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Right now we’re at a Festival. The Festival hasn’t started yet, as the gates only open this afternoon, but we’ve been camped here all week.
This is our second working festival of the year, and to complete the season we will be heading to Electric Picnic next month, just us and 75,000 other hungry souls. Festival gigging with Theatre of Food is a part of what we do in our portfolio of working around and about our food and drink culture.
In many ways, our experience of festivals is quite different from the paying punters. We usually have a kitchen, and food handler’s toilets that we carefully defend. We can camp near our cars, and all this makes our experience enjoyable and keeps us in the game almost twenty years after we started.
The time when we do experience a Festival like a wide-eyed punter is during what everyone calls The Build. These are the magic moments when, in a matter of days and weeks, an entire tented city grows up around us. It’s quite extraordinary, both the speed at which it is assembled, and then the speed at which it is deconstructed. Trees light up, tents ascend, flags flutter, and the sound of bird song is joined temporarily by the roar of the forklift, the clank of mallet against post and, as we get closer to the event, the “one-two” of the sound check.
Last year, the sound checks all seemed to go with Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill”. This year, it’s been John Martyn’s “Sweet Little Mystery”, and some live Kraftwerk.
When we first arrive at a Festival, we experience the lengthy treks for the bathroom, and try to get used to the lack of electricity, watching our phones drain down and wondering what we can eat for lunch, given that nothing is open, and we’re in a field somewhere.
It’s at times like these that we can share our efforts to be Festival Fit. What do you need to bring for before, during and after a time when your usual comforts and essentials are replaced by a tin and a tent? We asked some festival veterans.
What to pack?
On this, we agree with Ali Dunworth, Festival co-ordinator for The Big Grill, Me Auld Flower and Beyond the Pale, amongst others, that the most important thing to bring to a Festival is - Barry’s Tea. We have it with us here in Suffolk, and, if there’s any left, our crew will carefully pack up the tea bags and take them back to wherever they reside in Europe.
Ali also brings “a tube of Colmans mustard and a little tin of Maldon salt – but I have them with me most places I go! Handbag essentials. The mustard is there because even if you get an average sandwich or ingredients for an average sandwich, you can improve it with Colmans.”
Joe McNamee, the ring master for All Together Now, for the same reason, brings Terra Ignis fermented hot sauce and their oak fermented ketchup.
We’ll always remember the first time we had sriracha for breakfast (thank you Caitlin Ruth) and PJ McKenna puts it well when he writes “take a small bottle of hot sauce, to put on any of your own snacks or food you buy – and the spiciness is like Lucozade: it gives you energy.”
Energy is our battery during a festival, and rehydration is an issue, whether from the elements or the late nights. Joe says he brings “nuts, salted for when drinking, plain for when in the recovery position, and rehydration tablets (electrolytes/dioralyte) for when water alone no longer works ... Not really a recipe for making camping more fun, more an exercise in survivalism!”
We’ve noticed many of our crew bring Vitamin C tablets. Not sure what that’s all about, but we’re sure it helps.
For the last two years at Kaleidoscope Festival, Jacinta Dalton, on whom we rely for her culinary knowledge, and the person who created our Sunday Brunch at Electric Picnic, surprised and delighted us by bringing her wood fired Ooni, and made pizza! (The dough came with her from home - chilled, but cooked on site). Brilliant for an unplugged supper when camping, but not for festivals, of course.
Jacinta and her sister, Sinead O’Halloran, also introduced us to the mega-useful Halford’s cold box. Just charge it up in the car as you’re driving to a festival, and you have a mini fridge for two or three days. These days, they’re lined up at the wall of our tent, as many of our crew bring one.
For one of the children’s demos we did in Kaleidoscope, Chips and Dips, we improvised a Coronation Mayo, and we think it’s a recipe we could always use in a camping scenario, because everything comes out of a bottle.
Some of the kids turned their noses up when they first made it - complaining that it was “the colour of vomit” – but just dip a chip in it, and you’ll never be skeptical again. It’s also good with deli-cooked chicken from the – hopefully nearby – supermarket, or hard boiled eggs, or tinned fish. This is great camping food, if you remember to pack the jars:
For every 1 tablespoon Mayo (Hellmans is good)
1 heaped teaspoon curry sauce (Green Saffron recommended)
1 level teaspoon mango chutney (Geeta’s)
Half teaspoon regular chutney (Sheridans chutney for cheese is perfect)
Sprinkle of ground cinnamon
Ever since we first started here at Theatre of Food at Latitude, we’ve worked alongside the inspirational Chris Young, of the Real Bread Campaign and coordinator of the Sustain charity. In the years that we’ve known him, Chris has always bought the same tent, the same pint cup, and the same mug, which gets used for anything from a cup of Barrys to a dram of something a bit stronger.
As Chris puts it: "There is so much waste generated by every festival, not all of which does or can get composted or recycled. Taking and reusing my own mug, pint cup, tent and other campaign gear every year are my very small contributions to helping reduce this problem."
Latitude is a delightful festival, set in the heart of foodie Norfolk and Suffolk, counties which have not just strong agricultural cultures, but also have winemaking and brewing and craft baking cultures, powered by dynamic artisans. About 40,000 people turn up to Henham Park, near Southwold, and the music is typical festival fare, from the sublime – Chemical Bros – to the embarrassing – The Killers: worst band ever.
Samuel has collated some great emerging cooks and writers at Theatre of Food this year, including Ravinder Bhogal (whose new book, Comfort & Joy, is a masterpiece); Thomasina Miers; Crystelle Pereira; Rebecca Bishop; Carolina Doriti – and we have chefs and bakers and thinkers for future podcasts.
For updates on the Festival as it happens this weekend, see Theatre of Food and McKennas Guides Insta