Toast Festival -Red Gallery, London

Fund raising for the charity Action Against Hunger -an international humanitarian organisation aiming to end child hunger and malnutrition; Toast was a weekend long celebration of food and ideas. It brought together writers; publishers; cooks; chefs; restaurateurs; entrepreneurs and food producers to discuss, debate, workshop and celebrate all things culinary -with of course, some good eating in between.


Held at the Red Gallery in Shoreditch, a gallery and events space originally launched in 2010 as a temporary venture; this previously derelict building was due for demolition some three months later to make way for a hotel. With the hotel project on hold, and the lease renewed, the gallery bolted on sturdy but temporary wooden structures, expanded upwards by stacking shipping containers on to the roof,  and converted a defunct Routemaster into a shelter in its graffiti lined yard.

The festival kicked off with a debate about Sustainability -although debate was a bit of a misnomer. It was more of a discussion and, as is the case with any good discussion, there were more questions than answers. The panel comprised of Yasmin Ahmed from Made in Hackney, a collective encouraging healthy and sustainable food for all; Henry Dimbleby, food writer, columnist, co-owner of Leon restaurants and government adviser on food policy; Mark Jankel, co-founder of Street Kitchen, purveyors of sustainably sourced, UK grown street food and Alicia Lawson, partner in the company Rubies in the Rubble who use surplus fruit and veg, destined for waste, to make delicious chutneys and jams. As you might predict, Sustainability meant different things to different people and encompassed farming methods, food provenance, cooking skills, consumer choice, food education and community. The message? Trying to connect people with what they have on their plates and re-learning those skills both in the kitchen and on the land, that were once so commonplace.

After a pretty early start (for a Saturday), I needed coffee...

Making coffee, DunneFrankowski. This duo cut quite a dash and gave good banter whilst making enlivened brews. Using a medium roast of Colombian Finca Santaurio bean, their flat white had a red fruit acidity and chocolaty aftertaste, with the perfect amount of milk. They also put on a shortened version of their coffee tasting workshop.

Next, a discussion about Food Writing. The panel comprised of the legendary food writer and columnist, Jocelyn Dimbleby; Sarah Lavelle, editorial director of food and drink for Ebury Press and responsible for publishing the Moro and Ottolenghi cookbooks; Sophie Denning, journalist, editor and author of the Wallpaper* city guide to Paris and Tim Hayward, ebullient food writer, columnist, editor of the magazines Fire and Knives, Gin&It and co-owner of Fitzbillies. It was interesting to hear how food writing had changed over the years, the role of social media in this, and the development of aesthetically pleasing, concept, food magazines that have appeared at the interstices in response. There was also discussion about whether the high demand for food writing had diluted its quality and whether food writing on its own, was sustainable as a profession.

After, a browse of the Daunt Books and Material pop-ups, followed by lunch...

Street Kitchen provided delicious bistro style lunches, (sustainably sourced of course) from their Airstream, and Gail's Bakery were on hand with loaves of artisan bread for toast and toasties.

For refreshment, IceKitchen provided some darned tasty ice lollies. In the name of research, ahem, I tried three varieties across the weekend. Mango was ripe and perfumed with a twist of lime; raspberry and basil fragrant and tart, cutting through the sweetness of the thick white chocolate it was dipped in. My favourite by far, roasted peach, vanilla and tarragon, which though subtle, was clearly discernible. From the taste and the texture, there was certainly no skimping in the fruit content of these lollies and, each one was delicious.


Sunday got off to a great start; remember promising yourself when you grew up that you'd eat ice-cream for breakfast? Well, with my morning flat white I ate a generous scoop of La Gelateria's honey, rosemary and orange zest gelato. It was a difficult choice between chocolate sorbet, pistachio, lemon custard and salted caramel but, someone had to do it.

The discussion I'd been looking forward to the most was that of Food and Migration, a subject close to my heart. The panel consisted of Iqbal Wahab, charismatic founder of the Cinnamon Club and Roast; Lizzie Collingham, historian and author of Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors; Fuchsia Dunlop, author of the wonderful Sichuan Cookery and  prize winning articles in Lucky Peach and, Annisa Helou who with a Syrian and Lebanese background, has written much about the food of the Levant. Starting with how homesick migrants adapted to cook foods of their homelands in a new environment, to trying to define authenticity in food and, whether it matters. Discussions moved on to diversity within cuisines and the increasing appreciation of this, as well as the acceptance of 'high end' migrant cuisines, which had previously been seen as cheap and fast.

A talk by architectural foodsmith, Sam Bompas of Jelly Mongers Bompas and Parr, followed.  A discourse on the history of the toast, its art and style, with secrets about sabrage; it was complete with exploding jelly.

Apart from an afternoon workshop that wasn't quite as it was billed, Toast Festival was interesting and inspiring in equal measures. A mix of politics, education, art and culture, it was certainly about more than just the eating. I very much look forward to the next one.

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