At 8.30pm on Friday, 5 food writers and bloggers took to the stage in The Westbridge Draft House to argue the toss for the most indispensable ingredient. The tension was palpable as they mounted the podium, preceded by 3 formidable judges in the shape of Katy Salter (her off Waitrose Food Illustrated and A Pinch Of Salt), Rejina Sabur (her off Gastro Geek and Fire & Knives), and Henry Harris (him off Racine in South Kensington).
The contestants were themselves forces to be reckoned with. Feisty Rachel McCormack was there to promote olive oil, Kavey Favelle was fighting for cheese, Charlie Nelson was the egg man, and Oliver Thring was seasoning the whole event with salt. Disaster had struck the day before when pork jouster Tim Hayward pulled out due to unforeseen circumstances. All was not lost however! In an act of heroic selflessness and, well, Frenchness, Mathilde Delville, with not half an hour to go before kick off, put herself forward to battle in the name of that most Gallic of ingredients – the onion.
ROUND ONE – 3 minutes to introduce your ingredient
Charlie kicked off the evening with a rousing, if slightly rambling (the pressures of going first), eulogy to the egg. Demonstrating its resilience and shapely perfection, it was a strong start.
Next up, Rachel entertained the throng with tales of classical mythology and oily lustfulness.
Kavey was next, with an impassioned and convincing performance in the name of cheese. “Cheese is the only ingredient that gets its own course” she argued.
Ollie followed her, his measured, honest and knowledgeable paean to the preserving qualities of salt seemingly impressing everyone.
Finally Mathilde put forth her witty, tender and almost seductive argument for the onion.
The two weakest arguments were selected by the judges to battle it out to keep their place in the competition. Charlie and Rachel were chosen, due to the fact that they hadn’t concentrated on food enough in their opening speeches. After a filthy barrage between the two, the judges asked them one final question. “What would you cook with your opponent’s ingredient?” Both were shrewd enough to incorporate their own choice into the answer (it’s indispensable, remember?), Rachel offering scrambled eggs drizzled with olive oil, and Charlie circuitously suggesting mayonnaise. It was this that swung it for the judges, and Rachel was dumped out.
ROUND TWO – The perfect dish for your ingredient
Charlie, as if spurred on by his victory in the sudden death, came out all guns blazing to propose ile flottante as the dish in which egg is in its element.
Mathilde then raised few eyebrows in revealing French onion soup to be her interpretation of onion at its most perfect.
Kavey would have made a certain Ms. Beckett very happy, as she flew the flag for macaroni cheese.
Ollie finally plumped for the Alsatian (the region, not the dog) staple choucroute garnie, eloquently explaining how without salt there would be no bacon, no sausages, and no choucroute.
Sadly the Tricolore was pulled down at the end of this round, after Mathilde failed to emphasise the importance of the quality of the beef stock in a French onion soup. You won’t catch Henry Harris out when it comes to French cookery.
ROUND THREE – Audience questions
The audience were then encouraged to put questions to the three remaining contestants. The round was somewhat blighted by the friend/contestant ratio, and so it was again up to the judges to decide who was to get the boot. At this point it was determined that Charlie’s luck had run out, and it was to a chorus of boos and hisses (I assume aimed at the judges) that he left the stage.
THE FINAL – Destroy your opponent
The finalists, Kavey ‘the Cracker’ Favelle and Ollie ‘the Sage’ Thring, had 2 minutes each to destroy their opponent’s ingredient. Ollie’s argument was simple and compelling. “Without salt, there would be no cheese”. This blow seemed to have knocked Kavey sideways, who found it difficult to take down salt in an effective way. She was a boxer against the ropes, Thring a raging bull. The competition seemed over, but the judges wanted to ask one final question:
“How would you destroy your opponent with your ingredient?”
Ollie seemed to have been watching far too much Saw films, as he brutally and conclusively said he would force feed Kavey salt until she expired.
Kavey’s inspiration came from Asterix, as she vowed to brew up a giant fondue before drowning her opponent in it.
It was up to our very own Simon, Cheryl, and Danii to come to their final decision. Nails were shredded, hair torn out. The compere gobbled two more of the Westbridge’s magnificent ox tongue fritters he was so nervous.
Rejina went first. “My vote is for Kavey – her love of cheese is so total, so persuasive, that I can’t help but be convinced that cheese is the ingredient I couldn’t live without”
Katy followed: “My vote goes to Ollie. It’s pretty impossible, in my opinion, to argue that we could get by without salt.”
In true X Factor style it was down to Henry to cast the deciding vote. “Kavey – your passion for cheese is overwhelming, and your first speech in particular pretty much paved your way to the final. However, I must also say that Ollie’s case for salt has been utterly compelling. Its ability to preserve, enhance, and give life is considerable, and Ollie debated very well. Having said that, Ollie, you opted to destroy Kavey by force-feeding her salt, and as you will concede, you didn’t kill her – you preserved her. So, the winner of The Food Debate, is Kavey.”
What more needs saying? It was a great evening; enlightening, amusing, exciting, and, after sampling the selection of beers, pretty incoherent. Thank you so much to Charlie McVeigh and everyone at the Draft House for their generosity, to the judges for their time, attention and impartiality, to the contestants for all being so interesting, impassioned, and brave, and of course to everyone who came down to support. Well done Kavey, you were superb. Until next time.
What would have been your ingredient? What do you think the next debate should be about?
If anybody has any photographs from Friday night I’d be eternally grateful if you could fire them my way. Thank ye.