TV chef

Jul 13

Alex James talks The Big Feastival

I always knew Alex James was the best one in Blur. As a hormone-fueled teenage girl, when all my friends were lusting after Damon, it was Alex that got my attention.

Standing there, strumming away on his bass, his face half obscured by that gorgeous mop of dark hair I thought he was the epitome of cool.

When he turned his hand to cheesemaking I adored him even more. What’s not to love about a cheesemaking rock star?

Alex James at his home on Churchill Heath Farm in Kingham, Oxfordshire. Photo by Adam Gasson.

Alex James at his home on Churchill Heath Farm in Kingham, Oxfordshire.
Photo by Adam Gasson.

Now, Alex has joined forces with Jamie Oliver to host the Big Feastival, an extravaganza of music and food on his Oxfordshire farm – I’m convinced he might actually be the perfect man.

Needless to say I was almost beside myself with excitement when I was given the chance to actually speak to him to talk all about this year’s Feastival, which is taking place from August 31 to September 1.

When Alex come on to the phone he starts chatting away immediately.

“I’ve just come in from the strawberry patch,” he enthuses. “I’m going to get back out there after this. The strawberries taste like a completely different fruit when the sun shines. Happy days.”I can almost feel his excitement and enthusiasm rushing down the phone lines and feel a bit guilty for dragging him inside on such a sunny day.“Actually, before I can get back out there I have a man with a digger coming and I have to show him where to build the new road,” he says. He sounds a bit disappointed, like a child who has been told they have to do their homework before they can go out and play. It’s very charming and my heart melts a bit more. “But after that I can get back out there again.” His voice brightens.

The new road is part of the preparations for the Feastival.

It will be the second year Jamie and Alex have come together to hold the event and 15,000 people a day are expected to descend on the farm to see a top line-up of chefs and music acts, including Basement Jaxx, Rizzle Kicks, K T Tunstall, Mark Owen, The Feeling, Gennaro Contaldo, Tom Kitchin, Gizzi Erskine and of course, Jamie himself.“I can’t wait,” said Alex. “Last year was such a great weekend and I was completely bowled over by people’s reactions.”Alex and Jamie’s friendship began back in 2001 during a performance on Comic Relief.“We were the rhythm section for Uptown Girl with Baddiel and Skinner,” Alex laughs. “We hit it off and kept in touch. When I knew he was looking for somewhere for The Big Feastival I really wanted to get involved. I love Jamie. The more I get to know him the more I like him. He is really passionate and driven and brilliant. He is a major force for the good.  I’d never really cooked with him, or seen him cook up close until the other day. It was just jaw dropping.”

It may seem like an unlikely pairing. While Jamie has built his career around his wholesome, cheeky chappy persona, Alex spent years living the rock star lifestyle, admitting spending more than a million pounds on cocaine and champagne.But since then Alex has swapped the drugs for dairy, and now makes award-winning cheese on the farm which he shares with his wife of 10 years, Claire, and their five children, Geronimo, Artemis, Galileo, Sable and Beatrix.

When Alex talks about his children there’s a real warmth in his voice and I get the feeling that his family really is the centre of his world. ”Cooking with the kids is my favourite thing.

“We have this book of ice cream recipes and we made something from it.

“Since then they’ve all been reading it and when they find something they want to make they turn down the corner of the page.

“I went to it the other day and found that all the pages had been turned down.

“I can’t think of a better way to spend the next five years.”

FEASTIVAL The Big Kitchen

Jamie Oliver will be giving cookery demonstrations at The Big Feastival

The Big Feastival is very much a family event, with plenty of activities for kids, including cookery workshops, games, an appearance by CBeebies’ Justin Fletcher, and cheeky hip-hop duo Rizzle Kicks adding to the star-studded line-up.

“If the kids are happy, then the parents are happy,” says Alex. “The Big Feastival is very genteel. It’s a nice, natural sort of family event.

“My kids are incandescent with joy over Rizzle Kicks. But Claire’s more excited about Mark Owen.”

For Alex though, it’s the food that has the most appeal.

“The chef I’m really pleased we have managed to book is Ashley Palmer-Watts who heads up Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental in London.

“He is really brilliant. I love Val Warner too.

“There’s going to be 200 local producers here too. The Cotswolds are a hotbed of production and farming.

“People who are discerning about music tend to be discerning about food as well so the two work really well together.

“When Blur first started doing festivals it was quite a new thing really and it was all the promoters could do to get us anything to eat at all.

“Now there’s a realisation that you can add an extra layer of sophistication and give people great food as well.”

Naturally, Alex’s cheese will also be making an appearance and he has developed a special Blue Monday Martini, featuring his Blue Monday cheese.

“It took lots of passionate research,” he says. I get the sense that tasting variations of the cocktail wasn’t much of a hardship for him.

“Because I am a food writer I read cookery books by yard. I’m always looking for recipes and this one works really well.

“You just stuff your olive with the blue cheese.”

At just 15,000 people a day, The Big Feastival is small in festival terms, but Alex and Jamie have had no trouble in attracting the big names.

“Because we are trying to build something cool people want to get involved,” said Alex. “They know they will have a nice time and they know they will get looked after.

“When Blur first started doing festival there were just two really. Now there are hundreds all over the world. I think if you want to compete then you have to really stand for something and it has to be something you really believe in.

“Michael Eavis has got that right with Glastonbury. It is the greatest show on earth and a wonderful thing.

“I don’t think The Big Feastival needs to be that big to be great though.

“I like it as a little boutiquey festival. Maybe we’ll make it a bit bigger next year, maybe 20,000. That’s quite a sweet number for a festival.

FEASTIVAL Jamie Oliver and Alex James perform photographer George Powell resize

Alex James and Jamie Oliver performed together at The Big Feastival in 2012

“The hardest things about organising it all are the mundane things, like car parking.

“Car parking takes up a huge amount of space. There’s nothing that’s insurmountable though and there’s a great team who are all working really hard.”

I ask Alex if he has any plans to take to the stage during the event.

“All Jamie’s mates are coming, and all my mates are coming,” he says. “I think there will be some impromptu things going on.

”There’s lots of stuff that is not on the posters but is just waiting to happen.

“I am really, properly excited. I can’t wait.

“Claire and I bought the farm on our honeymoon and I remember the day we got the keys.

“The place was almost derelict and it was utterly silent as we walked around. It was beautiful, but silent.

“I have spent the last 10 years heaving and sighing and transforming it into a cheese paradise. The idea of having it filled with 15,000 smiling faces is the realisation of a dream.”

Jamie Oliver and Alex James present The Big Feastival, a feel good festival of food and music for all the family on August 31 – September 1. For more info and tickets, visit

Alex James and Jamie Oliver. Picture by Vince Mo

Alex James and Jamie Oliver. Picture by Vince Mo


Feb 13

Pancake recipes from TV chef Marcus Bean

It’s pancake day on Tuesday which is great news for me as I love pancakes.The classic lemon and sugar filling is always a favourite of mine as it takes me back to my childhood when my grandmother used to make me pancakes but sometimes it’s nice to try something different.

Marcus Bean, winner of Iron Chef UK 2010 and regular on ITV This Morning

Marcus Bean, winner of Iron Chef UK 2010 and regular on ITV This Morning

This year I want to do something a bit more adventurous so I asked winner of IronChef UK 2010 and regular chef of ITV This Morning, Marcus Bean for a couple of recipes to try.

I love chocolate even more than I love pancakes so this recipe is perfect for me:

Chocolate pancakes with chantilly cream and butterscotch sauce

Makes about 10 medium pancakes

125g plain flour
1 egg
1 egg yolk
300g milk
20g cocoa

 Butterscotch sauce

Chocolate Pancakes with chantilly cream and butterscotch sauce

Chocolate Pancakes with chantilly cream and butterscotch sauce

60g unsalted butter
250ml double cream
100g soft dark brown sugar

Chantilly cream       
250ml double cream
½ vanilla pod
1/2 tbsp of icing sugar

Sift the flour and cocoa into a bowl, mix togther the eggs and milk, then add to the flour and keep whisking to stop lumps from forming.

To make the chantilly cream, put the cream in a bowl and add the icing sugar and the seeds scrapped from the vanilla pod. Now whisk until done.

To cook the pancakes heat a medium non stick frying pan on the heat then brush with some oil or melted butter, cook your pancakes one at a time, use a small ladle to spoon the mix for each pancake into the pan. Cook on both sides then remove and place on a plate, repeat this process for every pancake.

 To make the butterscotch sauce put the cream in saucepan and bring to the boil, whisk in your butter and sugar then simmer for 3-4 minutes

 To serve the pancake fold in half or roll up filled with the cream. Place a good spoonful of your chantilly cream on the plate, then pour your butterscotch sauce over the pancakes.

These look so amazing I’m definitely going to be trying this recipe, and not just on pancake day!

Raspberry pancakes with maple syrup

Raspberry pancakes with maple syrup

I also really love the idea of these raspberry pancakes with maple syrup. The raspberries mean I can pretend they are good for me – they must count towards my five a day!

Ingredients; Serves 3-4
135g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp caster sugar
130ml semi milk
1 large egg
10g melted butter
small punnet of raspberries

Sift the flour into a bowl then add the baking powder and sugar, mix together then slowly add you milk & eggs whisking at the same time to stop lumps from forming.
Once the batter is made fold your raspberries into the mix, then set aside.
To cook the pancakes, place a non stick frying on the heat brush with oil or melted butter then put a spoonful of mix into the pan and cook for 2 minutes on a low heat, then flip over and cook for another 2 minutes.
Serve with maple syrup.

If you don’t have a sweet tooth though there’s no reason why you have to miss out.
Marcus has given me this recipe for Courgette and wild garlic pancakes with Snowdonia cheese and chives which look really tasty. And it’s a great excuse to have pancakes for main and dessert. 

Courgette and wild garlic pancakes

Courgette and wild garlic pancakes

Ingredients; Serves 2-3
150g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1tsp salt
140ml semi skimmed milk
15g of unsalted butter
1 large egg
3 wild garlic leaves (use a small handful of spinach if not available)
½  Courgette (Grated)
50g of grated snowdona cheese or other mature cheddar
1 tbsp chopped chives

Grate your courgette and chop your wild garlic, put a pan on a medium heat and add your butter, saute the courgettes & wild garlic until soft and the liquid from the courgette has dried, now remove from the heat.
In another bowl sift your flour, add the baking powder & salt then slowly add your milk, keep whisking while adding the milk to stop lumps from forming in the batter.
Once the mix is smooth add your courgette mix, chives & cheese.
Heat a non stick pan on a medium heat, add a splash of oil or butter then spoon some mix into the pan making the pancake size you want. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side.
Serve straight from the pan with some fresh salad leaves.

I hope you enjoy trying these recipes and if you have any more you’d like to share then please let me know. You can find out more about Marcus at

Happy Pancake Day!

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