I really enjoy food. I love larp. I am prone to showing off. In combination, this means that every now and then I put a load of effort into catering at larp. The genuine ability here is in the folk I persuade to help: notably Rupert Redington, who has actually been employed as a chef, but I have fun.
When I signed up to produce Katrine Wind’s larp Daemon in the UK, I was always going to be cooking. Katrine and I aren’t doing evaluation until after Knudepunkt, but I have an hour or so free, so here’s a straight record of what we did in the kitchen.
There were a couple of things, though. First up, we had two participants at Daemon who literally wrote the book on food at larp – Rosalind Göthberg and Siri Sandquist. So no pressure, right? (Luckily, they are both lovely, but I gotta say – it was a little nervy on day one.) Second, the most complex jigsaw of food reqs. I have ever seen. That turned into a glorious spur to creativity, but as they came in I rapidly ditched my initial ideas. Third, the Danish run was in a hotel with some amazing plated dishes and a full kitchen brigade. We had only two crew, so I’d already been setting expectations that this was to be family-style, not plated service. (Al la Russe, not al la Francaise, I think?) and two, not more, courses.
(Update: I had that the wrong way round… Dominic Zeal corrects me: “Russe is plated and in a specified order. Francaise is all at once a’table. Specifically mixing, for our modern pallets, sweet and savory”)
I was always going to be riffing on vegan-with-a-cheese-board. My original idea was “vaguely nursery English”. Vegan shepherd’s pie is on my list for the Norwich Soup Movement, and mushroom-layered steamed suet puddings are home turf from events like Strange and Norrell. No worries, all prepped ahead, easy life. I was clueless on lunch, but something would come.
Then the reqs. I wanted to make folk feel loved, cared for, first class citizens. Vegans, vegetarians; no problem. Gluten-free did for the suet puddings – no loss, it’s May anyway, and who needs stodge in spring? Two lactose intolerant – yeah, fine. I was already thinking of the vegans. Two alcohol-free, one nut-free and one no nightshade family, so no potatoes… Then the one who disliked mushrooms – there’s always one – beetroot, peas, brussel sprouts…
At first, I was taken aback, but then realised: this is like haiku. This is a jigsaw. I ended up really enjoying the menu writing, but my first concept was out. I wondered if the ottlenghi play-book would work, but it just didn’t feel a Mediterranean tour would fit the setting of the larp. I tried to research the books, but Pullman is no help at all if this fan-made wiki is anything to go by.
Then I found myself lounging in front of Saturday Kitchen and this showed up – confit cabbage with chestnuts, crispy cabbage leaves and green sauce. Granted, it didn’t hit the table in precisely that shape – no nuts, no cream – but I was back on “tastes of Brytain”, and in better shape to meet Rupert and hack at a menu.
He put me back on vegan shepherd’s pie, with celeriac mash as opposed to potato, suggested bread and cheese for lunch, and reminded me he’d done a frankly terrifying rice pudding for All for one. Game very much on.
As ever, the menu was turned into a list of ingredients, which was turned into a shopping list by the magic of Data-Sort in Google Sheets.
The menu, aiming at “Brytish cuisine”
(Friday night was pressured. We didn’t have access to the site until 5pm, and we had two crew. That meant cooking the ‘mince’ for the gardeners’ pie ahead f time, and going for the simplest desserts we could.)
“Gardeners’ pie” – TVP mince, carrots, celery, topped with celeriac mash, served with steamed green vegetables, probably mostly sprouting broccoli, and a pot of mustard. There will be peas, for those that do (v+ GF)
(The trick with that is to dice and roast the veg first, season well, and spike the mince with Vecon, Henderson’s Relish and tamari. It would have had onions too, but for the same alium issue my dad had for years. Make it wet with a bit of Marigold and you’re there. The mash we made with a lot of Flora vegan butter and again, seasoned well. We probably should have drained the celeriac a bit more carefully, but it was fine. I have never had cause to buy 3 kilos of sprouting broccoli before, but £35 was worth it. See, if you don’t buy meat your veg. budget goes a lot further.)
Trifle – trifle sponges, frozen mixed red fruit, bananas, sherry, good ready-made custard, whipping cream) (v)
(Rupert’s idea, and solid genius. A proper British icon. No jelly makes vegetarian trifle easy. We did a spare with no sherry, and I still have the flaked almonds we didn’t use because an almond is a nut.)
“My Godmother, Dorothy would make excellent trifles.
Sponges, frozen raspberries, sugar and amontillado in the base, left overnight to settle, then good ready-made custard (ideally the sort which is heavy on cream and vanilla) spiked with slices of banana, then whipped cream and toasted almonds.
Let’s face it, jelly in a trifle is a disaster, and nobody likes angelica.”Rupert Redington, partner in catering
Chocolate Salted Caramel cake (v+ GF)
(Bought in from Deerly Beloved. My baking is lousy.)
Yoghurt (Some v+) , fruit compote, pastries (Some gf, considering frozen croissants), juices, granola (vegetable oil, maple syrup, agave syrup, vanilla extract, rolled oats, sunflower seed, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, mixed berries.
(Frozen croissants are amazing, and we remembered to buy some vegan croissants too. I made the granola, and it was worth the effort. It’s usually got honey in, mine did not. oatly greek style oatgurt is a very worthy substitute.)
A “ploughmans’” – platters of good cheese (some blue, some soft, some hard, some v+) and butter (some v+), mushroom paste (v+), bread (Some gf), a lot of apples, pickles, a pot of mustard, and some apple juice or cider for those that don’t.
(There’s a stall on Norwich Market who get through so much cheese it’s all in really good nick every time. Both Rupert and I went for the “foreign cheese” gag about a whole Baron Bigod (From Suffolk, see?) that lasted about 45 minutes. The Mrs Temple’s Alpine from the hills near Walsingham, and the Smoked Dapple, lasted a little longer and the Binham Blue until the evening, to my surprise. Those four are essentially the Greatest Hits of mainstream East Anglian cheesemaking, and my default board. (If I were catering for fewer, I’d add a St Jude.) Vegans and dairy intolerants got the Ultimate Trio from Tyne Cheeze. I was sad we couldn’t confidently serve lunch on trestle tables on the lawn, but there it is. The weather forecast was awful. We really splashed out on bread from Bread Source – glorious sourdough, and worth every penny. If you’re going to do a simple meal, you’d better make sure the ingredients are top notch. Then there was a parade of jars from the Condiment Trolley, of which more later, so folk were sat next to some quite random stuff. I think some ate pickled walnuts for the first time. There was evidence they’d been tried and discarded.)
Fruit cake (v+), Fruit cake (v+, gf)
(Deerly Beloved again, but I looked at them and they looked a bit pale and wan, so Rupert went out and got some proper sticky stuff.)
Roasted cauliflower, rosemary and smoked rapeseed oil, confit heart and shredded outer leaves of savoy cabbage, white bean mash with parsley and “feta”,, Chantenay carrots, horseradish, mustard sauce (gf, allium free), wild garlic puree, cucumber and yogurt mash, a baby potato dish. (All v+)
(We overcooked the cauliflower for my taste, but folk were nice about it. In the end, the savoy didn’t look up to it, so we bought Duncans (They’re like a Hispy) blanched them, and Rupert put on a sou’wester and charred them off. In the rain. All that went in on boards, with the carrots roasted and scattering of sunflower seeds fried, seasoned and spiked with smoked paprika. No nuts, see? white bean mash ended up a bit salty. And a lot garlicky. The garlic I bought was weapons-grade. Lovely though. Then there was a Tzatikki – again, a lot garlicky and the wild garlic puree which was almost entirely garlic. I forgot the mustard sauce, which explains why we had so much cream left over. It wasn’t missed, and we’d run out of gravy boats anyway. It was a splendid display, it really was.)
A rice pudding with a variety of fruit and spiced syrups
(Rupert’s party piece – some vegan, some so stuffed with dairy fat you needed a bypass to finish one. He started with a caramel, I think? Anyway – they are streets away from the white bland gloop you remember. our only service disaster was confidently putting a vegan dish down where someone had been sitting, to see them looking at a bowl of something far less dairy-free, on account of they’d moved. I was so taken up with my cleverness at remembering who was who and who was sitting where I didn’t label. Next time…)
On the topic of Rice Pudding…
I find this article inspirational (quite a few in the series are).
Once you’ve explored that you can go further and, if mind-altering quantities of cinnamon appeals, attempt a “Teurgoule”.Rupert Redington, partner in catering
Eggs. Bacon. Mushrooms.
(Boiled the eggs, fried the rest, put it out with good bread along with the remains of granola, yoghurt and fruit. It all went.)
At your whim
(So, last time catered for a larp some folk were hungry and left site to get food. Yes, it was a comms issue – we had coq au vin and coq au vin without the coq, and soup in the fridge for exactly that reason – to serve the hungry in between meals – but I learned. This time we told folk what was there for them. one participant specifically told me it’d had helped their anxiety – would they be fed? – and I’ll be doing that again.)
Toast (Some gf)
Butter (Some v+)
Fruit – including at least apples, bananas and oranges.
Pea soup (V+, ingredients unknown, but contains alliums.)
(I made this for Game of Roses last year and it had been in the freezer ever since.)
Pumpkin soup (Butternut squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, cumin, smoked paprika, chipotle sauce, salt, pepper.)
(This was gf as well as v+ and really good.)
The condiment trolley
(This really does need a heading all of its own. I think the original condiment trolley turned up in the Unseen University. This one did not have Wow-wow sauce, but by golly it had most other things. It was in the kitchen most of the time, but for lunch we placed pots at random all along all the tables in a Parade of Condiments.)
To include a pot of mustard, sweet mustard ketchup, pineapple chutney, etc.
(Essentially Rupert and I raided our cupboards, and presented everything we had. So there was medlar syrup, mulled syrup, ginger in syrup, probably-spiced-plum-sauce, a couple of homemade marmalades, gin and orange marmalade, quince jelly, John Downey jelly, chilli jelly, blackberry jelly, crab apple jelly (2012), white currant jelly, piccalilli, picked cauliflower, pickled turnip, pickled onions, pickled radish, pickled walnuts, homemade fennel relish, pineapple chutney, and something called “allotment chutney”. And then I went shopping and got Tracklements sweet mustard ketchup, some Tiptree tomato ketchup, cornichons and Bonne Maman’s finest Blueberry, Raspberry and Blackcurrant. I loved that trolley. It had played a variety of roles at various Disturbing Events games, mostly in a grim medical context. So it was nice it got a day out. And of course we had mustard – Norfolk, innit?)
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