At some point in 2008, I had a brilliant idea. While I was on holiday, I would get other bloggers to write guest posts for me on my blog. I’d also force them to promote my site too because there was a prize for the guest post with the most traffic! The reward was dinner with me at Foliage in the Mandarin Oriental, overlooking the shipping containers and construction in the backyard. These were the days before Dinner and Bar Boulud. I can only imagine that those shipping containers were the early signs of what was to come.
Young Douglas Blyde won my 2008 contest and he joined me for dinner with his — if you can believe it — 5 megapixel camera phone! That was a big deal back in 2008. (Today’s iPhone 6s by comparison has a 12 megapixel camera.) Over our multi-course dinner, he ate his soup properly (away from him) and passed the salt and pepper together. He also used A LOT of big words. Big words have always been Douglas’ thing.
As part of my 50 Coffees with 50 People project earlier this year, I reached out to Douglas because I hadn’t seen him since some point in 2010. Too busy, too busy. We couldn’t find a date.
But there he was all these years later in 2015! At 5:30 am at Piggy’s Cafe at Billingsgate Market, serving us all bacon and scallop butties and steaming mugs of tea. “I got dressed in the dark” he told us, when we commented on his amazing trousers.
We were there as part of an excellently organized social media event — #MuscadetMagic. A tour of Billingsgate, money to spend on seafood, and a prep session with CJ Jackson, CEO of Billingsgate Seafood School and author of Leith’s Fish Bible. Afterwards, we were shipped off to Old Street in minicabs and set loose on a prep kitchen with all of our seafood and a bountiful larder of produce. Ah, and a lot of Muscadet. A lot a lot. In fact, #MuscadetMagic had started a few days before, when this bottle of Muscadet arrived by special delivery…
I was totally down with the Muscadet elements of the day but I was a little worried about the food angle. When A Girl Has to Eat invited me to the event, I had warned her: “I just want to make it really clear. I really can’t cook. You should really consider inviting someone else if you really want to win.”
Her: “No no, you’ll be fine!
Me: “Really, I am not lying. My cooking skills are non-existent. I am not being economical with the truth here. I am really bad and my knife skills are non-existent too.”
But still, she took me on. During the day, I watched, mainly, as she haggled her away around Billingsgate, successfully securing A LOT of hand-dived scallops.
Do you know what I learned that day? Two things:
- Opening scallops is hard work. Really hard. Surprisingly hard.
- They call them razor clams for a reason. (Ouch!)
At the prep kitchen, A Girl Has to Eat put me in charge of cleaning the razor clams, which sounds a lot easier than it was. I had to judge the shell (if it was broken, we had to throw out the clam), open the clam, remove the stomach, make sure the clam was still alive, and then if it was alive, cut off the top and tail. There were A LOT of razor clams. This took me forever.
While I was at it, A Girl Has to Eat whipped up a shellfish stock and cut up all the veg, the scallops and the (very in demand) chorizo. I was then put on garlic toast duty and managed to burn my hand by picking up a hot pan. Like I said, I am not very good in the kitchen.
Afterwards, we sat down for a big communal meal with the other teams while the judges tasted all our dishes and rated them. My only regret is that we didn’t make more food. We made a fairly small portion of what we dubbed our”Australian Stew” and it was lunchtime and I was starving. (I picked up some Chinese on the way home.) Thank God for the team that made the stacks of oyster po’boys.
Douglas kept the winning dishes to himself as he conducted our Muscadet tasting. We hit four wines in total, with #4 being the one that I would love to have with all my seafood and #2 as one I would consider as a more everyday kind of wine.
- Côtes de Grandlieu, Guérin 2014 (Waitrose, £7.99)
- La Nantaise Réserve 2014 from (Laithwaites £9.99)
- Les Gras Moutons 2013 from Domaine de la Haute Févrie, (Berry Bros & Rudd £11.95)
- Le Pallet 2010 from Les Dix du Pallet (Majestic, £14.99)
By the time we finished lunch and the tasting, we had been up for eight hours. At it was only 1 pm! Really, an excellent day out. Although our Australian Seafood Stew didn’t win, my thanks to Douglas for organizing #MuscadetMagic and to A Girl Has to Eat for taking a chance on me in the kitchen. And now that I’ve written this post, I’m going to crack open that last bottle of Muscadet…