After parading around Paris, rubbing shoulders with the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame in chilly December, it was time for the next stop on my European tour courtesy of Hotel Business magazine. This time, I was invited to Brussels to attend a Marriott Hotel chef competition. After getting the green light from my boss, I mentally made my wardrobe choices and updated my Twitter with the news. Having never been to Brussels before, I was excited to see what the city had in store, and with the added bonus of it being all expenses paid, it made the experience even sweeter.
To say the trip got off slightly on the wrong foot is probably an understatement, as I managed to do the ultimate travel faux-pas and forget my passport. After driving the two hours from work in Colchester to my parents house in Bedford, it wasn’t until I just scoffed down a yummy homemade dinner and treated myself to a couple of chocs, that it dawned on me I was missing a vital ingredient to my trip. A three-hour, 80mph dash round the country followed, luckily with my mum and JLS for company, and I finally crashed out in back in Bedford, hair washed and packed ready around 12am. So not the best start!
I arrived at the Eurostar bleary-eyed and eager to meet the other journalist who was travelling with me. I was greeted by a glamorous older lady, who proceeded to tell me how tired she was because her husband kept her up late, wink wink, nudge nudge, so I knew we were going to get on like a house on fire. Two hours later and with enough innuendos to fill a Carry On film, we arrived in Brussels.
Checking into the hotel, we were told that we’d been upgraded to a junior suite and to have a complimentary lunch in the hotel’s restaurant; I tried to play it cool, but I could hardly contain my excitement. So one king prawn salad and two glasses of Prosecco later, I was positively tipsy with a sudden burst of energy. We then had a tour of the hotel and looked on as chefs from all over Europe cooked up a feast for the competition. I had to promptly remind myself that this was the purpose of my trip and not just to gorge on free food and booze.
Each kitchen team was from a different region of Europe: Germany, France, Austria, Holland, Russia and of course the UK, and the task was a come up with a three course meal with only certain ingredients supplied. Think international Ready, Steady, Cook. The teams also had to decorate their dining table in the most imaginative, beautiful way possible and were judged on all these elements.
The evening started with unusual canapés of beef tartar (which I only realised was raw beef after I had tried one, much to my dismay) meatballs and mussels, accompanied by an abundance of champagne. I met people from all over the world and got to see a little glimpse of what their lives were like. I was sat on the Dutch table and was treated to their delicious meal; spinach, pasta and mushrooms to start, salmon, veg and scallops for main and some yummy strawberry compote with fruit for dessert.
After the judging, the UK team came out victorious and scooped first prize of a trip to Washington to meet Mr Marriott himself (I’m still trying to blag my way onto that trip). A couple more glasses of wine later, I was starting to wilt, so retired to my plush king size bed to get some shut eye.
The next morning I had breakfast with the other journalist and the PR, which meant even more champagne to toast our UK victory. I checked out and decided to use my spare time before our train back to see a few sites.
I wonder where I’ll get to go next!