Brighton Fringe 2017
A demonstration that, as the blurb says allows you to “Kick start your summer with Dev’s fast and easy healthy recipes. Cooking workshop to taste and try out delicious dishes with a difference.”
I am a big fan of food personally, a big fan of healthy food, and a big fan of any activity which helps make healthy eating more accessible and offers more choices in ways to make it happen.
The Old Courtroom seems the perfect place to receive a cookery demonstration with its lecture theatre-style raked seating all ready to be put to full use. However Dev Jaffe from OCR productions didn’t fall into the trap of having us that way round, and cunningly brought her workshop “participants” down onto the stage floor in an arrangement of cafe style seating at tables with her own demonstration table laid out on one side of the stage.
Facing us on her demo table was what seemed like a bank of Thermomix’s. There. It has got its first mention already and this is only the 3rd paragraph. Thermomix… a type of blender that also heats / cooks your food. Clearly, they were to have a starring role in this particular OCR production. There were two, side by side. Huey and Louis? (As per “Silent Running”).
When three assistants also appeared, wearing green aprons, also emblazoned with the word Thermomix I began to think, “hello hello, is this an advert?”
Dev is clearly a fan of this product, to the point where (I found out later) she is an agent for them, and part of a community of people who swear by them, but she did her best not to oversell her sweetheart piece of kitchen hardware, but to focus on the recipes.
The recipes were, as it says on the tin, for salads, smoothies, and sorbets.
Two out of those three I enjoy on a daily basis, freshly made at home. So new recipes were always going to be very welcome to me. And indeed the array of delicious concoctions that unfurled before us did little to disappoint.
At first I felt that it was a shame that this wasn’t going to be a more hands-on workshop. But in the end I was really quite happy to just sit there, kickback in our little impromptu cafe chairs, amongst other participants, chatting, listening to anecdotes, discussing recipes, and being served tempting morsel after delicious offering. I was happy!
The smoothies came first, starting with a green tea and nettle concoction that was certainly potentially a challenge to the palate, but which slipped down smoothly enough for me. My preteen daughter didn’t really get past the first taste… and so began an hour and a half or so, of being passed a number of rejections for me to finish off.
Next came a blueberry-based smoothie which was sweeter, and my daughter got more of that down. She is a big fan of blueberries. But once again after a few sips, her portion came over to me.
The Moroccan Carrot Salad with a (new to me) Moroccan spice mix (Ras el Hanout) came near the top of my list of new things to try. That salad rocked! And I must admit part of me wondered… mmm… these Thermomix’s??
But the Spring Greens and Almond Butter Salad was, of the savouries, my absolute favourite. Only sad that I had to share with the other participants the batch that Dev created of this super crunchy and satisfying serve-up. Mixed blessing though in that my preteen daughter didn’t enjoy it that much, so I got to have her portion. The mixed blessing? We’ll discuss later.
Now I have to mention here, as is our wont, that I live the vegan lifestyle. And Dev, knowing this, did her best to accommodate us, and include recipes or options that were vegan-friendly. Although judging by the recipe booklet, the basic recipes were mostly non-vegan and needed to be adapted to accommodate us of the vegan persuasion.
Any other, more table-thumping, vegans reading this will be disgusted to hear that I tasted some of the recipes that included egg white. My table-thumping days are over it seems.
Moving onto the sorbets, all I can say is… Yum!
Again I thought egg white was needed to make a sorbet into… a sorbet. But the mixture, pre-addition of egg white, was as delicious as anything and I could soon see a future of non-egg sorbet in my stars.
The watermelon and Pimms sorbet was my least favourite. A little of what you fancy does you good? Well, I didn’t fancy that. The banana, mango with bee pollen smoothie…? That got a firm 3/5. I love mangoes, but they didn’t charm in the same way as the, and I am surprised to say this, as the nettle, raspberry and orange sorbet which… ooh… I really liked.
My daughter had more success with the sorbets.
So what did we discover? I discovered that there is a community of Thermomix owners that feels near akin to a cult. Apparently in Australia it pretty much IS a cult. My arm was not fully twisted but a vision of a life of Thermomix ownership was gently wafted… quite near my face.
However looking back, it has to be said that a table with two machines on is one thing, but a human standing behind it, facing us, looking up at us, with the chopping board and working the raw material of the food with their hands and a knife…. is another.
I felt that the balance was pretty much in favour of the machines, and I missed seeing the human touch on the food. Instead I saw assistants rather too often in front of the demonstration table, turning their backs to us as they fiddled with the machines, opened or closed the device, replaced the bowls, tipped ingredients into the machine and pressed buttons. A bit like a robot had taken over. By the end, jokes about being in “the club” and Stepford Wives were being bandied about.
We also discovered a community of Brighton Fringe workshop-goers, and have bumped into the same person at three of them.
Finding ways to allow the participants to chat and discuss, and at the same time keep command of the whole room can be fiddly. Dev had a lot to handle, with three assistants to manage, the food itself to manage, discussion and questions from the participants to manage, and knowing she was being reviewed. At times bringing the group back to order was a tad of a struggle, but she managed it without shouting. Perhaps a little bell?
Part of me (the table thumper’s back) was sad that the (generously free) recipe booklet didn’t include more vegan-substituted recipes or options. Brighton has a large and thriving vegan community, possibly one of the biggest outside of London? And catering more fully to this group would have been expedient, especially with a title that implies a pretty vegan-friendly zone.
The part for me when I felt distinctly uncertain of proceedings, was when during a brief intervention by the representative and founder of a (I think) separate healthy-eating charity stood up to give a quick plug of her charity and its work (fine so far), but then also blatantly advertised a brand of vegan protein substitute, a display of which was laid out. I always feel distinctly suspicious of workshops to do with food where any sort of product is clearly being advertised, but I have a distinctly strong aversion to any supplement, especially for proteins for vegans when really… we’re just fine, thank you. Ask any gorilla. Or the players at Forest Green Rovers.
And again, my preteen daughter has to be mentioned. If we are to make healthy eating accessible, not only to children, but to all of those of us in society who still have childish palates, then we need to cater for sweet or comfort eating, and we have to find recipes that are going to be accessible and tempting to children.
Now my daughter started life as a raw-foodist, and then with a fairly vegan and healthy eating lifestyle. She’s not used to junk food, or refined sugar, and generally loves fruit and vegetables. Therefore she shouldn’t be one of the hardest to convert or to try things out on. However sadly she really didn’t manage to get past most of the savoury recipes, and not all the sweeter ones. Personally I really enjoyed the majority of them, but I think there is some work here to do to entice the more nervous palates, and those for whom unusual tastes and textures will always be an obstacle. Therefore a few more entry-level suggestions of recipes (not in terms of ease of making, but in terms of enticing an 11-year-old) would make this workshop even more useful than it already was. Remembering that our children are the starting place for healthy eating. And a healthy population for years to come.
That all said, if I had the chance I would certainly be back next year not just to see if any of the suggestions have been taken on board, but to see what other, to my palate, delicious and wonderful creations are coming out of the doors of Dev’s creative cafe.
Absolutely… All power to her elbows!