Anyone who knows me will know that food is a big part of my life – which is why my constituent parts are perhaps a little bigger than they should be.
So when I spotted the chance to volunteer at Bristol’s very own barbecue festival, Grillstock, during the same weekend as St. Paul’s carnival, you can hardly blame me for grabbing it with both hands and turning my weekend into a full-blown meat feast. With a side of coleslaw.
My weekend kicked off with the carnival on Saturday – a vivacious, colourful and noisy celebration of all things Carribbean, and a real sensory explosion. We stood in a jam-packed Portland square, filled with friends, couples, and families with children clutching balloons and blowing plastic horns – their chubby faces painted like tigers and superheroes. Clutches of multicoloured feathers peeked above the tops of heads and we followed them to the procession.
Saturday was my first carnival experience, and I discovered a love of processions. There were schools, community groups, dancers, drummers, disabled groups, older people and even mothers with their toddlers strapped into their buggies in full spangly costume. And all of them were proudly moving, dancing, and laughing together like a sequinned, smiling snake wiggling through the city on a belly full of jerk chicken.
You can’t help but smile at feeling like you’re part of it.
On the theme of chicken, as a foodie (and a sentimental one at that), I particularly love the fact that almost every house in St. Paul’s with a slither of a front yard turns into a restaurant for the long, hot summers day.
Signs homemade from old carboard boxes hang proudly from gazebos alongside colourful – but much less authentic – printed banners, offering ‘wicked jerk chicken’ or ‘mama’s curry goat’ (with ‘fried dumpling’ often scrawled on to the edge as a crispy afterthought).
Of course I ate some. It would have been rude not to – a two-finger salute to Caribbean culture. I went for curried goat with cocunut infused rice and peas and a dumpling. I love curried goat; I don’t know whether it’s the unusual, slightly exotic, cut of meat or whether I genuinely love the taste, but there’s something about it that feels really special. Cooked right, it falls off the bone and melts in the mouth and is divine. I would recommend Agnes Spencer’s version of the dish, served at the Tobacco Factory Sunday Market and other local events.
Full of rice and peas and stubby beers, I decided to give the afterparty at Lakota a miss and headed home to get some rest ahead of a day’s work at Grillstock.
It’s safe to say that if I thought I’d seen a lot of meat on Saturday, Sunday was a whole new….meativerse.
Upon arrival, I was almost instantly surrounded by mountains of pork loins, lamb shoulders, chicken, burgers, and what looked like entire cows covered in a variety of rubs, marinades, herbs and spices – all smoking and grilling away in what seemed like hundreds of seriously mean-looking barbecues – one of which looked decidedly like a steam train.
Throw in a barbecue competition, some very dedicated grilling gurus from all over the world (like the inimitable Dr. Bbq, right), some beautiful hot rods and some appropriate rootin’ tootin’ music (including hell-raisin’ Hillbillies Hayseed Dixie), and I was in meat heaven. 25 -degrees-and-sunny meat heaven. The team – pulled togther by Bristol Event Volunteers – were a great bunch. I had a particularly great time getting to know two of my fellow volunteers and all-round fabulous ladies Em and Sarah – known to the twitterverse as @bristolbites and @princesspurling.
Of course, I was also hard at work. In between some mad dashing about to keep the King of the Grill competition running smoothly and meeting the headliners backstage (see starstruck photo, left) I had to force down free samples of juicy, enormous, marinated ribs from overall winners Bad Byron’s Butt Rub; deliriously creamy key lime pie and some beautifully tender kangaroo from Bodeans; along with a host of other fabulous nibbles from the teams and exhibitors.
But competition was very important. Every single team was deadly serious about barbecuing – with the atmosphere often like an episode of Masterchef – but once the judging was done, all were more than happy to share the fruit of their grills with us humble volunteers and members of the drooling public. If they’re anything like me with baked goods, I imagine they do this to stand back and watch the smiles and hear the groans as they taste the finished products into which they’ve put so much elbow grease.
I can confirm that there were many, many groans. A few were ’cause my feet ached from the harbourside cobbles, but the vast majority were pure, unadulterated, foodgasms.
It was a great day.