01 | Sep | 16

Hugh Thomas

The Future Of Food

The British Street Food Awards aren’t just about eating. We like to talk about eating too — if our mouths aren’t too full, that is. With three Michelin-star chefs PLUS one of the country’s most august food writers judging at the 2016 finals, it would have been crazy not to hear what they had to say.

The Telegraph’s Xanthe Clay was there, along with Michelin-star chefs Simon Hulstone, Brad Carter and Nathan Eades. And they were all impressed with the ingenuity of what they saw from the food of the finalists. When you’ve got flatbreads baked in the engine of a classic Mini, goat offal tacos, and a chocolate cake cooked over wood, you’ve got to wonder what the heck is next.

The judges (above, left to right, Hulstone, Clay, Eades and Carter) had only just finished 34 dishes from all 17 traders present, but that didn’t stop them clambering onto the stage (slowly) and sharing their love for street food. They’re not alone. According to the 2016 Street Food Report from Santa Maria, 1 in 4 people now eat it 2-3 times a week. Back in 2014, it was 1 in 5.

‘It’s great to see offal – such authenticity – and a real celebrated delicacy’ said Xanthe. She was, of course, referring to Broughgammon’s taco. Working with offal requires you to know what you’re doing, so to witness it in such a casual environment means street food continues to attract a new degree of expertise and openness more commonly seen in restaurants and other cultures.

Where Xanthe praised the food, Simon couldn’t help thinking about the possibilities. As he’s represented Britain on an international culinary stage multiple times in dozens of countries, he has earnt the right to speak for the Establishment. He referred to Steelite’s guide to getting into bricks and mortar — if a permanent home is what the traders aspire to — but he saw little to stop them all making a mark from their passion.

Brad and Nathan were up on stage as living proof of Birmingham’s new foodie reputation. Brad was delighted at the way ‘the quality of street food in Brum has exploded over the past year,’ thanks to the Digbeth Dining Club, though he did make one plea — no more burgers. Whether that was to do with the enormous market share that burgers control, or the half dozen patties he’d just eaten as part of the judging process, only he can say.

For Xanthe, she seemed genuinely excited by the growth of street food in Birmingham — and beyond. Why? Because, as she saw it, ‘there’s nowhere to hide behind the décor, wine, or service. It’s all about the food. I love street food, and intend to do a lot more eating of it.’

Inspiration at the finals of the 2016 British Street Food Awards was dripping off the spray-canned walls at the Rainbow, and it clearly got to Nathan in a big way. ‘This is all about stripping things back to what they should be’ he said. ‘It inspires me and I want to get involved.’ Well, you can be damn well sure we’re listening, Nathan. So was the whole of Birmingham.