11 | Jun | 16

Richard Johnson

The Heat Is On!

There, amidst the gorse, and the big, brooding skies of Blackheath — one of the largest areas of common land in London –- we found our home for the weekend. Some of the best traders from the South and East (plus a rogue fishing boat from Wales) were at the Foodies Festival competing to win one of the few remaining places in the finals of the 2016 British Street Food Awards. And the public struggled to choose between them.

IMG_6624Meat eaters didn’t believe that Rupert’s Street vegan burger made from beetroot and chick pea chould be quite so delicious. They didn’t believe that the Cake Doctor’s cheesecake was vegan at all. With the exquisite dosa and bhaji menu being pushed out by the vegetarian Dosa Deli, living meat-free all weekend was a positive, blissed-out joy.

IMG_6628Café Mor did a roaring trade in chowder and Pembrokeshire lobster rolls. Some people wondered what the heck the Welsh were doing at the South and East heats – and we didn’t really have an answer. They weren’t available for the Wales and West heats in Bristol, so we let them drop anchor in London. Yes. Drop anchor. Have a look at their new set-up.

IMG_6577Gourmet Griffin were early leaders in the public vote. Their high-welfare pork dogs, served from Jeffrey (a 50 year old Bedford camper)
won a lot of new friends. They were parked up next to Raviollie (with fresh pasta rolled, stuffed and cut on site) and Jojoto. Their pabellon arepa, stacked with beef, beans, plantains, cheese, avocado and hot sauce was tipping many a man (and woman) over the edge.

Our guest judge was Jane Devonshire, winner of MasterChef 2016. No more Greg Wallace and John Torode pronouncing from on high – for one morning the judged became the judge. She did justice to tasting plates from all the competitors, and singled out Eat The Farm, Rupert’s Street, Le Bao and Dosa Deli for a special mention. But her wild card? Straight through to the national final? Check it out here.

The public loved Cheeky Indian’s Hyderabadi pulled lamb. The slow cooked lamb shoulder was pulled before being fried and served up on a bed of leafy greens, drizzled with spiced plum B-B-Q sauce and tucked into flat bread. But, in the end, the voting came down to three traders. The perfect burger from Eat The Farm (just the right burger/bun proportion, and perfectly cooked, with a deeply savoury blue cheese sauce), those pillows of deliciousness from Raviollie, and the exquisite slider menu from Cheeky Burger. Winner? Think it’s fair to say that Marta was happy to be going through to the final….

This is how the votes ended up:

1. Cheeky Burger
2. Eat The Farm
3. Raviollie
4. Cheeky Indian
5. Gourmet Griffin
6= Rupert’s Street, Café Mor, Jojoto, Dosa Deli, Cake Doctor and Le Bao

The finalists were:

The Cake Doctor
The Cake Doctor (who recently launched the Blooming Great Tea Party with Mel from Great British Bake Off) is a maker of fantastic vegan cheesecakes who lives in a 1970s ambulance. Yes, he sells coffee and tea too, but it’s really all about his cheesecakes. If ‘cheesecakes’ can be entirely plant-based and gluten free. Everything is made fresh on-site to ensure the best possible culinary adventure. The doctor cares for his patients. The things that James (the Doctor) loves most about street food? “I never thought i would form such a fond attachment to blue roll [to wipe away dust and soak up water.]” he says. “It’s wonderful stuff. And duct tape is the universal fix-all tool for the industry. I love street food. You could not find any other industry where if you go to an event and have a problem a community of people will come together to help you sort it out. You never feel alone.”

Dosa Deli
Dosa Deli – stalwarts of the capital’s food scene for years – have always been about bringing the street food of Southern India to the streets of London. The food is always vegetarian, and their dosa recipes are inspired by their travels to India. Check out their special for the heats — the Bhaji Bhaji Bowl – a cripy onion bhaji with a spiced pav bhaji masala.

Cheeky Indian
Lock up your Dosas. The Cheeky Indian is here! Ash (lover, cook, and street food manager for Jamie Oliver’s “Barbecoa”) likes to use and abuse traditional Indian flavours, techniques and equipment to create a unique style of what he refers to as “Indianish” street food. It’s a style which saw him and the team voted into the top three traders for the People’s Choice at last year’s British Street Food Awards.

Cheeky Burger
Don’t let the word ‘burger’ fool you. Before getting into street food, Sebastian was head chef of a busy gastro pub in London. He’s a classically-trained French chef, and appeared on MasterChef: The Professionals. But it’s his wife, Marta, who is (inadvertently) got him to rethink his future. “I was pregnant” says Marta, “and craving burgers pretty much all day so Sebastien — being fed up with driving me around London looking for perfect burger to satisfy my cravings — created one. And the rest is history.” Their most useful gadget is the Cheeky Burger burger press. Every burger is freshly pressed and prepared in front of the customers’ eyes. And their secret ingredient? “Our meat is hand formed from high quality steak beef, and we don’t flavour the mince beef – so our 12 different spice mix is our secret weapon. And don’t even get us started on our homemade bacon and Jack Daniels jam.”

Le Bao
In 2013, Jessica and Laetitia started a popular Instagram page with meals that they used to cook at home every day. After a lot of pressure from family and friends to take it to the next level, they decided to start a street food business. “After our trip to Taiwan in 2014, we concluded that baos would definitely be our product of choice, and we would bring them to London with a modern flare! Le Bao was founded in May 2015…

Rupert’s Street
Everyone likes to make an entrance. But Ruperts Street? They’re all about the exit. They still talk about the time ‘Big Bird’ (that’s their van) was driven off a muddy field at 3am — by an ex-rally driver. “We got stuck after catering an aftershow party” says Emily. “It was one of the most terrifying/hilarious 15 minutes of my life, speeding across steep, waterlogged ploughed fields, screaming and crying with laughter. We’ll never forget that one!” Their most useful gadget? The Magimix. “He really is the ‘boss’ in our kitchen.” And the secret ingredient in their vegan menu? “Well, we never add sugar so roast apples and dates keep things sweet!”

Gourmet Griffin
The couple behind Gourmet Griffin have always been foodies. Daniel was a wannabee chef who ended up in food manufacturing and Zoe worked in restaurant chains. “But we also share a love of old British cars” says Zoe, “and when I bought Jeffrey (a 50 year old Bedford camper) it was almost written in the stars that we would turn him into a food truck. We saw traders doing amazing things with burgers, mixing style and provenance, but nobody was doing it with hot dogs — and British pork welfare is incredibly important to us.” So Gourmet Griffin was born.

Café Mor
We’ve had vans, trucks and trailers before but A STREET FOOD BOAT? Never. This year, Café Mor (winner of the British Street Food Awards in 2011) have come up with a real game changer. “We had always wanted a fishing boat to sell our fantastic seafood from” says Jonathan, “and saw a lovely old-timer on Ebay.” After a year-and-a-half of designing and building, Josie June (named after Jonathan’s daughter) is finally ready for launch. Expect lobster pot speakers for the sound system, and a Pembrokeshire menu that showcases the very best of the sea. “Plus there are 720 species of seaweed in the UK and we’re on a quest to cook, design and experiment with them all!” Be warned!

What a childhood memory – tinned Heinz ravioli. “And it’s a memory I’ve never been able to forget! “ says Ollie. “The stigma around ‘poor quality’ is exactly what I’m trying to change with Raviollie. Street food in London is enjoying such a boom at the moment, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to ‘re-invent’ ravioli.” And he’s doing one hell of a job. Ollie remembers serving an Italian who brought along his own huge bowl. “He said ‘My mother made ravioli when I was a kid, and my grandmother made it for her, so I want three of each filling in my bowl’ Heart beating, I served him the ravioli. To my delight he came back and shook my hand and said it was 5 stars. I’ve never been more nervous to serve a customer!” Until the BSFAs…Olllie wants to win big at the Awards. “All the hard work that goes into hand rolling the ravioli would just be so worth it. Not even for the material prize. Simply to get that feedback on paper and to see people loving the product up against some for the best street food around. It would be a massive achievement and a huge milestone for the business, I am very excited.”

Eat the Farm
Obsessive — that’s the word. Eat The Farm are obsessive about the ingredients in their food, with as many as possible coming from their local farms interested in sustainability. “It is not always easy to work like that” says Arturo, the boss. “Take the Ashmore Farmhouse cheese we use. “We settled on using this unpasteurised Kentish cheese very early on, but always had challenges around slicing it. “We have gone through so many methods trying to get the slicing right, and the only way to do it is by hand using an Oxo Y Peeler. And bearing in mind that there are two slices of cheese on every burger, when you have a big weekend event looming, that is a lot of slices of cheese to produce by hand. “My point being that even though it is very hard work, the effort is worth it. The cheese is fantastic, it comes from an amazing producer based near Canterbury in Kent, and we don’t intend to change it.” Come and see if all the trouble is worth it…

We admire dedication. Jojoto have applied to take part in the British Street Food Awards for the past three years – but we reckon 2016 might be their year. Their signature is the Venezuelan arepa. Arepas are a cross between pita pockets, corn muffins, white corn cakes and cornmeal patties. “The truth is that our arepas resist definition” says Andrea. “They’re the result of a relentless dedication to homemade quality slow food. Their versatility is probably their only constant and the reason why in Venezuela they are at the centre of every meal; from breakfast to lunch, dinner, and the occasional after-party treat”. “Once” says Andrea, “after he got all the stamps on his loyalty card, a guy asked us if he could have a free salsa lesson instead of a free arepa. We laughed and of course showed him some basics moves. But he still wanted his arepa as well….”