer teeny sample portions doesn’t exactly sound all that riveting, yet, when it’s done on a simply gigantic scale, as the BBC Good Food Show most definitely is, they can be quite impressive. We set out to the SECC to get tasting all sorts of delights, and to watch Mr Paul Hollywood himself tell us how to be a little less naff at baking.
The first thing to note as we entered the SECC isn’t just how big the room is, but how many stalls take up the space. Often, events fail to even fill most of the space on offer, but this event is absolutely jam-packed, and you can barely weave in and out of stalls without being offered cheese, oils and all sorts. As such, we were a bit lost for where to start, so — as we would on most days — we head straight for a coffee, provided by a pop-up artisan coffee tent. With a decent roasted blend and a delightfully sickly chocolate brownie completing a heavy breakfast (don’t judge, it’s a food event), we planned out a route around this colossal culinary convention.
It might have been only 10:30 am, but we began by sampling some gin. And when I say some, I really mean a lot. This isn’t entirely down to the desire to get plastered on tiny drops of gin, but more because almost half the event’s stalls are from gin companies – and that’s honestly no exaggeration. There must’ve been about 10 to 15 different gin stalls, all gathering large crowds of tonic lovers and jumping in on the latest food fashion. Disappointingly, not too many of the differing gin companies products really tasted all that different, with an exception to perhaps Isle of Barra’s "Seaweed Gin" and Edinburgh Gin’s festive fancy "Christmas Gin", which stood out as the best in an overcrowded sea of products. It’s obvious that gin is a popular market these days, but with most of it tasting quite similar, perhaps having this many stalls just for gin was a bit of overkill, and took away the chance for some differing food and drink businesses to get a spot in the convention. Aside from the large amount of gin, there is, unsurprisingly, a fair share of tasty bites on offer. From a range of flavoured oils, curry sauces, pasties, meats, cheeses, cakes, bakes, biscuits, chocolates, hot sauces, tablets and fudges, there was something for everyone to try, be it if you’re a foodie or not. You can’t help but be quite impressed at the sheer extent of local, national and international cuisines.
After a morning full of tasting treat and light-heavy drinking gin samples, we headed into the auditorium to catch a glimpse of the silver fox, Paul Hollywood. The first thing he clarifies is (SPOILER) his decision to knock Manon off Bake Off instead of Rahul, which receives a fairly mixed reception from the crowd. He then proceeds to walk us through a couple of recipes: a cheesy vegetable tart and a rather tasty loaf of stuffed bread, both done through showing the method on a massive kitchen worktop upon the stage, before showing off a rather Blue Peter "here’s one I prepared earlier" collection of the yummy treats. It was a nice little show, and for an additional £3 to see a professional celebrity chef whip up a couple of bakes for half an hour is one of the best things about the Good Food Show.
Following on from that, we decided to look for something to eat — at a food convention, that should be no trouble, right? Well, while the free samples and tasters seem endless, we were starting to want some properly substantial portion sizes for lunch. At the top of the venue, there was a small section of stands cooking up just that, yet not many. As both me and my guest are vegetarian, we were quite gutted to find that there was a really limited amount of veggie food: a £5.50 sandwich, and a now sold-out mac-and-cheese stall, that’s it. The only other vegetarian-friendly place on offer was a pop-up restaurant, but with dishes from around £9 upwards, that’s not exactly a cheap lunch — that’s festival prices. While, for the most part, the event was fantastic in both quality and quantity, it is a tad ironic that a food convention doesn’t have great meal options.
As we left the event, we felt largely impressed at the event overall. While the price of the event, at around £20 per ticket, may have put some folk off, the huge extent of food and drink available to sample is more than worth the price, even if 90% of it is gin.