Here at the Showplace Events, official organisers of the Stratford Food Festival, we thought it would be beneficial to allow visitors to get to know those involved with the Festival this year….
The following interview will give you an insight into all things Alan Coxon.
- For those who don’t know much about you, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?
I am a chef by trade, working in many parts of the world in leading hotels and Michelin star restaurants. I worked for four years at the Loews Hotel in Monte Carlo , opened the largest 4 star hotel in Paris as head chef leading an international culinary brigade of over 63 chefs and have had my own restaurant in the Isle of Man. I have cooked for a wide range of international music legends from Franck Sinatra to Michael Jackson , Cher, and Chris de Burgh, to film superstars including Sean Connery and Rosanna Arkette and not forgetting global royalty including Princess Grace , Prince Rainer, and Prince Charles to name but a few.
Whilst working as Executive chef for Baxter’s of Speyside, I was spotted by TV presenter Kirsty Walk who invited me to do a pilot TV show in Glasgow, within 4 weeks I was offered a TV chef presenting role on a series called “Surprise Chefs” for Meridian TV and since then have worked on TV shows including 2 series of “Ever Wondered about Food” for BBC2 ,4 years on the Gloria Hunniford “Open House “ for Channel 5, 4 years as guest chef/presenter on UK Food Network with Jeni Barnett and a host of other shows for BBC Worldwide including a unique series that I wrote and presented called “Coxon`s Royal Feast” where I cooked with the likes of the Zulu King, and Ndebele Kings and Queens that led to a follow-up series called “Coxon`s Sporting Feast”, cooking with sporting Legends such as former South African Rugby captain Francois Pienaar, Golfer Gary Player, 4 times world champion boxer Baby Jake, runner Zola Budd to name but a few.
During this time I have also written 3 cookbooks, ( one of which came in the top 3 best hard back cookbooks of the world) and have had the privilege of doing live cookery demonstrations and shows in many parts of the world. As a Food Archaeologist , I have also spent over ten years developing a unique food ingredient called Ale-Gar , a product that had disappeared from the shores of Britain over 300 years ago and I have used an Ale recipe that was once drank by Queen Elizabeth 1st in its production..
Whilst I am now selling the historic food range across the UK and to 14 countries around the world, I am still actively doing TV and have recently written, produced and presented a brand new series ,soon to be aired across the UK called “From Birmingham to Bombay “.
Keeping my feet well and truly on the ground I return to the kitchen on a regular basis and offer consultancy services to hotels and restaurants, recently working in Kitchens and developing the menu`s and training in restaurants and locations such as Turkey and Tenerife, during the summer cooking and leading a brigade for a banquet in Canada.
- What have been some of your latest successes/achievements?
Over the past few years , I have been very fortunate to have been acknowledged for a variety of work, including 5 gold and innovation awards for my historic food range and Ale –Gar , however most recently this year I was awarded the MBA for “Entrepreneur of the year”. I believe that the creation of a unique global product together with the new TV series, where I also had to raise the finances and sponsorship to help fund the project, were key reasons for this award.
- You have a new TV series out, “From Birmingham to Bombay” what was your inspiration for this? Tell us a bit about behind the scenes and your travels while making the series.
It may be strange, but until just a few years ago I had never visited an Indian restaurant before, nor had I ever had an Indian take-away, whilst I enjoyed curries, (of which I cooked myself), it always intrigued me how people would talk about going to get a red hot Madras or Vindaloo, a Korma or Rogan Josh, and not forgetting the much used word “tandoori”.
Queen Victoria was famous for her love of Indian food and had a curry on a regular basis , cooked by her servant sent over from India.
However there was always the debate that the curry`s we have in Britain are not really Indian at all and are British culinary inventions, so with this in mind I decided to investigate the origination of these famous 5 recipes and ask the question, do these curries exist in India ?, if so where and how did they originate?, are they influenced by local or regional culture and what are their historic influences?
And most importantly, are the recipes the same in Britain as in India , if not , why not ? and which are better?
With so many unanswered questions, there was only one way to find out, so my TV series starts off in one of the most famous locations renowned across the UK for its curry`s, Birmingham!
With over 50 different curry houses within the Balti Triangle or curry mile as it is also known and over 100 Indian restaurants within Birmingham itself, what better place to start.
In Birmingham I visit 5 different restaurants ( one for each show) where the chef shows me how they cook one of the classic recipes , before heading over to India , flying into Bombay (now known as Mumbai).
In Bombay I meet up with Indian celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor who informs me on the best place to go to find the perfect comparable recipe.
The 5 recipes take me to 5 different locations across India to seek out the history and facts behind the dish itself, I also look into the spices used within the dish and do a head to head cook off with a local Indian chef to find out which one is best, the recipe from Birmingham or from Indian!?!
The series offers stunning diversity from the fertile North in the Punjab where we cooked a tandoori Chicken, to the sun, sand, sea and spices lands of Goa in the South for that Portuguese influenced dish “Vindaloo”.
I visit the Taj Mahal to cook a Rogan Josh, head to Madras ( no clues into what curry we investigate there ) head to Kerala to seek out the spice plantations and alternative uses using spices before finding myself back in Bombay to cook some famous street food and a famous creamy Korma!
The results, well you will just have to watch the series to find out!!
- How have you found previous Stratford Food Festivals, any particular highlights?
I love the festival, not only is it local for me, I find the people so nice.
At this event , I wear several hats as you can imagine, as I do a demonstration each day, something I do enjoy, as cooking is about having fun and sharing, it also gives me an opportunity to chat directly with the audience.
I also have a stand at the event that allows me to offer tastings of my historic food range, a great way for people to not only taste something unique but also obtain an ingredient with provenance that is not available in any supermarket across the land , and offers an immense point of difference for any foodie or for those seeking a unique foodie gift.
I feel that the Stratford Food Festival helps to raise awareness of local business, regional entrepreneurs, and food products that are not widely available elsewhere , it helps to showcase small artisanal producers, bring communities together with shared values and interest for food, help to raise greater awareness and culinary experience for the young and not so young alike and is also a great day out with musical entertainment in a perfect setting by the river Avon, other than sunshine what more can we ask for in life?
- What can spectators look forward to seeing from you at this years festival?
At this moment in time I am still deciding what to cook at the event, I do like to leave things to the last-minute as inspiration changes from day-to-day, however the dishes will be taken from my new TV series and they will have an Indian influence.
I am however leaning towards a dish that I cooked on the streets of Bombay, a dessert sweet called “Cardamom Milk Puffs” that I served with a spiced syrup.
It is simple yet impressive, a dish that everyone will be able to cook at home, but at the same time add their own twist!
I can remember driving around for an hour or so , just looking for a good location to film this recipe, as I was needing the right setting in which to cook it on the street , but as you may imagine, the noise factors were extremely challenging and I always attracted a crowd of hundreds wherever I went ,so noise and riot control took priority over the dish!
Eventually I found a street that offered an opportunity and I ended up asking an old man who was making and selling cha ( tea) straining the leaves through an old vest into mugs !!! His boiling apparatus ( I would have loved to say kettle at this point) was a batted metal bowl heated by a homemade petrol fuelled cooker that made a huge hissing noise and churned out a heavy smell of exhaust fumes!
A broken wobbly table covered with random pieces of broken wood was to be my work surface with no water to wash with and a cloth that also turned out to be another of his old vests!
Noise and pollution were key challenges to say the least, the 35 dgrs daily temperature added to the environmental experiences , but within 5 minutes and one take, I had managed to knock up a few puffs and serve to the gathered crowed, who I must admit were very appreciative of the finished product.
With all this said, my Cardamom Milky Puffs will be taking on a twist so I hope you can come along to enjoy.