A morning of tasting some of the best porridge in the UK? Sounds like the ideal start to a Thursday, doesn’t it? It certainly was for me (even it I did end up missing my lecture…)
This week I went along to the The 4th Annual Rude Health Porridge Championships. Not that I’d heard about it before, I simply found out about it from the trusty ‘suggested events’ column on Facebook. Although, now I know to follow Rude Health online (their Instagram game is strong). But a morning dedicated to porridge just a short stroll away, how could I turn it down? The event description told us to expect porridge and coffee upon arrival and to enjoy watching some of the most highly regarded chefs in the game battle to create the best porridge. Though it turned out to be even better…
It was perfect porridge weather – a cold but crisp, autumnal day in London. So many foodies gathered into Waitrose’s Cookery School at Kings Cross all expecting one thing: Porridge. And we certainly got that. Upon arrival a big bowl of porridge was bubbling away, ready to be feed the audience. Rude Health served up the newest addition to their cafe menu – autumn spiced sprouted porridge, topped with apple, blackberries and cinnamon. But this was only a starter; something to wet our appetite for all the amazingly inventive porridge we were going to be tasting. This was the surprise for me, and I was suddenly glad I decided not to have breakfast.
It may come as no surprise that the original Porridge Championships are held in Scotland. The current holder of this remarkably prestigious title is the co-founder of Rude Health himself, Nick Barnard. He and his wife, Camilla, came up with the idea of starting a business around the concept of “food made out of food” just over ten years ago, and now it’s one of the most successful health brands out there. It’s one of my favourites, anyway. His winning flavour combination was the Rude Health ‘Fruity Date’ recipe, making him a pretty tough judge to please. Alongside him was fellow judge Signe Johansen; chef, food writer and winner of the first Rude Health Porridge Champs. This may have something to do with growing up in Norway, she confessed, as the Scandinavians’ long winters go hand-in-hand with their obsession for warming grains.
Following the prepping and introductions, it was time to get started. There were some big names of the food world taking part, too. In amongst the first heat were Alex Hely-Hutchinson from 26 Grains, Bill from the restaurant chain Bill’s and the Michel Roux Jr Cookery School. They were given 20 minutes to cook-up their best attempt at a winning porridge; one with innovative flavours, a creamy, delicious texture and stunning presentation (it’s true that we eat with our eyes). At time- up, one bowl was given to the judges for scrutiny and meticulous tasting, the rest was let loose on the audience! The biggest surprise of the round for me, was the Miso Butterscotch Porridge by NOPI. On paper, I didn’t think I was really going to like this one, and although its flavours tasted quite confusing initially, the subtlety of the miso made it incredible. I also loved the entry by Punch Foods – Fig and Orange porridge with toasted hazelnuts. Simple flavours, but ones that I love.
After a short break, it was time for heat two. I was pretty excited for this one as Niomi Smart, author of my latest cookbook purchase, was making her Carrot Cake porridge recipe from Eat Smart. The judges said that you want to eat a porridge that you could scoff a whole bowl of, and this was the case with this one. For me, at least. I must admit that I went back for a few tastes! The warming spices of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg used will always be a winner and I loved the chunky texture achieved by using rolled oats. There were some savoury entries in this round however, including Maple and Fitz, a healthy eatery in Fitzrovia. In place of the bowl, the Turmeric, Maple and Pumpkin porridge was served in a mini pumpkin, and it looked so rustic and autumnal. The turmeric made me think of warming golden lattes, and I couldn’t help but think that would be the perfect accompaniment.
Once the judges had tried everything, the chefs had reached for a deserved hot drink and we’d devoured (I really mean DEVOURED) all the porridge, it was time for the results. I think everyone agreed when the judges said just how amazing the standard had been. This really wasn’t your average Thursday morning porridge you’d make a home. So much thought, effort and love had been put into the creations and it was undoubtedly reflected. Unfortunately, there could only be one that left with the Porridge Championships trophy yet, the judges admitted that it was a unanimous decision between them. And the winner was… Native, with their entry of Meadowsweet porridge, crab apple compote and Kentish Wood ants. No, that isn’t a misprint, though I definitely thought that at first! Based in the beloved Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden, Native prides itself on serving only locally foraged produce. Fruits such as oranges and lemons can’t be grown in the UK, so in order to achieve a citrusy flavour, they used ants! It still feels like a totally alien concept to me too, but the fact they used only what they could find is pretty admirable. I know that Native has certainly gone top of my list of places to visit, but I can’t promise I’ll order the ants!