One thing’s for certain when you walk into the BBC Good Food Show: food business is booming. Gone are the days when a food show was mostly glassware, use-at-home chef knives, dining tables, and similar paraphernalia. Good-quality food is more popular than ever – and the three-day winter Good Food Show at the NEC is the original beast. Liz O’Keefe reports.
It’s also the place where all the best and up-and-coming chefs come to demonstrate their skills and this year saw Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, The Hairy Bikers and newcomers like Brad Carter. But despite the obvious skill on show, the produce stole the show for me, with nutmeg, romanesco cauliflower, cucamelons, seaweed, wasabi, chillies and organic wares all looking set to wow the general public in 2017.
Following the chefs
Ever since Delia started shopping at Sainsbury’s, it’s been the done thing to follow what the celebrity cooks are doing both in recipe and ingredients, and a lot of the exhibition companies at the show noticed that key ingredients used were flying off their stalls as they got a mention. “A lot of sales depend on what the chefs are using on stage through the weekend,” says a vendor at Fox Spices, which sells spices and prepared fresh pastes. “Tom Kerridge used mace for a stuffing in a Christmas pork recipe and we had a rush on it. We sell both the mace strips of peel [of nutmeg] and ground mace, so we can also offer something a bit different and interesting.”
UK chilli grower, Joanna Plumb has noticed the consumer shift from thrill seeking to everyday chillies. “People are going more for the flavour and understanding that chilli varieties have the different flavours,” says the grower, who owns Edible Ornamentals. “Five years ago, people used to ask for green or red chillies, but now it’s varieties they are particularly looking for.”
Growing more than 100 varieties year round at her glasshouse facility farm in Bedfordshire, Plumb diversified into chilli products, in addition to selling fresh in 2001, and she now serves both the consumer market, via delis and online, and foodservice clients, working alongside the executive chef known as Chilli Olly.
Rather chilli-obsessed, naturally, the chef told me about the bright-yellow, mild and zingy ‘lemon drop’ chilli, that he replaces a slice of lemon with in a gin and tonic at events. “Just snap it and put it in,” he says. “It’s great in a ginger tea, too. We also create and serve afternoon teas with raspberry chilli jam and chilli mojitos at our restaurant on the farm site, The Ranch. It’s about turning people’s perception of chillies around. There are so many different flavour profiles and they are so versatile. Chillies are going to get more and more popular.”
Small, local, organic
Of course, it’s a certain kind of consumer that comes to the Good Food Show; the people visiting are interested in food and its origins, and are particular influencers when it comes the rest of the community. The need for great-tasting food, the interesting and new, ethical and health is not going away, and despite the many spiralisers or fresh veg cutters on sale around the NEC exhibition hall, it’s less fad the better.
Riverford Organic Farmers had romanesco, different kinds of squash, radicchio, corn on the cob and all manner of fresh vegetables on display from its Devon farm and farmer suppliers that end up in its nationwide veg- and recipe-box scheme at its booth. Grower Joe Atkins was excitedly talking of the company’s next new adventure: cucamelons.
“We have a small scale trial of cucamelons in progress and as soon as we have any kind of volume, they will be in the boxes,” he says. “When it comes to organic fruit and veg, and especially at shows like this where we have pretty much our target audience in front of us, people know and see the benefits of organic already. Price is not as much as a consideration as health and taste either; these are the kinds of people who don’t go to supermarkets, so we find we don’t have to justify the price.”
And it’s not a bad price at all (a veg box, feeding one to two is £10.95 a week), especially when you consider the company’s strong organic ethos and its focus on locality and provenance, and teaching the education-hungry, under skilled-in-the-kitchen generation to cook. As a business model, Riverford Organic Farms has probably got just the right balance between local and seasonal, as well as having the infrastructure and investment to please consumers on all levels to soar this year, as despite being a large corporation, it gathers together smaller growers.
Over on the Lakeland cookery stage, Michelin-star restaurant chef Brad Carter was celebrating the small producer: “They are the rock stars,” says the Carters of Moseley restaurant’s owner and chef. “We cook from the heart and input as much into vegetarian dishes as the meat, to the extent of meat-eaters get food envy.”
Using seasonal British ingredients to create menus that reflect and complement the change in season, Carter believes that keeping the supply chain close to home makes for a healthier diet and economy; a view point that generally echoed throughout the chefs demonstrating at the show. “Cook with want you can see on the market,” he says. “Don’t worry about sizes; the different sizes are the best – it’s what the chefs are cooking with. Use and support local businesses, and use more flavorsome products but use less of it.”
Healthy snacking is forging forward and seaweed, full of nutrients, zinc, iron, B vitamins, antioxidants and protein, and mostly free to forage for suppliers, is set to be the superfood of 2017.
Relatively new Irish company Seamore is packaging ‘Tagliatelle’ and ‘Seaweed Bacon’, like you might dried pasta, but with the description: 100 percent wild organic seaweed, for salads and sauces, and also trending on the low-carb brigade. And, although on the market since 2012, itsu has introduced two new flavours of crispy seaweed thins to the UK market: wasabi (my personal favourite and another ingredient destined for big things in 2017) and sweet soy and salt (5g; £1).
Journeying from sea to land, freeze dried fruits and veg ‘crisps’, Nothing But has proven popular since its inception two years ago. Soft and light, the range comes in crisp-like bags that contain pineapple and grape, strawberry and yoghurt, and beetroot and parsnip, to name a few. Available online via Holland and Barrett as well as other delis and health shops and owned by one of the biggest freeze-drying companies, Chaucer Foods, the company can pick and choose when to freeze dry the fruit and veg to its price advantage. “People are looking for healthier snack and a healthy offer, and what you see here is what you get,” the company says.