Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival

I left London too late on Friday to get away with an easy journey. It took hours of snailing along to Blackheath along the A2 and then onto the A12 from the M25 - but once I'd shaken Ipswich free and had slid off at Melton I was back in the world I love. I spent my early years living by the sea here - a marsh-fringed, thinly glazed vast tract of coast with a light to it all of its own. Inland a bit lay the woods. They were where the magic happened as far as I was concerned, and now, though diminished brutally, they still call me in, rustling enticingly.

I drove through the woodland, barely a soul on the road and inhaled deeply that great pine needle fug. Through the villages; Rendlesham, Eyke, Sudbourne until I reached Orford and the red dirt track that leads to my uncle's house. Barely through the front door and I had his six kids throwing themselves at me, desperate for ice cream. We all trooped down the garden path and I doled out the sweet stuff and then went in for supper and a nice cold beer with my uncle and aunt.

I slept a sleep of cool serenity and didn't even object at having to haul myself out of bed to get to the food festival so early. It was beautiful out there. Hares dashed luxuriously along chilled, moist fields and the sun bore sideways. Some places are just special. Maybe it's to do with fond early memories, maybe it's the ley lines, but the enchantment I feel when I'm back in East Suffolk is enough to see me through day after day of London cacophony.

The festival was a real East Anglian affair. Loads of blonde women stalked around in their pink sweatshirts and jostling pearls, directing traders onto their pitches. Hersuit old men came blinking out of the woodwork, tashes twitching, tweeds a-billowing and tables groaned all around with local produce. I wonder if I've reached saturation point but I'm feeling increasingly immune to a lot of this fare. Maybe it's not the fare that's the problem but more the fetishisation of it. It's like we have to keep giving ourselves such whacking great slaps on the back for producing anything that's half decent. Like it's not part of our fabric but a whole other piece of clothing that we parade around in.

Still, Aspall cider was there so I was pretty happy and the English wine on offer was working out quite well for me as well. Once again we had a wonderful sunny weekend and what with the brass band, the smell of the BBQ and the river shimmering away it couldn't have been a nicer close to Choc Star's festival season.

Now is the time to step up the pace and start making some new waves....

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Touring the Capital

So the summer is coming to a close - just one more festival this weekend - and I am turning my thoughts back to the Tour. I need to be in London for the next few months and I want to take the opportunity to seek out some more supper safaris. There are so many opportunities! I'm always joking with the Romanian carwash guys, my mechanics, the dudes at the Jerk Centre about it. They may try and laugh it off but I'm going in - I'm going to work away at the London layer that tries to keep itself to itself. It's a very different beast to the rest of the country. It has its ways, its apparent hardness, its 'don't give a damn' gait - but I suspect there are soft patches and soft spots that chocolate will work wonders with.

So, if you'd like to take part in the Choc Star Tour (does London) - if you cook well or even if you don't, if you like chocolate , if you like new people - e-mail me (feedme@chocstar.co.uk) and let's put in a date! I promise to arrive bearing a wonderful Choc Star special dessert and I don't mind what we eat (as long as it's not tripe).

I already have offers in Camden, North Finchley, Shooters Hill...and a very fruity sounding Rocky Horror supper in Bromley. Yee-hah, can't wait to hit those streets!

Monday, 22 September 2008

Wake and bake

I'm having such a lovely lazy day off. The last week has been mental, culminating in a four day Slow Food festival on the Southbank. Someone arranged for the weather to be consistently brilliant for the entire thing and the place was a throng of hungry grazers. I loved it. Sometimes you do gigs and they're just so gratifying - customer after customer seemingly thrilled and excited to be occupying the space in front of Jimmy's counter. Loads of 'ooohing' and 'aahhhing'. Lots of great feedback. People who seem genuinely interested in the Choc Star cause. It was hectic and hot and I couldn't seem to slice those brownies up fast enough or roll them truffles quick enough or make enough of the Venezuelan hot chocolate shots but I had several moments of thinking - and as Dolly would muse - "wow, what a way to to make a living!".

I was asked to give a couple of cooking demos at the stage. I'd observed a few others and decided that I definitely wouldn't be taking the serious route. I mounted that podium with all my kit on the first day and was astonished to find that my compere was a TV presenter from my childhood on Anglia Television. Patrick Anthony would read out the birthday cards accompanied by this fluffy puppet called BC. I would long for him to open up one of those huge cards and read out my name but it never happened. I mentioned this on stage and like to think that Patrick may have made a mental note to fix it for my next birthday....The terrine I prepared wouldn't play ball as I tried to turn it out. There was a collective holding in of breath from the audience and then huge, relieved applause when the slab of darkness slunk free from the tin.

Then I was rescued by the graffiti removal squad. Some little shit had tagged Jimmy while he was parked up overnight on the Southbank the week before. I spotted these dudes in their truck and pounced on them. They chuckled gamely and, without any fuss, bowled over to the van with a bucket and some special sollution and wiped that stain clean away. They even gave me some of the stuff in case it happened again while I reciprocated with a couple of chocolate ice creams.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Lord Mayor's Party went off!

We got pretty well mobbed at the weekend - praise Jesus for the good weather...and the cold weather in the evening. We were caught a bit unawares. We don't know what to expect anymore and have to think pretty quick when the weather changes. Coffee Republic had a pop-up cafe behind us and I had to go and negotiate a milk deal with them. Over and over again we had to return to get more supplies for the hot chocs. As for the ice cream, we were run out of most flavours by Sunday arvo - with Rocky Road, Cookie & Cream and Mint Choc Chip sailing off first.

The brownies also were hard to keep still. People kept coming up to the van saying "I've read about these brownies/apparently they're the best there are/I've been dreaming of this moment". I have to say they were looking pretty special - almost glossy and so deep in colour. Extra Brut I like to call it - but with that unmistakable fudginess that brings you over all abandoned and joyous.

Plenty of new stocks in for this week though. From tomorrow (Thurs 18th) we'll be at the Slow Food Festival by the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank. And we're going to be doing Venezuelan hot chocolate and truffles...and chocolate Guinness cupcakes. Yikes! Better go and get busy in that kitchen!

Friday, 12 September 2008

Thames Festival this weekend

The Thames Festival was one of my favourite events of last summer. There was something so great about how it made you really feel part of the city. There were tourists, of course, but much more it felt like all of London coming out to promenade along the Southbank - just as they would have done 100 years ago. And when the fireworks went off on the Sunday night and I crawled along in Jimmy, I got a real kick at seeing everyone out in the street, heads facing the sky, all gazing in wonder at the electro fizz sharding all above.

Choc Star will be in the Jubilee Gardens this year, churning out that chocolate...not sure if it's going to be of the hot or cold variety right now but one thing you can be sure of is that it'll be tasty!

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Yes! Yes! Yes!

I'm so excited! I'm made up, tickled pink, touched by the Thriller from Manilla, chuffed. A real Tennessee Williams moment has taken hold of me today and once more I am blown away by the kindness of strangers.

The legendary Alex from right in the middle of England has rescued my buggered hard drive. We've been in talks since the tour began and, even though we never managed an actual visit, he has been following my progress...and decline. When I posted that the drive had been declared officially unsalvageable he strode into the shadows that had befallen me and gave me light and hope. "You do know that Macs are a pile of crap don't you?", he'd keep saying and I'd just keep on crossing my fingers.

Lord knows how he did it because all the others I took it to up and down Britain couldn't fix it, but the mighty barbecuing Alex has recovered all the pics - from Sussex through Berks., Bucks., Oxfordshire, Warwicksire, Northants., Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk, Lincs. and Yorkshire - and I am so grateful that I'm intending to drive old Jimmy up to his house to say thank you properly.

Thank you Alex you broiling genius!

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Bestival: Brown stuff everywhere

Bestival is the sunny festival, the last gasp of joy at the end of the summer. It's where people cavort in the woods and roll around on the grass. And it's colourful! This year it was all brown - we couldn't get away from it. A big, soupy, stanky danky city of mud...and we were on a hill. Spare a thought for the dressing up tent who got wiped out by a 15ft wide angry mudslide. And we were in Jimmy and boy, I've never been more relieved to be holed up in there. Whilst others fought their ways through the profligate rain and squelch we felt cocooned and surrounded by a more desirable kind of brown.

The freezer remained largely unopened for the weekend but those hot choc machines worked their little butts off. Floating Islands, Jazz It Ups and Jamaican hot chocolates fairly flew off the shelf and it was all we could do to get that milk steamed and that chocolate melted to feed the need.

HIGHLIGHTS: Roni Size getting the slightly dejected crowd buzzing again on Sunday afternoon, the skiffle band in the Polka tent playing Ring of Fire to a delighted, chanting crowd, the outfits that the Choc Star team kept changing into, the chick pea curry at Vicente's stall (it tasted like real food!), John, my high-heeled wellies, Winehouse's gorgeous sailor boy back up singer belting out Killing Me Softly on Saturday night.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Bestival this weekend!

The time has come to leave the mainland and trundle Jimmy's perky derriere over to the Isle of Wight. We were going to take the gazebo but decided, in the end, that Jimmy and Bestival just belong together and who am I to try and keep them apart?

I just checked out the website and got such a thrill to see the van in cartoon form, all tucked in between Fruit Sticks and toasted sarnies (check it out under Practical Info...although I'd hardly put Choc Star under the practical banner, but I guess everyone needs to know where to access the choc stop).

See you there ravers!