It’s quite a step up, going from 30 covers once a week to 450 in four days over nine sittings. I was, quite frankly, cacking myself at the prospect. I’ve been preparing since February, in between the book launch, a film supper club night for Sony pictures, a grapefruit trip to South Africa, the Maille mustard pop up in Spitalfields, the Georgian meal at Blacks, trips to Leeds, Warwickshire and Manchester (for Woman’s hour).
Months spent researching where to get my signature French Napoleonic reproduction glasses in Britain, asking Rachelle Blondel to make 500 shabby chic fabric napkins (no laundry facilities on site see?), contacting Dorset producers (“ooh no we don’t deliver my lover”), finding a kitchen hire company (what is a Jack Stand? I’ll get one. Actually it wasn’t useful), assembling a larger staff than I ever had (so many drop outs, even en route, flaky bastards), trying to persuade Aga to pull their finger out of their complacent butt to provide a mobile Aga for bread baking (look you middle class, middle England twats, it’s free marketing, to an ABC1 clientele, geddit?) which, having been given the run around for months, was a definitive ‘no’ only 4 days before the event (“maybe Bestival?” “NO, I’ve had enough, fuck you”).
Sometimes it felt as if I were in Groundhog day; setting up an account with a supplier, being told it was all done, checking back a week later and nothing had been done. Stuff like that drives me spare.
The last week or so, things started to come together finally. I was greatly helped in sourcing ingredients by Tansy Austin, who has a Dorset supper club and a freakishly large vintage pinny and tablecloth collection and Tony Carey, a professional ‘procurer’ of products for top restaurants. Tony became known as the ‘hugmeister’. He has special hugging psychic powers: by clasping you to his lungs he can detect all kinds of things about your character. He set up a memorable meeting with a ‘disposables’ salesman: two hours of looking at cardboard containers, some with windows, and various throwaway cups. I learnt that waxed cardboardey style cups, that look so eco friendly, aren’t. You can’t scrape off the wax bit so it goes into landfill. Plastic is actually better. The salesman was a former punk drummer who claimed that the disposables business was more rock n roll.
Arriving on site Tuesday evening, we drove straight up to our marquee, a football field sized space which daunted and impressed. We organised the kitchen area, the back stage of plating up tables, staff tea and coffee table, unpacked vintage crockery and cutlery. Our first service was Thursday evening and we wanted to get ahead. Work started on 500 rose and orange flower water kulfis and Dorset rose petals were crystallised in a production line.
The Thursday night dinner looked okay from the customer side but two tables were left without saffron potatoes, miscommunication between front of house and kitchen and a poor hierarchy. “You are all wankers!” I shouted “You’ve let me down”. The pro chefs, used to working in restaurant kitchens, didn’t bat an eyelid, in fact I’d wager that Kiren Puri looked at me with sudden love in his eyes. However poor Tansy, who usually works in the low confrontation environment of a small café, had tears in hers: “I didn’t realise you were like this… I thought you were nice” she said sniffing “I didn’t sign up for this”.
After service, a debrief and pep talk, reorganisation of the kitchen hierarchy, Kiren Puri was appointed head chef, we moved the bar area to the front, made it bigger, easier to serve from, and moved tables further apart so that waitresses didn’t trip up.
By Friday lunchtime we were going at a cracking pace. Tempura courgette flowers were served fryer hot to everyone, plates were pretty, customers were happy. Three services a day, lunch time, dinner time and midnight, for Friday and Saturday, were exhausting. Hollow eyed staff grazed on leftovers, no time to sit.
Kids! I’d developed a children’s menu, French style, with only two courses and including a drink (locally grown apple juice). I soon realised that in Britain, you can’t keep hungry kids waiting while the adults eat. We added a smiley pizza face starter.
The Saturday evening sitting was booked by Rob Da Bank and his wife Josie, and it was sleb studded: Laura Marling, Groove Armada, Jo Whiley, Keith Allen. The latter sang a song dedicated to me and he’s going to sell Keith’s chutney chuckles at our next Underground Farmer’s Market.
Accordionist Tom Baker and keyboardist Larry lush provided ramshackle French music and drinking songs: the last Sunday sitting, everyone, staff and kids climbed upon the 16 foot redwood trestle tables and danced to ‘vodka, vodka, vodka’.
Thanks to Katie Maddison and Ella of Bestival and to John Hughes of Get Involved, Peppermint’s Alex and Josie and Rob Da Bank for having the courage to put this on. Thanks to my sister Imogen for helping me organise on site, my daughter Sienna for working so hard and all the staff, particularly in the kitchen: Chantal Hintze, Nicola Baker, Frank Fforde, Kiren Puri, James Benson, Tony Carey, Tansy Austin who worked beyond the call of duty and didn’t get too mashed up.
If you want to book for Bestival, go here: http://www.bestival.net/what-else/kerstin-rodgers-the-underground-restaurant-new It’s gonna be rock stars, pop stars and divas!