“The belly rules the mind” – Spanish proverb.
There’s much more to London’s food scene than restaurants and pop-ups. Taking place each week, there are dozens of foodie seminars, talks, public lectures, conferences, food quizzes and literary supper clubs. They explore food from cultural, political, scientific, environmental, artistic, literary or historic perspectives. These events may intrigue, engage, delight and excite you; they may even frustrate or infuriate you — but above all, they’ll make you think.
Here's our pick of events that will feed your mind, nourish your soul and give you plenty to chew over.
TALKS, SEMINARS AND DEBATES
London Gastronomy Seminars
Founded and organised by food writer Francis Percival, food buyer Bronwen Percival and other respected figures in the food industry, the London Gastronomy Seminars are public lectures that take place, usually at the UCL, every few months. They’re concerned with various technical aspects of food, cooking and ingredients, and their aim is to promote "an understanding and command of the principles at work within the food that we eat". We’ve been attending many enlightening lectures over the years, ranging from The Multi-Sensory Perception of Flavour, to the more recent and absolutely brilliant Reflections on Three Decades of Science in the Kitchen with Harold McGee. Coming up next is an event based on different varieties of peppercorns — keep an eye on their website for details.
Set up by food writers Miranda York and Sarah Chamberlain a couple of years ago, Toast is an events company which explores the cultural ideas behind food and drink. It brings together chefs, producers, writers, historians, scientists, artists, filmmakers and entrepreneurs to host a wide range of events throughout the year: everything from debates on the future of meat, to dinners showcasing top British produce. Recently they’ve successfully raised funds via Kickstarter to publish an annual magazine. Check their website for future events.
Culinary Salon at Divertimenti
The Marylebone branch of this gorgeous kitchenware shop has recently reopened after refurbishment. Returning next month is its biannual Culinary Salon taking place between 4-6 November, with the theme of Food And Memory. Now in its third year, this marvellous mini-festival invites chefs, food writers, philosophers and psychologists for three days of lively debates.
Food Matters conference
While ExCel is normally home to more commercial food exhibitions for consumers and trade, this year it’s opening its doors to the inaugural Food Matters Live. Taking place between 16-18 November, it’s a free conference focused on the relationship between food, health and nutrition. Notable speakers from the food industry and government representatives will discuss topics as varied as Does Food Provenance Matter?, Why We Eat What We Eat, and The Future of Food.
The School of Life events
This enlightening company describes itself as “a cultural enterprise offering good ideas for everyday life” that is “devoted to helping you develop emotional intelligence”. They occasionally host food-related talks, such as an excellent one by Michael Pollan that we attended last year. Coming up next is Nigella Lawson in conversation with philosopher Alain de Botton on The Meaning of Food (20 November).
Slow Food London events
As part of an international movement that aims to preserve traditional and regional cuisines, the London chapter organises several popular events throughout the year. These include talks, debates, film screenings, dinners and foodie days out, often focused on sustainability, agriculture and the environment. Keep an eye on their website for future events; or become a member to receive regular notifications.
Dana Centre debates
The Science Museum’s compact offshoot Dana Centre hosts excellent talks and debates throughout the year, including several related to food science. There are currently no food events listed, but in the past we’ve enjoyed many evenings with prominent speakers such as Ben Goldacre debating topics as varied as Superfoods, Supertasters, and understanding climate change through the medium of cocktails. The talks are interactive, sometimes featuring games and tests; and food and drink are available to buy in the cosy café-like space.
Context Travel gastronomy walks
Helmed by academic scholars and specialists, Context Travel is an international guided walking tour company with a difference: they run what are essentially ‘walking seminars’ for small groups. Foodies will enjoy exploring central London’s hidden — as well as renowned — culinary gems with a food historian during their Gastronomic London walk on 6 or 12 November.
FOR ACADEMIC TYPES
SOAS Food Studies Centre
This is strictly for those people with a serious academic interest in food. The Food Studies Centre, chaired by professor of anthropology, Dr Harry West, is part of the Department of Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). The centre is concerned with researching and discussing cultural, political and economic aspects of food, from historic periods to the modern day — including production, preparation and consumption. It regularly invites distinguished speakers from around the world and runs a large number of seminars, debates, discussions, conferences and symposia. These are mainly for the centre staff and students, but you can attend if you are an associate member. Membership is free, but at the discretion of the chair. If you’re interested, email Dr West at email@example.com. Once you’re on their mailing list, you’ll be continually informed about the very many thought-provoking food events around London and beyond.
The London School of Economics and Political Science occasionally invites academic speakers to discuss issues around food politics, economic policies and sustainability. On 4 November, it hosts a debate on Food Policy: Ethics for your Kitchen and Beyond about the changing processes of food production and consumption.
Memory Banquet at Roehampton University
Several other universities organise food-themed events with an academic bent, such as the Memory Banquet at Roehampton University on 15 November. Part of its Festival of Humanities, the day aims to share the university’s research and provoke debate around the issue of Food and Acts of Remembering. It will feature workshops, lectures, an apple orchard trail, film screenings and “a thought-provoking and memory-making communal meal”.
La Fromgerie tutored tastings
This iconic cheesemonger hosts tutored cheese tastings by legendary owner Patricia Michelson; plus talks, dinners and events related to cheeses and other seasonal foods, often led by leading figures in the food industry. We’ve enjoyed many friendly and informative events at the Marylebone store over the years, including an exquisite workshop on Italian crystallised fruit by the revered Romanengo from Genoa. Coming up next is a Thanksgiving Supper on 27 November, where Michelson will guide you through the cheese course.
Neal’s Yard Dairy classes
Another iconic cheesemonger which organises (along with cheese-making and cheese tasting classes) talks on subjects such as the Science of Taste on (4 November, 7 and 31 March 2015), History of British Cheese (17 February 2015), History of Irish Farmhouse Cheeses (17 March 2015), and much more. The talks are led by Francis Percival, co-founder of the London Gastronomy Seminars.
Asia House talks
Located near the increasingly foodie Marylebone Village, Asia House promotes understanding of the culture, politics, art, and sometimes food of various different countries of Asia. We’ve enjoyed illustrated talks and book launches over many years from famous food writers, variously discussing Sichuan, Indian, Malaysian, Philippine, Vietnamese and Iranian cuisines. These are often followed by a glass or two of wine, and some tasty food for sampling. On 14 November, Iranian cookery writer Jila Dana-Haeri will discuss Persian food and ingredients.
British Museum lectures
This popular museum occasionally organises food lectures linked to its exhibitions. We once attended a memorable event hosted by Fay Maschler featuring Thai super-chef David Thompson; and have more recently attended colourful Mexican food events related to the Day of the Dead. Linked to the current Ming exhibition, there’s a talk on Tastes of Ming Dynasty by top Chinese food writer Fuchsia Dunlop on 14 November. She’ll discuss regional dishes that have roots in the Ming period.
This increasingly popular and prestigious annual festival, held in early summer, aims “to bring people together to explore all aspects of Judaism and food, including food heritage, ethics, culture and religion”. You don’t have to be Jewish to attend; you just have to be interested in cultural and historical aspects of the cuisine. We’ve enjoyed attending for the past couple of years, participating in discussions led by the likes of Claudia Roden and Nicholas Lander. While we await the date for the 2015 festival, the organisers are hosting an interactive walking tour in the Jewish East End on 4 and 16 November. Here’s a chance to explore the area’s food history as educator and broadcaster Maureen Kendler guides you through Whitechapel, famous for Grodzinski bakery and Blooms restaurant.
This sparklingly-stylish new Jewish social and cultural centre hosts food events throughout the year, including talks and various charitable activities. On its current events calendar is a morning of Syrian brunch with live music on 9 November to raise awareness of crisis in the region. A three-course Syrian vegetarian brunch cooked by Hackney-based Francesca Ter-Berg and Jessie Levene will be served, along with non-alcoholic beverages. There’s also a Chanukah Salon celebrating olives on 20 December.
Russian Revels’ talks at the Pushkin House
Founded by food anthropologist Katrina Kollegaeva and food writer Karina Baldry, Russian Revels hosts a number of Slavic supperclubs and fun food events all year. It's about to launch a series of seven Russia Through its Belly talks at the Pushkin House. In the first one on 12 November, Baldry will debate the important question of Olivier Salad and its Mayonnaise — A Curse or Blessing in Soviet Cooking? with American humourist and food writer Jennifer Eremeeva. The debate will explore, with characteristic wit, whether there’s a future for mayo-laden cuisine and what it says about Russia and its people, especially women. The talks will be followed by food tastings to match.
COOKING AND RECIPES
Thane Prince’s Cookbook Club
Respected food writer Thane Prince runs a lively monthly cookbook club at the Draper’s Arms in Islington. The meetings are similar to a book club — with the crucial difference that they include plenty of delicious homemade food. Each session has a different theme; and the idea is that you take along a book — and a dish that inspired you to cook from it — based on the theme. Past topics have included Feasting and Fasting, and Food Stories. The next meeting is on 4 November, with the theme of Wild Food — anything, we’re told, from grouse to porcini via sloes and mackerel. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest in attending current or future meetings.
Historical cooking at Hampton Court Palace
Curious about British food history? Learn all about Henry VIII’s kitchen by watching live Tudor cookery demonstrations at the Hampton Court Palace. We told you about the Georgian chocolate kitchen at the palace earlier this year, but there’s also another kitchen that’s home to food archaeologists and historians experimenting with recipes, ingredients, cooking techniques and equipment from the era. The next Georgian chocolate and Tudor cookery demonstrations take place on 1-2 November; and Tudor cookery demonstrations on 6-7 December, and 27 December-1 January 2015.
LITERARY SUPPER CLUBS
The Feast of Reason supperclub
Describing itself as a mixture of “literary salon and pop-up restaurant”, the Feast of Reason is easily one of the best supperclubs we’ve attended in London. Set up by Olivia Lacey and Aimee Shalan around four years ago, it’s held regularly at Lacey’s beautiful home in Brixton. Two invited speakers kick off the evening with a 10-minute talk, followed by a question-and-answer session and a delicious candlelit dinner. Earlier this year, we heard food writer Sophie Dening speak about Food and Nostalgia; and then spent an intriguing evening dining with an astrophysicist from Orissa and Chinese Embassy staff whispering about a Secret Chinese Restaurant. The supperclub has recently expanded to encompass other events, such as walks, theatre trips and holidays. Upcoming events include a Christmas supperclub (5 December) and a weekend of food with debates (7-9 February 2015).
Peirene Press and Book & Kitchen events
Peirene Press is a boutique publishing house that specialises in high quality translations of European literature. It hosts literary salons with dinner and drinks; and smaller, more intimate supperclubs at the Book & Kitchen in Notting Hill. The next Salon, featuring poet Philip Gross, is on 6 December; and three supperclubs are planned for 2015 between February and September.
Book & Kitchen is a new-ish bookshop and café that runs events related to books, food and music, such as food workshops and demonstrations during the Nour Festival to celebrate the culture and cuisine of Middle East and North Africa.
Coach and Horses Food Quiz
Organised by Giles Webster of fabulous Clerkenwell pub Coach and Horses in collaboration with food writer Neil Davey, this witty, irreverent and slightly anarchic food quiz has been running regularly for many years. It promises “a regular mix of cracking comestibles, delicious drinks, challenging questions, interesting interrogatives, appalling puns and general jollity” — and we can vouch for this, as the one we attended was a blast. Often rooted in food history, the questions are surprisingly difficult — deliberately including ones that nobody can answer — but there are more light-hearted food tasting rounds too, and occasional guest quizmasters. Everyone’s guaranteed to win a prize: the winners have their bar tabs wiped, and losers may walk away with butterscotch flavoured instant whip or something equally silly. The next food quizzes are on 13 January and 17 February 2015 (and there’s also a general charity quiz with food on 11 November). Bookings are preferred by phone (020 7278 8990).
Sudi’s Food Quiz
As an extension of her wonderful serious-yet-tongue-in-cheek book How To Be A Better Foodie, renowned writer Sudi Pigott hosts food quizzes at various venues around London. We recently attended one at the stylish Bird of Smithfield near Smithfield Market — where we were tested on everything from identifying chervil root and achappam maker, to answering questions on the specific word for Persian rice crust. The quizzes are relaxed, informal, competitive in a good-natured way, and a lot of fun — and we’re not just saying that because we won. Future quizzes are currently being organised — check her website or the Bird of Smithfield Facebook page for upcoming dates.
FOOD AND FILM
Edible Cinema allows you to “experience a film through aroma, texture and taste”. At each film screening, you’re given a tray of intriguing-looking numbered boxes containing bite-sized samples of foods and ingredients that match specific moments in the film. Recent movies have included Trading Places and Romeo and Juliet. Coming up next is a screening of Brazil at Notting Hill’s Electric Cinema on 13-14 December. We wonder what surprises the mystery boxes will hold?
Additionally, although not currently listed, these organisations and venues occasionally host thought-provoking food events. Sign up to their email newsletters for the latest information: