Never unknown to seize an opportunity to add a little bit of extra anxiety and stress to our far-from-dull lives, Mark and I headed out yesterday afternoon to a local restaurant where a couple of cooks were in the kitchen.
As we arrived, we spotted they were there already. So was the film crew from BBC2 and seven fellow stooges tasters.
We'd been told to arrive at 3.30pm, but we were likely to be there several hours and were advised to come prepared with newspapers, puzzles and so on. We were well looked after with plenty of tea and the afternoon passed quite quickly. It seemed, though, that things were running a little behind schedule in the kitchen.
Finally, around 6.30pm we were called to the table, given brief instructions and it was time to perform!
The dish was described to us and countless ingredients listed. My mind went into overdrive as I tried hard to remember them all - the jelly, the sauce, the dressing, the seasonings...never mind the name of the previously-unheard-of fish we were about to sample.
We tucked in, finding it surprisingly easy to identify the component parts and form an immediate opinion. Yum!
We watched as each of us was quizzed in turn about the dish, camera close up and microphone there looming above us. How would we manage this challenge? Surprisingly easily I think, for the production manager was relaxed, had plenty of practice working with amateurs and his prompts provoked sincere and genuinely felt reactions. Being amongst friends meant that anxiety about bra straps, lipstick on teeth and bursting shirt buttons in the tummy area could be avoided too. The nine of us relaxed into the task in hand and I think we all put on a fantastic performance.
We returned to our comfy chairs and settled in for a bit longer Snacks were brought and the hours passed.
The normally immaculate restaurant took on a slightly more casual air as tea was replaced with wine and the conversation became more animated. Another 45 minutes we were told.
Eventually, we were called back to the table for the second dish.
Same procedure - taste, comment, film
and because we were taking this all very seriously we made our notes and took the challenge of selecting the winner very carefully indeed.
Time for the grand finale and the last shoot of the day.
The most impressive bit? At getting on for 11pm, after a long day in the kitchen and all the stress of filming, the smiles and giggles were abundant. Having ridden those bikes at least 30miles to get to this location and facing another 50 or so to get to the next immediately after this shoot , ready for an 8am start in the morning, both of these gentlemen managed to sign books, to chat, have photographs taken and be in amazingly good humour. I had felt a little curious about the potential contrast between the on-screen persona and the real life characters and can happily say that what you see is what you get. Two ever so slightly crazy, warm and enthusiastic people who clearly love what they are doing. No prima donna behaviour in the slightest, no evidence of pressure or stress; we got the impression that they'd have stayed to chat as long as we wanted to. In fact, we were more than ready for home and left them there chatting and snapping photos and signing books.
We had enjoyed a fascinating day and I have half a sock and two signed cookbooks to show for it. We turned into bed about midnight thinking of them riding motorbikes through the Gloucestershire countryside to the next county. As we woke this morning we looked at the clock and thought about them starting all over again some fifty miles from here.
I couldn't do it, could you?