I spent the past weekend in Venice. And what a glorious, if somewhat sleep deprived, weekend it was.
I was out there for the S.Pellegrino Cooking Cup, an annual event hosted by the famous water brand. The Cooking Cup is a unique regatta - very Italian in both flavour and style - with chefs and sailors facing with a tough challenge; while crews from one of Italy’s top sailing clubs, Campagnia della Vela, compete to be first over the finish line, chefs from around the world toil below deck in blistering temperatures, creating culinary masterpieces in tiny, very basic galley kitchens. This year was an especially choppy one, resulting in many sightings of chefs prostrate on deck and groaning with sea-sickness. I could only sympathise from my vantage point on one of the hospitality boats, glass of wine in hand and being plied with endless treats by an army of attentive waiters - totally my kind of sailing experience.
The reason I was there was to direct a press trip on behalf of my client S.Pellegrino; taking along three UK-based journalists, a photographer and the first ever British entry to the Cooking Cup, Tom Aikens. Often described as the wunderkind of the British restaurant scene and plagued by rumours of a suitably chef-like fiery temper, Tom was the youngest ever recipient of two Michelin stars at the age of 26. Ten years on, his Michelin-starred London restaurant TOM AIKENS is a mecca for foodies and adored by the critics - no mean feat in the competitive London scene.
As we'd hoped and despite crippling sea-sickness, Tom produced a fantastic dish that blew the judges away: Venetian Rack of Lamb with Vegetables. Slow-roasted organic British lamb cutlets accompanied by fresh local vegetables and herbs – courgette, baby aubergine, purple basil and borlotti beans infused with lavender - sourced from Venice’s famous Rialto market, and decorated with courgette flowers. A nice touch was Aikens cooking the borlotti beans in Acqua Panna natural mineral water, the still counterpart to sparkling S.Pellegrino.
Sadly, I didn't get to taste the dish, but Tom winning the S.Pellegrino Best International Chef award almost made up for it.
Click here to read about Guardian journalist Helen Pidd's warts-and-all account of the S.Pellegrino Cooking Cup.