July 18

18 July, Slovakia – ‘All Over The Place – Europe, Part 2’

Johny Pitts is now officially the only presenter (apart from me) to be in all 6 series of ‘All Over The Place’, which makes him AOTP royalty. We had lots to catch up on during our bus ride from the airport in Vienna, Austria, to our hotel up a forest covered mountain range in Slovakia.

I’d never explored Eastern Europe until this year, and I’m enjoying just how “foreign” it all feels. The languages people speak seem completely impenetrable, along with the slightly odd alphabets and unusual food. It was the food we were interested in today as Johny and I would be taking part in Halusky Fest, a celebration of one of Slovakia’s national dishes.

Halusky is a bit like gnocchi, and is made by mixing flour and grated potatoes together and dropping it in small bits into a vat of boiling water. You then mix it up with sheep’s cheese and sprinkle it with bacon fat. Not exactly the kind of meal Weight Watchers would approve of.

Here in the village of Turecka they decided to try and put the place on the map by seeing who could cook the best halusky old school style – outdoors with wood burning stoves. Teams of 4 have under an hour to chop the wood, prepare the ingredients and cook up the best looking / tasting halusky. Since it’s not exactly a complex meal there are judges enforcing strict rules about preparation and conduct, and since there are about eight stoves burning in close proximity to each other at any one time the conditions are as fraught as any scenario Masterchef could come up with. The smoke was absolutely choking, and made the hot sticky weather even more unbearable.

By mid morning there was a large crowd of people gathered tucking into all the beer stalls and gift stands, and a stage full of enthusiastic Slovakian performers of various kinds. Johny and I attracted a great deal of attention being from the BBC, and as we coughed and spluttered our way through the cooking lots of encouragement and criticism was shouted in our general direction (couldn’t understand a word of it though!).

I’m not a great cook at the best of times, and 5 minutes in I’d cut myself grating a potato and my team was instantly disqualified. One of my team (a previous winner) was so unimpressed that he downed tools and went to sing on stage instead, so we half heartedly carried on for the cameras while Johny gloated. At least it meant we didn’t have to throw ourselves whole heartedly into the speed eating contest. Trying to gobble up 3kg of halusky is pretty hard going, let me tell you. I don’t know how Johny did it. A just and deserved win!

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