Saturday 15 February, The Forge, Vaults Festival
Food and theatre are two of my favourite things in life and to have them combined is like a dream come true. So when I first heard about Role Play Gourmet at The Vaults Festival, in the underbelly of Waterloo, London – a show in which you are the hero and food is the adventure – my immediate thought was: how the heck does one combine role playing with cookery lessons? Is a D-20 involved? What is this madness? I’m not going to lie, my curiosity and taste buds were aroused.
Flannery’s Food Facts
Role Play Gourmet is the brainchild of Paul Flannery, who is best known for the critically acclaimed stage show Knightmare Live, and is produced by Coaching For Geeks. Having seen this and other performances by Flannery, I knew to expect lots of jovial exposition and audience interaction. I also knew that myself and my aunt would be treated to a two course meal as per the premium tickets we purchased (others could buy standard seating for a smaller fee and samples). What I did not expect, however, was a highly original, witty and entertaining lecture about food facts and myths with a little storytelling thrown in to keep the information light, fresh and interesting.
We were ushered into the theatre space two minutes before the show was due to begin, to find Paul and his assistant Rob still preparing. Rather than panic that the illusion of the performance might be shattered, Paul chatted warmly with us as he set up and talked us through what we were about to see. Although quieter than his counterpart, Rob made no attempt to hide himself behind the large, metallic warming ovens. He was happy to banter with Paul and be his designated time-keeper, which he did at various points in the show to make sure they didn’t overrun, as they confessed they had on previous nights. This casual introduction made for a very relaxed atmosphere that continued throughout the hour.
Food For Thought
It was explained very early on that there wasn’t really a premise; it was a show that would debunk myths of food and kitchen practices, and do it in a role-playing style. Paul is a trained chef and imparted his wisdom to the audience through anecdotes and samples of ‘ones he made earlier’ – the rosemary roast potatoes in particular were delicious. Rob, his assistant in serving said food, would transform into a character at points in the show to tell an amusing tale of the path to true chef-hood by defeating a powerful salad witch. In between all this, they managed to serve two sets of amuse-bouche, two courses to the premium ticket holders and a hot drink that was a natural remedy for the common cold – a concoction of turmeric, garlic, honey and apple cider vinegar that I enjoyed far more than the drink I bought from the bar!
Rob’s Kitchen Nightmares
If they encountered obstacles they took it in their stride and incorporated it into the show. The lack of sound from a tablet, for example, could have crippled unseasoned performers, yet Rob and Paul turned it around and used it as proof of the importance of preparation in the kitchen. An intensely humorous moment came as Rob attempted to activate their next sound bite on the tablet and ended up playing an unknown track containing Gregorian chanting. “We’ve awoken something,” he yelled in mock horror and we all choked with mirth on our porchetta.
Another minor inconvenience was the location. I like The Vaults for their quirky, cave-dwelling theatre spaces, but it isn’t the easiest place to find and the theatres are situated directly underneath Waterloo station, making it nigh-on impossible to block out the noises of trains from above. Sometimes the constant rumblings added to the atmosphere during Role Play Gourmet and other times they were a bit of a nuisance, yet there was nothing the guys could do about it except do their best to ignore it.
Gourmet Dining Under Waterloo
If I had one tiny complaint about the show, it was the two course dining experience. My main wasn’t as hot as I would have liked and there simply wasn’t enough of it. Now, on the first point I realise that it’s extremely hard to keep food warm, especially when it isn’t being cooked in front of you and that it takes time to serve it to a large group of people, so I’m only nit-picking here.
The second gripe really comes down to my own personal view of gourmet food versus the cost. For the ticket price I would have liked to have had a few more tatties with my main and a bigger dessert. If cost was an issue, and I imagine the food wasn’t cheap considering it came from a farm and not a supermarket, it might have been a better idea to just use samples for everyone and ditch the premium ticket option. This would mean that we all got the same amount of food, leading to better inclusivity as there would be no two-tiered dining. And it would hopefully keep the food expenditure to a minimum.
That being said, the dishes themselves were delicious and were made with a great deal of care and attention – my aunt and I commented afterwards that our mouths were literally dripping when we watched the porchetta being served. So many flavours, textures and colours! The jus, the pesto, the potatoes… I truly could not fault anything that was put in front of me. I was in food heaven.
At the end of the hour we were all treated to a bonus: Paul announced that he would happily email ticket holders recipes over the coming weeks. He also gave a link to skill trees and articles he had written on the Coaching For Geeks website; this was the D&D element that I had been expecting to see, and in the end I was glad it had been excluded from the final cut. The version we got was raw, friendly and exceedingly funny without needing a D-20 or a character sheet. It was evident from the smiles and chatter as we departed that the audience’s brains and stomachs were fully sated.
To find out more about Role Play Gourmet, visit: https://www.coachingforgeeks.com/category/geek-culture/life-skills/cooking/role-play-gourmet/