A busy July and how prunes helped me
26th July 2017
In 2010 the phone rang. It was the dad of my then boss at Campuslife, asking if I would like to earn a bit of cash over July.
At the time I was traveling all over the country presenting Studentcooking.tv, from as far down south as Falmouth, to the wilds of Aberdeen. I knew every service station, Travel Lodge and Maplin store (back in the day when we were still filming on DV Tape stock and not into thin air), and had presented “where to shop/how to shop” in over 40 different cities.
I needed a break and a little extra money for my first “non-student” flat, complete with necessities like central heating. The job would be simple: I would have to sell the concept of cooking with prunes to British chefs at Skills for Chefs in Sheffield.
Slight problem is that British chefs don’t really use prunes; at least they didn’t back in 10’. Yep, before Nadiya, Cyrus, Sabrina and Ottolenghi made their inclusion in a handful of dishes from the near and far east, and before Instagram clean eaters posted how to make prune energy balls, we had…nothing.
Well, not quite nothing, Thanks to a dusty handful of French inspired classics, we had Devils on horseback (prunes wrapped in bacon) and Pâté aux Prunes (a French pastry).
Armed with these two recipes, 50 kilos of individually wrapped prunes and a tressle table, I set off to proselytise British chefs to the wonders of a dried plum, which society usually employed as a laxative.
This was my first time at Skills for Chef, one of the biggest chefs conferences in the UK, now in its 20th year. I bombed.
Most of the chefs came, looked at my pyrex bowl of prunes, remembered their nan force-feeding them, winced and ran off. I felt humiliated on day one and by day two I had abandoned my post in lieu of a handful of leaflets distributed by the Californian Prune Board on the merits of this sweet, sickly fruit. I swore I wouldn’t go back
Seven years later it marked the beginning of my 2017 summer touring schedule. I was asked by the organisers to interview Tom Kerridge live on stage at the gala dinner, before hosting top chefs – Paul Cunningham and my old boss Francesco Mazzei – on the second day, followed by an interview with my old Munchbox and Saturday Kitchen buddy, Gennaro Contaldo.
It was a total honor and a far cry away from my murky, brown sticky past flogging prunes rather unsuccessfully.
July is an exciting month.
Things started off with travelling to Ipswich on for Jimmy’s Festival where I hosted the Aspall Cider Cook Stage. We had a top line up with DJ Barbecue, Steve Groves, Richard Burr, Rachel Green, Gill Mellor, Hunter Gather Cook and Martha Collison who I last worked with on Christmas Kitchen.
This was quickly followed up with 3 days in Nantwich for the International Cheese Awards Show 2017 I performed all day, everyday alongside James Martin in the main tent amongst the cheese show and cattle awards.
To top the month off I will be on the main cook stage at BBC Radio 2’s CARFEST North on the 28/29/30 of August, again back on stage with Tom Kerridge and a team of other great chefs.
It’s been a long journey from the prune stand. I’ve worked in many kitchens since, had a couple of great TV and Radio shows and lots of exciting food tours across the UK and now this action packed summer.
Starting to think I owe it to a fruit that Queen Latifah has described as her “favourite”.
Maybe it’s time for an autumn devoted to re-addressing the volume of prune recipes available out there?