MsMarmite and Jazzelle her sister
First you buy the wellington boots
Then you get furniture delivered from The Cowshed
You are a day and a half late on the build. In fact the whole festival threatened to be shut down on the Tuesday when the site was closed due to high winds. Electricians, tent riggers, gas suppliers, carpenters, worked through the night to get it back on track.
So you try to do prep in your caravan. Here we are, making the rice paper sails for the ‘shipwreck pavlova’.
You order 450 pumpkins of ‘soup bowl’ size from local farmer Ben Brown.
They all need to be hollowed out and prepped.
During the set up days for a festival, you find yourself doing rather macho things like lifting entire rooms over tents by crane. This was our wine store.
The wine being delivered
The kitchen was only up and running a few hours before first service Thursday night. We had to wait a day for the carpenters to put a floor down. Only then could we properly spring into action. Above: a ‘noticeboard’ taped onto the kitchen tent walls.
Chantal Hintz, who was on the pass (the place where things are plated up for serving).
Col Rich led the kitchen team. He kept me smiling with his pithy phrases and northern humour. Thank god for Mancunians.
Luke Robinson, a Jamie Oliver 15 graduate had a dodgy first morning struggling with the salted caramel which ‘seized’ and crystallised. Luke is a talented young chef who works at Roganic. He’s dead keen and obsessed with food.
Although months of preparation went into setting up the Underground Restaurant at Bestival, I still forgot some essential things…like a scale. I ended up using a prop from Cowshed until Claire Roberson of Green Onions brought me a digital scale.
The beautiful and stylish Michelle Newell. The first day was boring for the waitresses who had to wait around. It’s like being at war or making films, hours of tedium then moments of intensity and action.
This is Pete who made our entrance. I had a row with him the first day when I asked him to change a bit of his work, a large pair of masculine boots. “I don’t want those boots, I’m a woman, so I’d prefer heels, something more feminine to represent my restaurant.“I explained further “There aren’t many female chefs and it’s important to highlight that.” “I’m not interested in the politics of it” he said dismissively. “I’m the artist” he huffed“you are just the cook”. I managed to resist punching him in the face. It was his first commission as an artist so I think he got carried away.
Actually I think he did a pretty good job, representing the smuggling theme I’d chosen for this festival on an island.
This is my friend Jim who is a builder in the South of France. Surprisingly, builder Jim took to being a Maitre D like a fish to water! He and Beggs came to back me up. You need bloke-age at a festival where things need fixing. Especially, as the festival wore on, the kitchen and restaurant began to sink. In the end the cooks were working at a 45º angle, sliding down the kitchen. In the dining room, glasses were rolling off the tables. It really did feel like a ship, the theme of my restaurant. For days when I returned I kept feeling like I was tipping on an angle, like a sailor on land.
Ruthie Bennet is a prop/costume maker. I wanted the inside to look not only like a ship but also a very domestic space. Often at The Underground Restaurant I leave my washing up to dry so she did a giant version of a washing line complete with comedy seaside bloomers and bras.
Eventually we managed to get the floor down, set up the tables. As the days went on, we had to prop up the benches and table as the entire restaurant seemed to be sliding down the hill.
Don’t the girls look gorgeous?
Cute nautical shoes
Heritage tomatoes from The Tomato Stall, a fantastic supplier in the Isle of Wight. This was dressed with a coulis using one of my favourite ingredients, oak smoked tomatoes from The Tomato Stall.
Mushroom and cheese pies being made for the vegetarians. We decorated it with leaves and had mushrooms sticking out the top.
The Stargazy pies with Isle of Wight mackerel.
For dessert, the shipwreck pavlova decorated with sails, creme de marron and salted caramel
The first guests, having waited patiently outside as we were late opening, queue up to see their reservations.
There was a great atmosphere at the first sitting, perhaps a feeling of relief that the festival had opened.
Much of this first sitting was in darkness as there was intermittent power cuts. Fortunately most of the kitchen ran on gas.
As dishes came back, our young waitresses Els Baker and Sophie Line, picked at leftovers.
Me and my sister working out reservations.
Hey we got it! Time for a drink.
I sold salted caramel and my book.
Here is our lovely bar girl Ebera who was working for Peppermint bars but became a member of the team by dressing up and helping out.
So did this young man, a till operator who was forced to wear a dress.
Tom Baker entertained people with his singing and accordion.
Guests coming to the desk. This lot were completely mashed. The problem with having sittings at festivals is that people forget to turn up. Or get their bookings drastically wrong…several people came either two days early or two days late.
I love that everyone dresses up.
All these boys wore Fair Isle sweaters. I’m not sure what diva, rock star, pop star (the theme of this year’s Bestival) they were trying to be.
Even the guests were dotty.
Midnight Feast, the waitresses in their dressing gowns.
Guests came in night caps…lots of the men came in cartoon pyjamas.
It ran like clockwork…
Ruthie, wearing a dress she made herself, on a fag break.
One lunch we had several stars come in…Lady Gaga
Madonna in the 80s.
Another couple of Gaga’s.
Who are you? I asked this young man. I’m Freddie Mercury, ooh, I’ve lost my moustache. He found it under the tomato plate.
Brian Harvey of East 17, his jacket has pictures of baked potatoes on the back. Cruel but funny.
Doing sittings close together meant you always had to be ahead on prep, at least one sitting of 50 ahead.
The days were long. We lived on crisps and chocolate buttons and the staff alcohol rider. (Yes, we were like rock stars). I warned staff in a pre opening talk that Sundays are tough days at festivals. Sunday was always going to be the day that hurt the most. A Saturday midnight sitting, a finish at 3.30 am followed by early morning prep for lunch. Sunday, I tumbled out of my caravan and was confronted with the first tears of the day: an exhausted KP who apologised for sobbing a request to go home early the next day.
My sister donned a bra-less top as a persuasive ploy to get our blocked caravan bog sucked clean by the Welsh Portaloo man. It worked. She’s an H cup.
La More dropped by and played mock French songs. They were perfect for our restaurant.
The chefs and staff would bring out the shipwreck pavlovas as a flotilla, to applause from the customers.
The customers loved Luke’s costume and asked to have pictures taken with him.
My impish sister being a living statue. I love to incorporate theatre and food.
The last sitting, things really kicked off and everyone danced on the tables.
What the hell am I doing in this one?
Tanya force fed a customer with pavlova
Packing up my gladrags on the Monday.
We went for a fantastic dinner at The Garlic Farm restaurant, they did this cute notice for us as the Boswells had come to dinner at The Underground Restaurant.
Many of my crew were thrilled that famous drug dealer Howard Marks was there. They shared a limo with him back to the campsite.
The Wishing Tree field where we were located. Just before getting the ferry home.
Thanks to Imogen Rodgers, Gemma Thorogood, Col Rich, Chantal Hintze, James Benson, Francesca Klottrup, Andy Wix, Luke Robinson, Beggs, Jim Pennington, Bethan Hughes, Tanya Moulson, Michelle Newell, Claire Brem Wilson, Els Baker, Sophie Line, Ruth Bennet, Sienna Rodgers, Tom Baker and Ebera who were all brilliant and worked their butts off.
Thanks also to Rob and Josie Da Bank, John and Ziggy Hughes, Katie Maddison and all the Bestival team and ground crew for putting on the festival through adversity!