Cookery demonstrations performed by local chefs in the Market Hall provide a popular attraction every year at the Food Festival, with the informal easy-come, easy-go atmosphere appealing to a large audience.
But one member of the audience stands out from the rest. Every Saturday and Sunday, throughout the day, Brigitte Moody makes sure she has a prime position in the front row, from where she has a close-up view of the skilled techniques needed to prepare and cook a dish from start to finish in under 45 minutes.
Curious to know more, I asked her about her interest in food and cooking, thinking she might be a professional herself, checking out the opposition and hoping to poach a few ideas. But no, she told me that she just has a lifelong passion for good food, which was handed on to her by her parents.
Forced to leave their native Silesia during the Second World War, her parents always talked with nostalgia and love about the food of their homeland, and would try to reproduce the dishes that they remembered from their own childhood, wherever they were living. While living in Rotterdam, her mother enjoyed shopping in the fresh produce markets there, especially the wonderful fish market. ‘If you have ever tasted ‘new herrings’ when in season, eaten raw straight from the boat’, says Brigitte, ‘you are addicted for life.’ As well as being influenced by Dutch eating habits, the family also developed a love of Indonesian food and culture to add to their knowledge of German and Polish cooking.
After leaving home, an Iranian boyfriend whom Brigitte met at university was to be her next culinary influence, and he introduced her to the wonders of Persian cooking, with all its richness and subtlety – ‘a whole new world for me,’ she remembers. This thread was to be picked up later, during a spell in London, when she taught English to foreign students, many of whom were Iranian. They would prepare the dishes they missed from home for her and even share caviar – the real stuff – sent to them by relatives in Teheran.
While staying with American friends in Gerrards Cross, Brigitte was given a copy of the American Betty Crocker Cookbook, which further extended her horizons. This book was to stand her in good stead, and years later, when her husband was stationed in Londonderry, she hit on the idea of cooking for cash in order to finance the many dinner parties she had to give. Her chocolate chiffon cake, straight out of Betty Crocker (no cake mixes there) was a big hit with the Americans also stationed there, and the local deli put in a weekly order for it.
As a young wife, Brigitte appreciated her husband’s willingness to try food he was not accustomed to, and in turn, he introduced her to the delights of English cooking – roast potatoes spring to mind immediately as one of the best examples of our own culinary heritage. A life in the forces necessitated a lot of entertaining, and Brigitte learned to produce fabulous meals, often on a strict budget, where ever she was living.
At the ages of 4 and 5, her two sons acquired a passion for snails, bought from the French Naafi while they were living in Berlin, and always asked for them for their birthday parties! Now in their forties, they are both ‘utter foodies’ – one lives in London and takes great delight in the cosmopolitan array of ingredients, and the other in Devon, who is big on game, salmon and other local produce.
Today, she is a volunteer at the Ludlow Food Festival, and continues to expand her already vast horizons in the world of food. Her extensive collection of cookery books grows and grows, but if asked to choose her favourite book, she said it would be Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking. For somebody with such wide-ranging enthusiasm, however, it was a difficult choice.
‘I love all types of food,’ says Brigitte, ‘though I do not enjoy cooking for myself. Food should be shared, then it is at its best.’