Lured by the promise of tasting top notch, gourmet food and spotting celeb chefs, I attended the MasterChef Live press breakfast at Olympia, followed by a gander around the exhibition.
Unlike the TV programme, MasterChef Live is aimed at chefs and foodies of all abilities and there are a number of workshops, demonstrations and top tips sessions from the UK’s leading chefs, offering insider tricks and new techniques.
A big highlight of the weekend is the Invention Test, critiqued by John Torode and Gregg Wallace and hosted by Andi Peter. 30 pre-booked competitors will be given just 30 minutes to prepare a dish from a set of unseen ingredients and impress the judges.
The first session seemed to get off to a flying start, with the budding chefs toiling away over the stoves at their work stations, although things got a bit precarious when someone’s pan caught fire!
I also saw the rather handsome James Martin (of Ready Steady Cook fame) doing a cookery demonstration and Theo Randall giving advice on how to make the perfect pasta at the Hot Tips Pod.
At the centre of the exhibition hall is the beautifully designed Restaurant Experience, where you can pick and choose from special lunch menu, created by a variety of London’s top restaurants. You can sample Hereford Beef and Bashed Neeps at Urban Caprice, a pork belly bridge roll from Roast to Go and vanilla and ginger cheesecake from Boxwood cafe.
There were exhibitors from all over the UK, from big players like Rachel’s Organic promoting their delicious new toffee and milk chocolate yogurts and The Co-operative to smaller specialised producers like Loopy Lisa’s Fudge and the decadent Bougie Macaron and Tea.
After the copious amount of artisan pastries and coffee at the press breakfast, eating more food wasn’t the first thing on my mind, so I took a few laps around the venue to try and forge a new appetite to taste the food samples on offer (well, that’s why you come, isn’t it)?
My top discovery of the day was Jacc’s Gourmet Coffee flavoured coffee beans. I bought a small bag of their Irish Cream and Hazelnut roasted beans, which they ground for me, and I’ve been addicted to it since. The beans are flavoured with essential oils, so you get a deep, natural flavour, rather than the aroma disappearing as soon as it hits water.
In the Producers Village, you can find top cuts of organic meat from Brown Cow Organics, artisan cheeses at Keens Cheddar, authentic American cupcakes from Beverly Hills Bakery and freshly iced oysters from Mersea Oysters and Ale.
I was also intrigued by the Aladdin’s cave of different varieties of garlic at The Garlic Farm – my choice is usually limited to single or a pack of three!
But Keith Floyd disciples shouldn’t despair, as there’s plenty of booze to sample from producers including Frangelico, Funkin cocktails, Thunder Toffee Vodka, The Bubbly Champagne Company and Chateau Civrac.
MasterChef LIVE is on this weekend at London’s Olympia (13th – 15th November). Tickets are priced from £18 and there are a number of packages available.
Get down to the Invention Test, sponsored by Plenty at MasterChef LIVE. Just like the programme, contestants will need to hone their skills and hold their nerve to create something tantalising with some tough ingredients – and this time in just 30 minutes. Previous TV MasterChef winners will be there as well as formidable duo John Torode and Gregg Wallace – and Brenda & Audrey, the housewives from the Plenty adverts, will even be there to cheer you on! Go to www.plenty.co.uk or www.masterchef.com for more details.