I was lucky enough to go to a Topping & Company book even at Ely Cathedral the other day. My number one foodie hero, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, was appearing to talk about his new book; River Cottage Everyday.
We arrived in Ely on a cold and blustery evening. The Cathedral is easy to find as it dominates the scenery. I was unsure how many people would be there as I’d never been to a Topping & Co event before. I laughed at Mrs ITs Food’s suggestion that there would be “a few hundred”. I thought maybe 100 or so…
It soon became clear, as we queued to get in, that Mrs ITs Food was spot on. I reckon there were close to 600+ people there by the time the event started. On entering we joined the queue to buy a copy of Hugh’s new book for £18 (£7 off RRP, the tickets had cost us £7). We avoided the complimentary wine, Mrs ITs Food didn’t like the look of it and I was the “designated driver”. I was more than willing to swap roles though as I wouldn’t have minded a glass, it looked fine to me!
We made your way to some seats to the side of where Hugh would be standing. Ely Cathedral is amazing. My inner photographer decided immediately that we’d be coming back soon with camera and tripod in tow. Have a look at some of the pictures on flickr, I’m sure you’ll agree it is an impressive site.
After a small introduction, Hugh was introduced to much applause. The sound was good and Hugh spoke loudly and clearly so earlier warnings and worries about poor sound quality were unfounded. Hugh spoke about the reasons he wrote the book and read a couple of excerpts. You had to remember the event was all about his new book as obviously there were a lot of mentions of it but they were nicely mixed in with some of Hugh’s other musings. We then moved on to a small interview with Hugh carried out by someone from Topping & Co. The interviewer was a little quiet but this section was very interesting with Hugh’s answers being detailed and very long, no terse replies from him!
The final “formal” part of the evening was a Q&A section with members of the audience. This was excellent. There was a good mix of serious “food issue” and “River Cottage” fan questions. At one point Hugh was given some Damson jam! The most interesting question was from a woman who asked about whether Hugh agreed with The Soil Association that GM crops were the antitheses to Organic. Both Mrs ITs Food and I at this point thought the questioner would turn out to be an employee of Monsanto or similar! Hugh gave a long answer giving his reasons for not agreeing with GM crops. The questioner, unfairly in my opinion, said she thought Hugh avoided answering the question. I just think he answered it simply (yes, he agreed with The Soil Association view) and then went on to explain why he didn’t trust GM crops. Hugh suspected the same as us as he said he wondered whether the questioner worked for a GM company. It turned out she was a scientist and she tried to have a unbiased and analytical view of the whole GM debate. I personally though she was a little biased towards GM. Due to time constraints, the host from Topping & Co brought the questioning to an end whilst there were still people queuing to ask a question. At this point Hugh said that whilst he realised time was getting on there was a little girl waiting at the back and he couldn’t have her disappointed. She was allowed to ask her question as to whether Hugh ever saved any of his animals from slaughter because he had grown too attached to them. He quipped that “my spaniel Dolly has so far avoided the pot…”.
Then proceeded the most disorganised part of the evening, the signing. The whole event had been very professional up to that point but when it was time for the signing it was a “rush and scrum” to get in the queue. Well, when I say queue, I mean a crowd. It was about 10 wide by about 30-40 long. We probably didn’t move for about 30-40 minutes but eventually we made it to the front…
I imagine Hugh thought I was a little “slow” as all I could say was my name followed by nothing. I was a little star struck I’m afraid. Luckily the floodgates soon opened and I told Hugh just what an inspiration he was to us. He seemed especially happy to hear about our chickens and seemed really genuine when he said he was touched by what we’d said. With that I walked off, guided by Mrs ITs Food, in a bit of a daze having met my number 1 foodie hero. I was chuffed.
Thanks to Hugh and to Topping & Co for an excellent event. I will certainly keep any eye out for future events, maybe a Heston Blumenthal one…? Please 🙂