Free From Food Festival, London

Yesterday I visited the inaugural Free From Food Festival on London’s Southbank.  The festival was organised by Caroline Aherne who owns the Sugargrain Bakehouse, makers of award winning gluten & wheat free cakes and confectionery. Caroline and I have met a couple of times before. The first time I met her we were both on our way to the annual Free From Food Awards which were being held this year in Kew. A suicide on the line had resulted in no trains going to Kew and we were both stranded at Clapham Junction station. I tweeted to see if anyone else was caught up in the chaos. Caroline (who was nominated in 3 categories in this year’s awards) replied to say she was also stuck there and offered to go home, collect her car and drive back to pick me up and we’d go to the awards together. What a generous thing to do for someone she’d never met before. I’m not sure how many visitors realised that the Free From Festival was not organised by a full time exhibition organiser, but by Caroline who organised this festival in addition to baking her wonderful cakes and manning her Sugargrain stall. Very impressive.

Although I was excited to visit the various free from food producers who were at the festival, I was also very much looking forward to seeing some demonstrations and talks from members of the free from community.

I arrived just in time for Molly Robson’s engaging demo.

adventures of a gluten free globetrekker Free From Food Festival, London Gluten Free News
Molly is a Nutrition Advisor and writes the Particular Kitchen blog. Molly demonstrated a cranberry orange bread which was vegan, gluten free, dairy free, egg free, soy free and made without refined sugars. Although I do eat eggs I found it interesting that ground flax seed can be used in place of eggs. We got to try some of the cake at the end of her demo and it was delicious. She very kindly handed out recipe cards and I’d like to try this recipe myself.

A short talk followed by Alanna Lawley who will soon be launching the interesting sounding Foodadit, a community website seeking to connect people with similar food preferences with food substitutes.

It was then definitely time for lunch. Having taken a quick tour around the various food options, I settled on gluten free fish and chips. What a treat! They were made by Olley’s, a fish and chip restaurant in Brockwell Park, south London.

adventures of a gluten free globetrekker Free From Food Festival, London Gluten Free News
adventures of a gluten free globetrekker Free From Food Festival, London Gluten Free News
The gluten free batter was very light and crispy. Unfortunately in my haste to tuck in, I didn’t get a chance to find out who the supplier of the batter was. However it was lovely to have many choices of gluten free lunch options from the various exhibitors.

I enjoyed my gluten free fish and chips while listening to Grace Cheetham’s demonstration of raspberry and rosewater gluten and dairy free cupcakes. I thought it was great that Grace requested some audience participation and invited people to the front to decorate their own cupcakes. It was great to meet Grace, albeit briefly, and I hope we can catch up properly some time soon.

The next talk was one quite close to my Russophile heart. Katrina Kollegaeva is a Russian who runs an underground supper club trying to revolutionise the image of Russian / Soviet Food. As I’ve spent a number of years living in Russia, I know that people hold very stereotypical views of food in Russia and former Soviet Republics which are almost always wide of the reality. Since my student days in Moscow I’ve had a love of Georgian food in particular. One day I will make a gluten free version of khatchipuri, the Georgian cheese bread. Forget about the perfect seeded gluten free loaf, khatchipuri is the bread I’d love to be able to eat again. Katrina was demonstrating a very interesting dish of cabbage flower stuffed with buckwheat and wild mushrooms. Buckwheat is used in Russian homes almost as widely as we use potatoes, pasta or rice. Buckwheat is nutty and extremely nutritious as well as being naturally gluten free. Sadly, Katrina (who isn’t a gluten free chef) had prepared the dish with mushroom ketchup and Worcestershire sauce which were not gluten free so I couldn’t eat it. The mushroom mixture smelt amazing though and I just got to admire instead.

adventures of a gluten free globetrekker Free From Food Festival, London Gluten Free News
Katrina will be posting the recipe on her website and I’d urge you to try it for an interesting vegetarian dish which would be impressive to serve at a dinner party.

Last – but certainly not least! – was a talk by Annie of Annie’s SupperClub on the uses of various gluten free flours. Annie has a wealth of knowledge on gluten free flours and her talk was packed with interesting facts. Did you know, for example, that there are more non-gluten flours in the world than gluten-containing flours? No, me either. You can check out the gluten free flours Annie uses how these flours can be used in gluten free cooking here. Another great tip was to keep the ends of your gluten free bread loaves and whizz them up to become breadcrumbs and freeze. So simple yet I’d never thought of that before. Normally I just chuck out the end pieces.

I thought the demos and talks were extremely interesting and covered a number of different food intolerances, not just gluten free. I can’t think of an occasion where such a variety of different subjects within the free from food arena has been on offer.

I think one area which could be improved for the (hopefully!) next festival is that the demos and talks could be better promoted by placing larger boards around the festival site with the schedule and description of the talks for the visitors who stumbled across the festival, as well as advertising them in advance on a dedicated Free From festival website. Oh, and next time I will bring a warm scarf!

However, what really made the day extra special for me was that I had the opportunity to meet up with some amazing fellow gluten free-rs (and an honorary one!). Whilst I really enjoy our regular chats and gluten free “tweet ups” on twitter, nothing beats meeting up with like-minded people. Many thanks to Charlotte, Alex, Annie, Molly, Pippa, Mel and Roarke for the company yesterday. I had such a great time chatting and enjoying all the gluten free food on offer together. I think it’s fantastic that our online gluten free community has happily moved into the real world! I hope we all get to meet up again soon.

Finally, thank you to Caroline for all your hard work in making the Free From Food Festival happen. I hope this will be the start of a regular Free From Food festival.

The Free From Food Festival is being held 25 – 27 November 2011 on London’s Southbank (behind the Royal Festival Hall