“Roads? Who spoke of roads? We go by the moor and the hills, and tread granite and heather as the Druids did before us.”
As I drove round one more beech-hemmed bend, looking for the stone bridge indicated on the directions, I thought it unlikely that Druids had ever trod these tarmac ways and if they had and did, they weren’t making themselves available to help with directions. And then came my very own Wolf Creek moment: I was flagged down by a car full of equally lost drivers who thought I was someone else, heading to the same dinner destination: the Wild Fire Banquet on the moor.
We followed each other, got lost again, then decided they should take the lead because they had a boy in the car (I love to embrace a gender stereotype as and when I choose, I think that’s how feminism works) and were rewarded with flapping paper signs, scrawled writing and parcel tape: Wild Fire Banquet with arrow. We had arrived.
The granite spoken of by du Maurier in the opening of Jamaica Inn had been tamed and fashioned into cottages and barns here, where the air was cold like water but a little too still. Straw Dogs and American Werewolves faded into a distant disturbing dream, as we walked into a wooden chalet behind a stone farm, warmed with chat, booze and the prospect of some good, nay excellent, food.
My table companions were Simon Wilkinson of Cornish Game, organiser and inexhaustible expert on wild food, his wife Jenny who was responsible for the beautifully rustic interiors and Saul and Abbie from the truly sustainable Wild Harbour Fish Company – finally, the only people I have met in the fish business who aren’t full of bullshit and whose fish we would be eating later tonight. Not only do they catch fish one by one (other than the multi-hooks for mackerel) they guarantee fixed prices for other fishermen.
A salad of Cornish pigeon (shot by Simon), beetroot and sloe, broke us into the swing of the evening – a deep purple, livery-delicate tableau to the forest and the soil, earthy, delicious, simple. This was followed by (wild) hogget – again shot and butchered by Simon – with silk handkerchiefs (read homemade pasta ribbons tucked around the meat) and crispy sage. Barry, one of the three wild fire chefs, explained that the hogget had been roasted all night. It was juicy, succulent, and many other words that describe juice and meat together. OMG, surely we would all be eating hogget everyday if we could cook it like that? No, we ship it out to other countries and eat anaemic out-of-season lamb instead. Genius.
The fish course was either sea bass, pollock or cod, pot luck, as truly sustainable fishing doesn’t always run to order, thankfully. Only ever actually day-fresh, I wanted to hug both Saul and Abbie for their determination to make a difference but also to provide bloody delicious fish. It fell apart in chunky forkfuls over the mussels and samphire.
Next – a basil granita that prepared the way for the cadence to the symphony – summer fruits and flowers – chunks of translucent jelly, something that resembled a meringue and Noma-esque sprinkles of blossoms centred around a sorbet, that cleaned and excited the taste buds. All served with BYO.
The boys out the back were cooking with a wood-fired oven and a Big Green Egg – think barbecue then think again because these babies are made of ceramic initially developed by NASA, are green (surprise), dome-shaped and based on clay cooking vessels used during the Chinese Qin Dynasty and then the Japanese in the 3rd century. Result? Damn fine food and a highly impressive, top-end oven that looks more like a modern installation and which I had already spotted (and coveted) in use at the Port Eliot festival.
A Wild Fire Banquet is everything food should be, I don’t have to wax lyrical or stun you with too many adjectives or adverbial clauses. Put simply: this is food that has its own narrative and can be traced back to the very source; it is foraging that is not a token flourish of pennywort or wild garlic; this is food that is knowledge that is all the more delicious for it (and without all the meaningless chef-spiel of locally-sourced bollocks). Well done boys.
The @wildfirebanque1 boys give out dining info by means of twitter and facebook.com/WildfireBanquet. (The hand-embroidered napkins with pictures of various animals having their heads blown off are not, as yet, commercially available but very very entertaining). For more on Simon Wilkinson and his extremely admirable work on anything to do with wild food, particularly sourcing and stalking venison, please go to cornishgame.co.uk or contact him on @CornishGame, tel 07778 166127.