The lovely C has sent me an invitation for the launch of the new cookbook Beaneaters and Bread Soup at an address in Hoxton called ‘the shed’. My taxi resorts to sat-nav, and delivers me outside what is indeed a shed fortunately decked out with the book title so it can’t really be missed. I do have a momentary concern on how I’ll get home from here but I can worry about that later.
I step into the sawdust strewn ‘shed’ and immediately spot the solid hunk of cured Tuscan ham being expertly carved to top some toasted over a brazier bruschetta rubbed with freshly sliced punchy garlic. It’s one of those impressive beasts that come complete with a wooden stand to clamp the leg steady whilst silky, rosy shards are shaved off onto a rather lovely hand thrown Tuscan platters. And it tastes really, really good!
To counteract the chill of ‘the shed’ the welder who normally occupies the space has constructed a large paella dish to house a charcoal fire. I noticed some discarded tomatoes in the greying coals and I can assume I’m in the presence of a fellow tomato dodger or heaven forbid, someone has placed them in the embers to toast for later – a ghastly thought! In the centre of the space are a couple of settees and an armchair swathed in Italian alabaster linen for those who wish to perch for a while. Normally the welder’s workshop is lit by stark strip lighting to but to create a little more ambience silver tipped light bulbs are strung from the ceiling. There’s also a lone glitter ball which I am guessing is left from a previous event as it doesn’t really scream ‘
We are celebrating the Beaneater inspired finest food producers of Tuscany and it seems only fitting that we get to sample some of that regions goodies. Some of the guests are showcased in the book of the night and have brought some of their wares. There are a stack of tasty sharp cheeses, packets of artisan-made pasta, salami and a veritable beehive of honey.
And of course toasted rounds topped with the eponymous beans are being proffered and after verifying the absence of tomato I accept one. But the welcome absence does create one predicament as the beans don’t really adhere to the bread and I unfortunately lose most of the beans on the first bite which I guess I’ll have to retrieve later. There are also silken white slices of lardo topping sliced tomatoes on more bruschetta, but I had to wait until the tomato was exhausted before I could taste the lardo though.
There’s an impressive turn-out here tonight, the great and the good from the world of food have found their way to the shed to honour Jason Lowe and Lori De Mori and I’m delighted to see Jeremy Lee tear himself away from his Blueprint Café stoves, Thomasina Miers – worthy winner of the first Masterchef goes Large and currently to be seen in Wild Gourmets with the occasionally naked Guy Grieve, Rose Prince who amongst other books has written the excellent New English Cookbook, Mark Hix, executive chef at amongst many The Ivy, Caprice, Scott’s and of course single handedly introduce his rabbit and crayfish Stargazy pie to the French ambassador and guests in the final of last years Great British Menu and Simon Hopkinson whose fabulous Week in Week Out (also resplendent with Jason Lowe’s glossy photographs) has just been released and already a firm favourite of mine. I did slightly ambush Simon so I could inform him of my continued devotion to his works. He looks slightly alarmed but takes it very well.
Jason Lowe and Lori De Mori are justifiably feted and Jason gives a few thanks to the producers who have delivered such a splendid Tuscan harvest. I was introduced to Giovanni Fabbri who has brought his bronze-die cut, slow dried pasta over. He also has an appointment at Harrods to see if they will stock his pale and interesting pasta. I only know all of this as he was kindly translated for me and regrettably I cannot speak a word of Italian.
After the Tuscan pig leg had been entirely denuded the brazier was extinguished but a tantalising aroma was still wafting around the shed. On further investigation it seems that someone has placed one of the demi-wheels of cheese into the dying coals. I thought it was an odd thing to do but then a very fine rosé has been flowing all night and perhaps someone had taken an objection to the tangy cheese. But it transpires that I was totally wrong as when I next circled back to the fire one of the Italian suppliers was scraping the now melting cheese off with a knife and smearing it on some torn off bread. It was a little sooty but I had to admire his raclette style!
As this is my first book launch I don’t know if our food was indicative of food at other book launches but I think we did rather well. I love the idea of carving the cured ham off the bone to order, it has certainly given me food for thought when organising catering for our next big event. And maybe it was a little challenging getting home but at least I was well fortified for the journey!