Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Banger Bonanza!

It was a tremendously exciting day in Birmingham City Centre as the crowds excitedly gathered for the West Midlands Area cook off Final, the glittering climax to British Sausage Week 2013.

I travelled up in style, on the 11:30 train from Bicester North, arriving in Birmingham to grey skies and persistent rain. I don't know what it is about that city, but every time I have been there, the weather seems to have been the same. It is as if the clouds know I am coming and gather waiting for my arrival. But there was nothing they could to to dampen my enthusiasm on this most spectacular of days.

To get the old saliva flowing, I had a quick walk round inside the Bullring, an area where it seems almost every major food chain in Britain has a branch. Nandos, Burger King, McDonalds, Pret, Pizza Hut and countless others are all located within a stone's throw of each other. Bravely I walked the gauntlet between these packed food outlets, watching Birmingham's finest hungrily devouring their lunchtime delights, but I stood firm and strong and resisted their succulent temptations. I had to keep myself pure for the important task that lay ahead.

Thanks to Google maps, which I have never previously used before today, I soon found myself at the Old Joint Stock, a combined pub and theatre venue with a rich history. I was amazed to see how packed out the pub was with drinkers at lunchtime, a throwback to the "good old days". It's heartening to see a pub doing such a roaring trade at lunchtime, even if it is in the city centre.

I asked where the cook off was to be held and was directed into the "club room". I was somewhat early, so early in fact that I was the first one there. The room had been set up with a long table at the back so I seated myself behind and thought about what lay ahead.

As you'll know if you've been following closely, I was there to be one of the judges for the final. I really enjoyed my previous experience with Love Pork judging all of the entries back in September, so they had invited me back for a second bite. All of the entries had been whittled down to the 10 finalists which you will recall I posted in my previous entry, so today, myself and the other judges were to decide on the winner.

Perhaps it was a mistake to have arrived first as soon all of the competing butchers arrived. Because I was seated behind the desk it naturally looked as if I was in charge, or perhaps it is just a natural air of authority I give off. Fortunately the Love Pork crew soon arrived, fresh up the motorway from the morning heat in Cambridge to take control, and soon we were all set to go.

There were four of us on the judging panel, and what an esteemed group we were. Just listen to this roll call of honour.

Simon Rimmer, TV Chef, star of Channel 4's Sunday Brunch and celebrated Restaurateur.
Jason Ayres, Best-selling writer of two books [#1], Celebrity Dad [#2], and the 4th Best DJ ever [#3]
Keith Fisher, Fourth Generation Master Butcher from a family that has been in the trade over 100 years.
Laura Lavelle, Famous blogger, Foodie Laura, and the queen of YouTube when it come to food reporting.

Editors notes:

[#1] - Based on Kindle sales between 5am and 6am on Sunday 22nd September 2013 in the North Oxon/ West Bucks region.
[#2] - Z List.
[#3] - In Bicester.

The Celebrity Chef meets
The Sausage Man

The sausages were cooked for us on the premises and then we got to taste each one and mark it on the criteria of Appearance, Splitting, Texture, Juiciness and Taste/Smell. It has to be said, all of the entries were of extremely high standard. We had a mix of Traditional Sausages and also various flavoured offerings too. They were all shapes and sizes too.

The panel had a great time, and we were all able to reach a fairly unanimous consensus on all of them. The four of us really worked well together. I have met Keith and Laura before and really enjoyed working with them again, as I did with Claire, Aarti, and all the other people from Love Pork. As for Simon, he was brilliant fun, I did not feel in any way in awe or that I was in the presence of a "Celebrity", just a really easy-going and great to get along with fellow sausage fan with a sharp and slightly risqué sense of humour which was right on my level.

We narrowed it down to three contenders, but there was never really any doubt which one would win, and it was in fact the first of the ten that we tried. An absolutely gorgeous succulent traditional local offering from Rossiter Butchers of Bournville. But the other contenders should not feel down-heartened, they had all produced excellent sausages to reach this final stage so hopefully they will go back home and prepare their campaign plans for next year.

Rossiter's receive the prize.

In addition to the honour of winning, Rossiter's also received the coveted sausage trophy, which got a few laughs when it was presented, here is a closer look:

The big gold sausage that the winner gets their hands on!

There were a lot of laughs all afternoon as the whole event was conducted in good humour. It was very enjoyable to catch up with the people I had met last time. Although it was only the second time I had met them, it felt like bumping into old friends. I also got to chat to lots of the contestants too and look forward to possibly seeing them again at future events. I'm certainly up for any more opportunities that Love Pork might want to put my way.

I walked back to the station with Laura, chatting about the day which she will put up a video of on YouTube which I shall share with you in due course, then parted company as she headed back north and I went south. The day wasn't quite over as as soon as I got on the train I spotted a couple of the other Butchers, Highams, who had come up from Leamington Spa with their Chilli and Lime sausage, so we had a good chat on the way back. They've been competing for four years and reached the final each time but not picked up first prize yet, but who knows, maybe next year could be their year!

Brilliant day, brilliant fun, great publicity for the great British Banger and hopefully you will be able to read more later in the week in the Oxford Mail and also Chat Magazine which I have done interviews for which will hopefully appear this week!

The action is coming thick and fast and I hope to be back tomorrow as I am going to review a new restaurant that opened today in the town, not sure if I will get the first scoop on this one as I'm a day late, but watch this space!

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