Let's do thanks and disclosure first however: we were guests of Electrolux, who are major participants in the event and we were invited for lunch at the Electrolux chef's table where Atul Kochhar of Benares was cooking. We very much enjoyed chatting to Atul who is a fun and charming fella, serving up first class food. The meal is shown below for those who like food pics and our thanks to Electrolux and Atul for accommodating us.
But this is where the fun starts. Today (Friday) was a regular day at Taste of London and having finished our lunch, we went for a wander. The pictures of some of those who we met are shown below. Actually, we want to reiterate the point: this was not the press day when chefs might briefly turn out to perform for the journos before shortly disappearing again, this is a regular day and every chef pictured below we met in the public area of the event.
Around Le Gavroche stand, Michel Roux Jnr was signing books and with the ubiquitous iPhone, every book signing came with a picture request from the book owner. Michel was more than happy to oblige and did so with a genuine smile on his face and an arm around the punter which undoubtedly made the day of those who now have a digital a well as an old fashioned autographed memory of the event. Elsewhere, we saw Raymond Blanc taking a moment away from book signing duties to have his picture taken with a school party (how many of those will become future chefs now?) while on stage, Pierre Koffmann and Tom Kitchin reminisced about their mentor-protege years at La Tainte Claire. So why the bad press?
The issue here surely is that bloggers are a spoiled bunch, ourselves included. We get invites to the best restaurants (for free) and regular and private access to chefs who are keen to impress to ensure a good write up. Michelin stars on speed dial. Bloggers live in a privileged food bubble and can afford to 'not be seen dead' at events like this. Lucky us.
Go to Cannes for the film festival and will you meet George Clooney or Brad Pitt? Of course you wont, it's all private events and invitation only (with bouncers who forcibly say no). The British Grand Prix next week: Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, chit-chat? Never. But at Taste, and as we have said, all the chefs below we met in the public area, you can see Raymond Blanc flipping a burger (really), meet Michelin starred Alyn Williams on his stand and chat to Dan Doherty of Duck & Waffle about ducks and waffles (if you want). You can be anyone and talk to them, perhaps get your picture with them, and if you're one of the three million people who watch Saturday Kitchen each week, see those chefs of the screen come to life. No blog required.
Expensive and profiteering say some. Yeah, and BP charge too much for petrol and Barclays too much for loans. It's a profit making business, you just have to get over that (if you can't, don't go).
Are we just saying all this because we got a freebie? You can decide of course, but we were guests of Electrolux, not Taste, so there's no 'thanks for the freebie' requirement to say that we think Taste is a decent event, we do so because that's how we found it. If you just want the best food for your money, of course you'll visit the restaurant, not the event, but hey, see how far 28 quid gets you at Theo Randall at the Intercontinental.
But this is our view: we visited Taste on an 'open to the public' day, and on that day, we saw half a dozen food legends and many more than a dozen Michelin stars. We saw great chefs of today and legends of tomorrow. We didn't see them with exclusive access, they were simply there, happy to meet customers and anyone with a camera could have taken the pictures we snapped below. If you have the time, money and energy, for sure run a food blog and you'll have no need to ever visit Taste, though if you have a busy life but an interest in food and don't think that the term 'celebrity chef' is a swear word, it's a pretty good way to spend a couple of hours. Put another way, ignore Twitter, and if you think you want to go, go.