Tag Archives: festival catering

Black pudding regrets and other Green Man food stories…

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Early morning haze over Glanusk

Every August I disappear into the hills of Brecon to cook for the crew and production of the Green Man Festival. It’s a fantastic, frantic, hard-working month filled with highs and lows, time spent catching up with friends and making new ones, parties, hangovers, sleepless nights, topped finally by one big festival in the middle. Every year I intend to catch up with writing over the few days I have a break, but always I fail. Tiredness catches up and my brain just can’t compute.

This was my third consecutive year so I’ve pretty much cracked the routine bit and so with Lizzie my assistant from last year we ran like a well oiled machine! We even had an extra pair of hands to help with washing up! This gave me more time to think about being creative with the cooking. Even though we work to a budget I still like to experiment and try new dishes. Old favourites, big one pot meals and hearty pies make up the staple diet but it doesn’t take much to create well-flavoured, tasty grub and as ever our efforts are greatly appreciated. In fact even as we sat down to dinner at The Bear (our traditional first night on site evening out) talk turned to what was on the menu for my first week of cooking and everyone has their special request….fish pie, cottage pie and a good curry, which along with the Welsh cheese board, honey baked gammon and vast array of cakes, have become standard Green Man fare. I try to vary the menu to keep things fresh. This year I cooked my first crew roast dinner, finally getting over my fear of screwing up the timings for so many people so I braved it.

Spiced pulled pork with crispy crackling followed by warm chocolate torte with ganache was the triumph of the week…and the dinner that saw me peak too soon! The torte, as expected, was so good it broke a few grown men. Ben arrived in the morning claiming he would not be eating cakes and puddings this year..before devouring two lots of chocolate torte the same evening. Another was overheard declaring “holy shit!!” as he took a mouthful….I took that as a compliment).

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Spiced roast pork

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The cake that broke a thousand men…warm chocolate torte with ganache and strawberries

By Monday the numbers had increased and I never quite reached the heady heights of that dinner again.  Embarking on a lemon meringue pie for fifty with home-made pastry, nearly gave me a nervous breakdown as I struggled to get it ready on time and my battles with a temperamental Aga raged over the week…its constant use meant it cooled down rapidly refusing to cook the food. Fair enough if you have all the time in the world, not so good if you have half an hour until dinner and the carrots still haven’t come to the boil. We peered despondently into the pot willing them to be ready in time….they weren’t, and dinner was half an hour late.

Still, we hit a few high’s; poached pears with rum and cinnamon caused our dairy free crew member to come over all unnecessary, potato pancakes at breakfast got everyone a bit excited and of course cake formed the basis of everything…even a bit of sculpting to mark out the stage set-up

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Hi-tec design: main stage and speaker lay out in cake

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“How will I live without potato pancakes” (Tash)

and lots of black and white pudding was consumed…over heard from the kitchen…

“I’m having black pudding regrets”

“From eating it?”

No, from not eating it”

Being part of the Green Man experience is unique. It’s hard to explain to others the family feeling this festival evokes. As a group we spend time with people we might only see once a year, live closely together and share the excitement, the highs and the lows of building a festival. We see the love, care and attention that goes in to every bit of the build and the dramas that go with it. We gear ourselves up for the party, almost to the point of elation and then its over in a flash and we find ourselves on the other side tired, broken and bereft as the family goes its separate ways. Its hard and emotional but worth every second.

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The Green Man team (for the build): Claire, me and Lizzie

And as the tiredness creeps in, it gets harder to stay creative and on the ball. One kitchen, an Aga blasting out its heat twenty-four hours a day as the sun beats down outside, it’s easy to end up a bit hot and bothered, distracted and lacking focus…although to be fair on this occasion I can’t just blame that on the heat in the kitchen ….but that’s another story altogether.

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Giant suppers and inspired food….crew cooking at the Green Man

The Lodge

Apologies for my relative quietness lately but I’ve been tucked away for the past week and a half in the beautiful surroundings of Glanusk Estate in the Brecon Beacons, cooking four meals a day for the hungry crew members that put together the Green Man festival.

The estate pre festival

The job came about through Ellie of salad club who cooked for them last year. I’d always fancied trying my hand at festival catering and the Green Man is my most favourite festival so I emailed her to say if she was doing it again, I’d love to do it with her. A year passed by and then out of the blue I got a message from her saying Green Man were looking for a caterer but she wasn’t doing it, did I want the job? Of course I phoned the organisers immediately and the rest is history!

I promptly set to looking for helpers. For the first ten-day feat Welsh supper club host Delyth from Calon y Cegin in Cardiff stepped in.   We’d never met before but through our Facebook link I contacted her and asked if she would be interested. She jumped at the chance.

Despite being privileged in that we got to stay in the Lodge, a  lack of internet access (a fault on the line) and the relentless workload kept me from the computer. Cooking for between 30 and 50 a day it was monumentally hard work. Up at six to prepare cooked breakfast, a brief sit down before starting on lunch, which consisted of soups, bread, salads, cheese, ham, Quiche, fruit and cakes, followed by afternoon tea at four and then straight on to dinner which was usually a big pot of tagine/goulash/stew/ chilli accompanied by potatoes, rice, couscous and various other salads and dessert. The last bits of clearing up and the night security pack lunches were usually done by nine, at which point we collapsed in a heap.

trays of cake for afternoon tea

massive trifle with home made sponge, custard and blackcurrant coulis

 

home-made focaccia and salads

cheese board and home made chutney

Delyth making industrial quantities of sponge...one with lime marmalade and coconut and the other with plum jam. We were also given a bag of plums from a tree on the estate that we turned into plum compote

chocolate brownie in massive quantities

our last lunch....didn't matter how much cheese we put out, it all went

We cooked everything  from scratch using supplies from the local producers plus we both brought with us some of our favourite ingredients, equipment, knives and a few odd extras such as special spice blends, black currants from my garden and toffee vodka (which went into a sticky ginger and toffee vodka cake)!!

Everyday we put our heads together to get creative. I’d worked out basic meal plans on a spread sheet but we often ad-libbed, changed things according to what we had in, or what needed using up. Food waste was minimal as numbers grew day on day. Five days in we asked the crew for feedback. What had they liked so far. They responded

we like cheese and we like cake….and we like cheesecake

We knew we were on to a winner…seeing as I’m a bit of a cake fiend myself.

It was a steep learning curve for both of us and at times a struggle to keep the energy levels high enough to keep going. We both had days where we felt like death and providing enough food on budget was my biggest headache.

There were days when we ran on caffeine and cigarettes. We sometimes worked through hangovers. Most of the time I didn’t get enough sleep, lured by the hypnotic charm of the crew camp fire and a cold beer, but despite all that Delyth and I made a great team, produced some fantastic inspired grub and didn’t fall out.

26 litres of carrot and coriander soup

a few of the crew

more crew...getting lunch. They were all the hardest working bunch EVER

The best bit of all was seeing how gratefully received our meals were. There’s nothing that makes a dedicated cook smile more than to see people enjoying their creations. In the words of Bill (designer and builder of the main stage)

I love you…you keep me alive!

Bill in the cherry picker at main stage

My three-day break back at home with the kids is drawing to a close and I’m back off the Brecon tomorrow for the festival and five more days cooking. More tales of crew catering will follow…

Main stage

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