Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Bestival: how to set up a restaurant in a field

MsMarmite and Jazzelle her sister
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 below.
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.

The kitchen team. They kept me smiling with 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 a scale. I ended up using a prop from Cowshed until Claire Roberson of Green Onions brought me a digital scale.
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.

Surprisingly, my friend, 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?
Les girls.
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.
Me and my sister working out reservations.
 Hey we got it! Time for a drink.
I sold salted caramel and my book.
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.
More revellers.
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.
Guests came in night caps...lots of the men came in cartoon pyjamas.
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.
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.
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.
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.

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!
Thanks to LaFrock for the wonderful dresses, Ben Brown, Paul of The Tomato Stall, Phillips Fine Foods (I heard they were cursing me for making them prep 450 mackerel for stargazy, thanks guys) and all the other suppliers who helped me pull this off.


  1. Looks like a fabulous event!

  2. That is utterly amazing. I am left in shock and awe and admiration (and you know me that NEVER happens)at everything that you achieved there.
    Well done doesn't even begin to remotely cover it.

  3. Gobsmacked!! An amazing feat of project management. I hope they paid you loads!

    Well Done!

  4. Your energy, your stamina, your bravery... my goodness !

    Love Poppy..

  5. WOW! Crazy, amazing, exhausting. Well done and wish I'd been there

  6. wow...such a great post!looks like u had great time!!!!xx

  7. It looks really fabulous! But sooo very hard and exhausting...and a logistical nightmare. I don't know how you do it and hats off to you, but I suspect loads of people are glad you do, they had so much fun!

  8. Having had the pleasure of eating at the Underground Restaurant at Bestival, I thought the food and entertainment were spot on. What a treat. I guest-blogged about the meal for Isle of Wight eating out guide

    Fascinating to read Kerstin's vivid account of what it was like behind the scenes. Beautiful pics, too. Already looking forward to next year!

  9. Wow! All looks AMAZING! And the sheer amount of work that went into it: overwhelming. You rocks, and I so wish I could have been there.

  10. Looked like it was fantastically frantic, hard work and good fun. Helena xx

  11. Brilliant account of your underground festival escapades! Would love to have been there :-) Could you come to Electric Picnic next year?

  12. Emmy, it would have to be bought as a project by them... it's not cheap to put on something like this.

  13. It looks absolutely amazing! What a time you must have had! xxx

  14. Dined with you on the Thursday night, after trekking round the fields trying to find you!
    It was a wonderful experience which I thoroughly enjoyed. Food and presentation were fantastic, waitresses were all gorgeous and the people on my bench were great fun. I would definitely recommend it to anyone, and I'll be coming again!
    Thank you - you did an amazing job!


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