When trying to decide how to best celebrate my birthday, I discovered that Alex James was going to be holding a festival on his farm in Oxfordshire which combined several of my favourite things all in one field, good food, music and cider. So with tickets to Harvest booked and a sprinkling of close friends I knew I had the recipe for an excellent birthday!
Charlotte and Julia also had a few surprises up their sleeves to make it an even more memorable birthday, starting with a delicious raspberry focaccia which we ate for breakfast at the tent before heading into the festival.
At Harvest there was an exciting array of yummy food stalls it was hard to decide what to eat first - and also easy to spend a small fortune.
We began with Meat Wagon burgers which were as delicious as always, the legend of the meat wagon has obviously not reached as far as Oxfordshire as there was no queue at all! Throughout the weekend we also ate fish and chips from the Sea Cow, which is another establishment local to us in London, hog roast with quince aioli from the Salt Yard tent, chorizo and haloumi wrap from Salad Days and Charlotte and Matt tried the fish dogs created by Mark Hix.
Other options included Mexican from Wahaca (which apparently David Cameron and his family had for lunch), the Mash Up gourmet pie company, Squid and Pear and a host of farmers market type stalls full of local produce. We'll have to go back next year to try all those!
There was a tent called the chefs table where you had to book in advance to secure a table which we hadn't done but we did sample some of the food by getting it to take away. All the dishes were made to recipes by the chefs appearing at the festival such as Ottelenghi, Emily Watkins and Stevie Parle. I had the excellent lamb meat balls with tomato sauce and polenta which were by Valentine Warner.
I have to say the music at the festival definitely played second fiddle to the food, this was no bad thing though, it just made for a very different festival experience. Usually we would be trying to find time to grab a burger in between bands, at Harvest however it was more a case of catching a few songs while deciding what to feast on next. There was always an eager crowd buzzing around the farmhouse kitchen stage, where as the bands sometimes had an active audience that you could count on one hand.
We thoroughly enjoyed watching all the cooking demonstrations, particularly when we managed to secure a seat on a hay bale close to the stage meaning we got to sample some of the dishes being produced.
On the Saturday we watched Nuno Mendes (Viajante), Stevie Parle (The Dock Kitchen) and Monty and Sarah Don. We then made sure we were in a prime position before Ottolenghi was due to take the stage. He cooked 3 dishes, a tomato based one with prawns, scallops and feta cheese which we managed to get a spoon full of, a salad featuring giant cous cous and a platter covered in a caramelized fennel dish.
Just as his set was coming to an end, the compare announced that it was the birthday of someone in the audience, they called me up on stage and everyone sang happy birthday while Ottolenghi presented me with an apple and olive oil cake which Julia had baked, smuggled into the festival complete with cake stand, iced and taken back stage!
The surprises didn't end there, on Sunday Charlotte and Julia tracked down Alex James by his cheese stall. They had carried a ceramic cheese dish to the festival which they filled with cheese on toast and got Alex James to give it to me!
On Sunday afternoon we watched Tom Kerridge (from The Hand and Flowers) cook cod with salt baked carrots and a fillet of sea bass with risotto which I think was the best recipe I got a taste of. Next on stage was the comedy duo of Mark Hix and Alex James who made loads of different dishes all containing cheese, they ran way over their allotted time slot much to the displeasure of Jay Rayner who was up next. The Sunday evening headliner was Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall who was promoting his new vegetarian cook book (recipes from which are likely to feature in future Keston Kitchen posts as it was one of my birthday presents).
We all had a brilliant weekend and I would definitely recommend the festival to any foodie fan. I am sure it will be bigger and better next year, if you are planning on heading to Harvest 2012 make sure you have full wallets and empty stomachs!