Photography by Guy Harrop.
On Monday last week (26 January) I was thrilled to join a whole host of foodies from across the South West at Yeo Valley HQ in Blagdon, Somerset, all of us finalists in the Food Reader Awards 2015. Accompanied by my husband Jason, we were excited (and slightly daunted) to be joining a dazzling line up of tasty talent from across the region to feast on delicious West Country fare served up by Yeo Valley’s kitchen team at Fodder and celebrate the winners of this year’s competition.
Here are my top ten highlights from the night…
1. And the award for Best Blogger goes to…
Me! So yes, that’s got to my number one highlight. I honestly almost fell off my chair when my name was read out. I’d completely convinced myself I really didn’t have a chance and was simply overjoyed to have made it to the awards dinner. Scooping the Best Blogger trophy, particularly with such strong competition from Hells Belles’ Bites and Wuthering Bites, was absolutely the icing on the cake and I’ve been having to pinch myself all week.
Thank you so much to all my blog followers, fellow food bloggers, friends and family who took the trouble to vote for me. You have absolutely made my year. All those late nights “just finishing off one last post” and putting up with the moans from my family waiting to tuck into dinner while I take “just one more photo” of their food have been worth it!
2. The venue
Yeo Valley HQ provided a splendid setting for the night’s festivities. The Fodder restaurant is a beautiful space, and apparently boasts fabulous views over Blagdon Lake, although it was too dark for us to appreciate these sadly. We’ll have to take the kids there for lunch one weekend to see these for ourselves. And I loved the way the venue was decked out with vegetables, from carved sheep to dirty parsnips suspended above our heads.
3. The music
Whoever selected the music for the night has great taste. There was lots of chair dancing going on around our table. If only there’d been a dance floor… And I love the fact different tracks were carefully selected to play as the winners of the different categories were announced. I went up to collect my award to Paperback Writer by the Beatles.
4. The canapés
There’s nothing like some delicious nibbles to get the party started and the canapés really set the standard high for what was to come later. Jason and I strategically positioned ourselves close to a large trayful when we first arrived. His favourite were the very moreish Exmoor Blue cheese biscuits (got to have a go at baking some of those myself), while I couldn’t get enough of the pickled vegetable arancini (deep-fried risotto balls) and steak tartare crostini.
5. Severn Project salad
I first heard about the Severn Project on BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme last year. Set up by Steve Glover in 2010 on a disused plot of land in Bristol, the Severn Project is a fantastic social enterprise producing and supplying salad to food-lovers and restaurants, training and employing people from ‘socially-excluded groups’, such as those recovering from drug abuse, or those with mental-health or offending backgrounds. I was delighted to see their salad on the menu accompanying the hot smoked Blagdon trout. Urban leaves are gert lush!
6. Holt Farm beef
The dinner served up by the talented kitchen crew at Yeo Valley HQ was a truly fantastic feast. Well, it had to be really, with all those discerning and very hunger foodies gathered together. For me the star of the show was the main course, a gorgeously succulent roast fillet of beef from Holt Farm, the original family farm in Blagdon where Roger and Mary Mead started farming back in 1961 and the Yeo Valley story started. Now you can’t get much more local than that. Or delicious.
7. Sharp’s Dubbel Coffee Stout
Each course was matched with West Country beers and ciders. Sharp’s Dubbel Coffee Stout paired with the dark chocolate pudding was an inspired combination; the rich, bitter stout balancing perfectly the deep, dark chocolate and sweet clotted cream from Rodda’s (who picked up the gong for Best Foodie Product).
8. Thatcher’s Rose
Also matched with dessert was Thatcher’s Rose Cider. A crisp, light and refreshing cider made from rosy red Katie apples, it couldn’t be more different to the Coffee Stout, yet also worked oh so well as a sweet pudding tipple. As Jason was the nominated driver for the night, I got to sample both. Lucky me!
9. The Loos
I’d heard so much about the ‘facilities’ at Yeo Valley HQ ahead of the event, and they didn’t disappoint. Jason and I even ended up taking selfies for some bizarre reason in the wonderfully kitsch and decidedly eighties disabled loos! At least I can blame the alcohol…
10. Johnny Depp
Someone told me that all the pictures on the walls in the corridor leading down to the restaurant at Yeo Valley HQ were chosen by the staff. Fab idea! And good call to whoever it was that picked this Rolling Stone cover featuring the sex god that is Johnny Depp. Cue another selfie! Anyone who knows me from my schooldays will understand.
11. Helen Upshall
OK, so I realise I was only supposed to be bringing you my top ten highlights, but I’ve just got to squeeze in one more. I have to give a big shout out to Helen Upshall from Hells Belle’s Bites, who I was sat next to during dinner and who was also up for Best Blogger. I was convinced the award was hers. Helen has a beautiful blog, creates amazing dishes and has such a strong connection to the West Country in that every recipe celebrates at least one local ingredient. If you’re not following her already, then I strongly urge you to do so.
A huge thank you once again to everyone that voted for Bangers & Mash, and got my 2015 off to one helluva start. To get the low down on all the other winners, take at look at the Food Magazine website.