Lauraine Jacobs

Food & Wine Writer

22 October 2016


The New Zealand Anchor Food Professionals Culinary Olympics Team marched into the Messe Stadium in Erfurt Germany to the boom of Davanius' magnificent Poi E song, under a waving NZ flag and brandishing their Kiwi mascot. Clad in smart chef jackets edged with a Maori pattern and wearing pounamu pendants proudly they made my heart swell with pride.

I have never seen so many chefs in my life. 59 countries represented and tomorrow they will commence the battle of the stoves. But tonight it was all about celebration.

Austria marched to We Will Rock You. Denmark and Poland brought so many chefs I imagine most restaurants back home will be closed. Italy marched in to Andreas Bocelli's Time to Say Goodbye ( hope that's an anthem not an omen.) The Mexicans added sombreros, hairy false moustaches and played La Bamba.

South Korea danced in Gangnam Style as you might expect. The Scottish had a bagpipe recording of course and the sustainably minded Swedish Team want tp literally wanted "To Save The World Tonight" - their chosen theme song.

Such fun and now let the Culinary Olympics commence.

19 October 2016


So you think and truly believe you have to go to Ponsonby or at least west of Mt Eden Rd to find great food and wine? You must be a Metro reader! Hey! Exciting new finds in the Eastern suburbs have the locals all excited and hungry.

• PASTURE, 235 Parnell Rd, Parnell, ph 09 300 5077

Ed and Laura Verner’s restaurant screams simplicity and sophistication. From Wed to Sun they offer a six course set menu for $130 that challenges, delights and satisfies. They cook over fire, they are seriously into fermentation, their drinks are hip, and their bread is a thing of wonder. And like the deceptively simple yet sophisticated food, the dining room is modern with an almost Nordic influence. Tip: just go with one other and sit at the bar. Bookings essential.

• TRUE BISTRO at TRUE FOOD & YOGA, 19 Tamaki Drive, Okahu Bay, ph 09 528 8781

Nic Watt of Masu fame and his wife Kelli have opened the most remarkable destination the Eastern Bays has seen for years. On the former site of Hammerheads, the spacious yoga studio takes up most of the building, but the entrance and stunning outdoor deck is given over to a lovely bistro that produces food that ticks every box the healthy and hungry could wish for. Watt’s menu is light and delicious, served from Breakfast through to dinner and is a far cry from the bird seedy food that dominate other health-oriented eateries. Fresh smoked fish, lovely vegetables, tasty combinatiosn of meat and more. And yes, vegans, gluten free diets and more are catered for but you’d be surprised how interesting all this food is. Tip: Book a table on the deck and watch the sun set over the westerly harbour

• PINEAPPLE, 207 Parnell Rd

From the owners of Meadow in Meadowbank and 46 & York, this new bar in Parnell brings unprecedented sophistication to the Auckland bar scene. Luxuriously furnished with leather and dark timber, and featuring the sort of bar that’s reminiscent of posh New York, it’s the new place to relax over a late night drink or a bottle of wine. You may have to wait in line but it’s worth it. Tip: don’t even bother showing up without a collar on your shirt. Dress code keeps it smart.

• CLOUDY BAY COME SAIL AWAY, PARNELL POP UP, 46 Parnell Rd, 09 377 9675

Cloudy Bay wines have taken over 46 & York until mid November with a stunning pop-up restaurant. The place has been specially redecorated, a timber deck installed, copious greenery everywhere and those gorgeous Cloudy Bay wines featuring on the list. Better still, the fashionable chef Sam Mannering has designed a tasting menu to match the wines. Crayfish, Mahurangi oysters, pork belly and the very first of the season’s Coastal Spring Lamb tiny cutlets. All deliciously moreish. Tip: Go for dinner and order the tasting menu with matched wines. Bookings essential.

19 October 2016


Every year this event gets better. The concept: collaboration between chef and artist, produces clever food, thought provoking art over a five course meal, with cocktails and canapes. Held in the Auckland Art Gallery this has to be the primo event on Auckland’s culinary calendar.

This year, ably organised by Gather & Hunt’s Courteney Peters and Rebecca Smidt of Cazador fame, the food was delicious, the accompanying wines well matched and the art, performance and static very interesting. Art curated by Pippa Milne.

To begin, Ainsley Rose Thompson came from Queenstown’s Sherwood to work with a jellyologist to create a veritable forest floor of treats, all representing the goodness that grows in the earth matched to a creative cocktail by Laura Lopez. (see pic above)

The dinner set in the airy space above the gallery entrance was spectacular. First, the arrival welcome with Sarah Smuts-Kennedy’s quartz singing bowls to create the right karma, matched to Kyle Street’s salt, burrata and honey with sunbathed water(!) Then a short film show by Ngahuia Harrison with waves gently washing over rocks in homage to Hayden McMillan’s Kono mussels, kingfish and compressed watermelon. The watermelon looked like tuna sashimi, but of course who would dream of serving or eating Bluefin tuna these days?

The connection between Steve Carr’s playful watermelon production and João Martin’s watermelon course was obvious. A thin round watermelon coloured wafer was lifted to reveal the vivid colour of that fruit’s interior – with a difference. Lamb, beets and peas. The lamb heart was raw, the beets cut into tiny dice and the peas in a puree. Everyone ate it all! And the Brick Bay pinot gris was my wine of the night.

Then a fabulous performance. Dancers from Red Leap Theatre leapt about with symbolic birds held high above the crowd, accompanied by playful guitar and song. And Dariush Lolaiy’s main course covered the table with platters of venison skewers, flatbreads, hummus, greens, radish, barberries and spices. Too bad I splashed my lovely Seresin Pinot across everything.

And to finish the gorgeous Sonia Haumonte of Vaniye in Parnell give us two lovely sweets – a citrus bergamot lollipop on licorice root and a rich caramel and chocolate cake.

50 volunteers, 6 top chefs, 120 diners and three clever women. Do not miss the 2017 event.

27 September 2016


It’s a long way to St Petersburg, but as we were in Stockholm, we would probably never be closer again. So we flew in and were immediately daunted by the heavy rain, the grim attitude of everybody (no smiles) and the endless traffic jams. This is a city to visit if you love Russian history and museums.

Personally I am the sort who travels to sit in sidewalk cafes, eating and drinking something delicious and observing the culture of the place as evidenced by passers-by and fellow café dwellers. There’s not much of that.

There were some bright spots. Our hotel was fantastic. The Belmond Grand Europe had smiling helpful staff, and our luxurious room with a balcony gave us a breath taking view over the city that included the spires of the Church on the Spilled Blood. The heavy bodyguards sitting in the corridor outside the next door room were a little disconcerting however. We ate well at dinner and the hotel breakfasts were the best ever, complete with a pianist tinkling away on the proverbial ivories. We also indulged in a dinner in the caviar bar that started with three sorts of caviar on blinis with matching vodkas and continued in that vein. Yesss.

The Fabergé Museum is new and exclusive. Only fifteen people are let in each hour and the displays are unbelievably beautifully presented and lit. Taking a guided tour is important as everything needs so much explanation. The Hermitage defies description. Suffice to say if you spent about six months in that huge building you still could not do all the treasures within justice. But it’s a bit dingey and dark. The churches are more interesting, especially if there’s a service in progress. Several were mind-bogglingly complex.

We also ate the bargain of 2016. Stunning pies (meat, rabbit, fruit and everything else) plus tea for less than $4 at Stolle on Nevsky Prospekt. The sidewalk of this famous street was jammed with grim people, dodging the puddles with about half of them actively smoking as they walked. And we loved a meal in a Georgian restaurant, rather like a pub where puffy Khachapuri bread, dripping with cheese was pulled from the woodfired oven. That recipe will be in next week’s Listener and eventually on this website.

8 September 2016


We went to a wedding in Stockholm, Sweden. (That is another great story.) You cannot get that close to one of the world’s most talked about restaurants without going there.

So having flown for about 30 hours to reach Stockholm it was off early the next morning on the train for the 750 km journey to the far north where Faviken, the restaurant of Magnus Nilsson. Now that is a pilgrimage.

We had reservations for dinner, booked months in advance, and had also secured one of the five guest rooms so we could stay the night. We caught a taxi from Are station to the middle of nowhere, and settled into our room with a welcoming tea, and curiously, some air-dried sausage.

Dinner at Faviken is very special. Guests assemble in the ground floor of a very ancient barn and are plied with Champagne and a stunning parade of beautifully crafted hor d’oeuvres. Such unusual treats as pig’s head dipped in sourdough and deep fried with gooseberry and tarragon salt. Or broth of smoked and dried reindeer, decomposing leaves, very fresh curds and crowberries. And flowers served in a crust of dried pig blood. And more…

It’s then on to the allotted table for dinner and the parade of courses begins. The scallop to begin was perfect. Cooked in its own juices over burning juniper branches, and served in the shell. The king crab that followed could not have been more perfect either – a juicy stick of fleshy crab leg with almost burnt cream. Then, for me, the highlight of the night. A lamb tongue with a delicate array of brined vegetables, rhubarb and seasonal plants. So good.

After that there were many more courses – mackerel with spruce needles, a sourdough pancake with seaweed and beef butter, lupin curd gratin (lupins are the new thing), a small egg in ash, steamed leeks with marvellous Finnish caviar, roasted veal with fermented, roasted and ground lupin, a tasty broth with leaves and oats and then colostrum with meadowsweet, silage ice cream (!!), and potato dream. It was a dream.

Three desserts served at the table – raspberry ice, bone marrow pudding with frozen milk, and a rich brown cheese pie which was a play on an ancient dish. Much of Magnus Nilsson’s food is inspired by traditional Nordic food, although never ever did any of those ancestral cooks pay so much attention to detail in quest of perfection like this.

It was then downstairs to even more amazing sweets and tastes, including the most textbook platter of wild seasonal berries, and astonishingly, some dried reindeer pies. Tea with this, made with wild herbs and flowers gathered from the adjacent meadows.

Perhaps the best bit was next morning breakfast before we left. Far more conventional and served at the very same table we had sat at for dinner. Lovely cheese, dried ham and meat, Faviken’s knockout bread, and the best porridge ever.

Perfect food. But in the quest for perfection, somehow the true meaning of hospitality was missing. The courses were served at an alarming pace and the American sommelier maitre d’ constantly clapped his hands for attention to describe each and every course. It was almost intrusive and there was no room for relaxation, conversation and no chance of sitting back and savouring the moment.

But I’d go back if I could get another reservation. In winter, when there will only be about one hour of daylight. That would be really special.

2 August 2016


This had to be one of the most stimulating and challenging three days of ideas ever held in the food world. Students and teachers involved in Otago Polytechnic’s 2016 International Food Design Conference set out to create a unique conference filled with new directions, innovative concepts and cutting edge presentations.

Certainly the 150 participants left with a whole new take on the importance of seeing food as far more than mere fuel for the body. Food was presented as the platform for business, art, new design and many of us had our thinking challenged by a raft of exciting perceptions and views.

The keynote speakers led the way each day: Marije Vozelgang of the Netherlands runs a food design studio in Amsterdam and set the scene with a dazzling visual video display of edgy and provocative installations and feasts she’d created. Her words of wisdom: “If you break bread with each other, you can’t break each other’s necks.” (Emmanuel Khan) Direct from Nigeria, although raised and educated in the USA, Chef Michael Elégèbedé shared his vision for the new project he is creating in his return to his birth country. He is planning a modern restaurant where traditional Nigerian foods and ingredients, sourced from small farmers will be shaped into a new form of high-end cuisine. His words of wisdom; “In Nigeria they cook stew just to eat. It should mean more than that.” On the third day, one of celebrating New Zealand food culture, the affable Al Brown discussed our cuisine and what it actually is. He reacquainted us with the joy of baking and preserving that is the backbone of cooking in home kitchens and reminded all to embrace the imperfections of food, to understand flavour and texture, and to enjoy the casual carefree environment that is New Zealand. His words of wisdom we should all take pride in: “The flavour of our food in New Zealand has the volume turned up.”

Along the way the presentations, workshops, shared meals and pop up dinners around the city were inspiring and breathtakingly delicious. Food waste and repurposing food was high on the agenda. Many of the presentations were held at Manaaki, the lecture theatre and cookery skills building. Truffles, ice cream, modern Māori food, southern seafood, coffee, raw food design, cocktails, bitter foods and even eccentric subjects such as matchstick design were discussed and debated. Some extraordinary pop-up dinners gave attendees the chance to relax and share food ideas.

The conference food was mind-blowingly great. Students had worked hard on concepts and the delivery of morning teas, lunches, afternoon teas and a spectacular Gala Dinner. The first day was all about repurposing food waste and some very real innovative recipes were delivered in the meals. The best: a fantastic spicy vegetable tajine. The second day had been themed and prepared by the Asian students, and morning tea’s delicate pastries and flavours were followed by delicious stuffed pork buns and exquisite fresh spring rolls for lunch.

But it was on the third day that I realised just how much of the real New Zealand food scene I had missed in my thirty years of a food writing career. Manaaki is at the heart of our unique way of eating and entertaining. I had never heard this term before, or if I had, no-one had explained it. Simply Manaaki means to show respect for, and this is inherently part of all Māori feasting. I was entranced by the Hangi workshop where we discussed Manaaki and then pulled wonderful titi (muttonbird) wrapped in thick fresh sea kelp from the steaming pit. And by the workshop presented by Hiakai, a modern Māori food project, and the final day’s brown bag lunch of pork and kumara sandwiches and little sweet doughnuts, inspired by a student’s memories of his marae lunches. A little card in the bag told the story, “As I play with my cousins I can hear my aunties laughing in the Wharekai as the smell of boil up fills the air. Taea Kai – Let’s Eat.” As I winged my way home north I felt determined about embracing the Manaaki in my life and spreading and sharing all those delicious words I had heard and learned.

2 August 2016


From time to time I go to extraordinary efforts to get to special dinners. And they never disappoint.

Back in May, when Giulio Sturla of Roots Restaurant in Lyttleton announced he was doing a collaboration with an ex-Noma Chef Jacobs Kear, I jumped at that. That involved flying to Christchurch, checking in to the gorgeous Heritage Hotel opposite the crumbled Cathedral (just restore it, quickly!) and then taking the bus from the city’s fantastic Bus Exchange. The dinner was extraordinary – a progression of carefully crafted dishes made lovingly from New Zealand’s finest fare, and matched to some extraordinary wines. Highlights (the courses were all highlights in their own way) were the kingfish cured in kelp, tiny fermented duck tacos, some ethereal blackfoot paua and egg tofu (pic above) and some extraordinary koji ice cream made with rice. There was a lovely synergy between Giulio’s affinity with foraged, native fare and Jacob’s superb Japanese inspiration. Dinners like this come by only occasionally and this was a You Had To Be There occasion.

The other standout dinners have both been prepared and executed by Hiakai (Māori word for hungry). Hiakai is the brainchild of Monique Fiso, a young woman who, having worked with Martin Bosley, set out for New York where she worked alongside Michelin starred Matt Lambert at The Musket Room. Monique brings finesse, style and imagination to her interpretation of modern Māori cuisine.

Her first dinner, (both were cooked with Kane Bambery,) was held in Dunedin at Bracken, themed around Southern seafood. Every bite was delicious, and my favourite was a paua porridge with celery cream and puffed barley. The second, held at Merediths, was a celebration of winter gardens. Hiakai’s menu included a superb modern Boil Up and a terrific play on Hangi food with chicken and cabbage. But the piece de resistance was native spinach fashioned into ice cream and served with poached rhubarb and rhubarb foam. I am sure they would be all terrified down on the marae, but it was an exceptional dinner orchestrated by an exceptional young chef. Even better it is great to see well established restaurants sharing their premises for occasions like these.

30 May 2016


There he was, the best restaurant critic in the entire world, on stage about three metres away from my seat, even larger in life than on the screen or on the page and sharing his thoughts on the current frenetic Los Angeles food scene. Jonathon Gold, writer for the LA Times and the star of a documentary City of Gold was one of the keynote speakers at a culinary conference I attended last month in Hollywood. (NZFF fans may have been savvy enough to view this delicious film last year in July in Auckland and it is only now on general release across America.) After a private showing of his film, we spent time listening to the man, who speaks as eloquently as he writes, while nibbling on tacos made by his favourite taco food truck cook.

Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants is the city’s eating bible. Gold ranks his favourites and for the last three years in a row Providence, the Melrose Avenue temple of dining that showcases modernist seafood, has won top spot. Now that’s truly professional, a critic who recognises the best and is not drawn by zany start-ups or the latest fad. But his list also includes hard-to-find strip mall joints run by immigrants that cook the food they love best for their new communities and even, heaven forbid, food trucks.

The picks he shared that night around Hollywood were Loteria Grill where you will eat some fine Mexican food, Hungry Cat for delicious seafood, Baroo where fermentation rules, and Soban where really hot spicy Korean food is on the menu. He also told us to call into the classic Frank and Musso’s, which is about as close to Old Hollywood you will ever get and where those elderly waiters probably served endless cocktails to Frank and Dino.

But on to my own experiences in the city of gold. After eating my fill of Mexican on a day long excursion through East LA (Los 5 Puntos had the best carnitas taco I’ve ever eaten) I was ready for some local seasonal food.

It would not be a Hollywood experience without an In-N-Out burger and fries. For decades this fast food joint just off Sunset Boulevard has been a mecca for college kids (Hollywood High School is across the street) and tourists. The meaty burger, bright with orange cheese and crunchy lettuce did not disappoint and I was pleased no-one important spotted me there.

Spago, (number 3 on Gold’s list) where Wolfgang Puck sowed the first seeds of his restaurant and catering empire was top of my list. It has taken me 33 years to get there since I was first alerted to this fancy-schmancy place on the pages of Gourmet. Puck is in the kitchen most days keeping up with culinary trends and constantly reworking a menu that appeals to the celebs and well-heeled (I spotted some measuring at least 6 inches) Gulfstream-owning crowd. In the outdoor remodelled courtyard we sipped champagne and sampled the famous pizza, which Puck has turned into an airport chain. It was the best pizza ever – asparagus, peas, mint, lamb sausage, fresh cheese in a crisp yet doughy crust. A real adventure and worth booking ahead for.

But best of all were the two meals eaten at Chef Nancy Silverton’s Mozza (Gold’s number 6). This clever chef seemingly owns the neighbourhood that was just a $4 Uber fare from our hotel and has four operating eateries within a vast commercial building. It is spring in LA so we feasted on a gorgeous array of spring vegetable inspired dishes at the main restaurant, Osteria Mozza. Burrata wrapped in house cured ham and topped with asparagus, peas, mint and pea shoots was one of the sweetest things I have devoured this year. It was from the small mozzarella bar tucked within the restaurant and Silverton herself presided over this, plating our dishes.

Next door, two nights later we ate at Chi Spacca, Silverton’s meaty Italian bistro which serves up grilled meats, an array of house-cured salumi and a stunning pane bianco made with truffled lardo. Incredibly delicious.

If my experience sounds good but a little far to get to, be patient. Nancy Silverton is bringing a taste of Mozza to Soul Bar for one night only on August 31. Call Olivia at Soul to register interest: 09 356 7249.

23 April 2016


Surrounded by the snowy caps of mountains, sparkling blue water in every direction and Spring’s tulips bursting forth in a colourful display all over the city, there is no place more beautiful on America’s West coast than the Canadian city of Vancouver.

There for a mere 36 hours and with the help of that city’s food guru Nathan Fong, we managed to sample the fare in four terrific restaurants. So for anyone contemplating a visit to this beautiful serene city here’s a list of top notch places not to miss.

Boulevard: Sitting almost in the foyer of the leading hotel in the Vancouver, Sutton Place, Boulevard is one of those terrific places that manages to make everyone feel comfortable. From the well-heeled clientele that choose to stay in house, to ladies and who lunch and the business set it’s all here. A clubby atmosphere at back, modern bustle and décor up front, and a classy raw bar – take your pick. The food is oh so fresh and modern and we snacked on the most innovative seafood tower ever with seafood fashioned into several tasty melanges accompanied by prawns, oysters, crab claws and more. Hamachi, served sashimi style with fresh spring garnishes was the highlight.

Coast: Not far away from Boulevard, in the centre of the glitzy downtown shopping precinct, Coast is the seafood flagship of the successful Glowbal restaurant group. Multi-layered, with a stunning circular cocktail and bar that dominates the restaurant, this is a lively scene that attracts an upbeat crowd. Try for a seat on the balcony overlooking the restaurant and enjoy feasting on an array of fresh innovative fish and shellfish dishes. We tried some soy paper wraps and a moist sweet crab cake. If you’re a steak lover head next door to the group’s Black and Blue that has a floor to ceiling spectacular display of meat quietly and seriously ageing in a temperature and air controlled cabinet.

Cin Cin: Lauded as Vancouver’s best Italian ristorante, this is a very popular and comfortable roomy place to enjoy traditional Italian fare with a twist. Everything is cooked with care and the focal point is the wood-fired grilled food that is filled with flavour delivering a genuine smoky punch. The pasta and rice primi courses are pretty damned good too and you’ll find some of the best service around. I loved my Tuscan style duck pappardelle as it was filled with robust flavours.

Joe Forte’s: Sunday brunch does not get much better. Inside the two tiered restaurant there are tables tucked into corners everywhere and a pianist tinkles away on the ivories to make everyone feel in the mood for relaxation. Upstairs there’s an outdoor patio with a beautiful garden and planted feature wall. The eclectic menu offers everything from oysters, freshly shucked or fried, to some lovely renditions of fish and chips, lobster rolls, salads and the ubiquitous but delicious Eggs Benny. We loved the fried pickles featured above!

And two things not to miss while in Vancouver; the Granville Island Market and the Butchart Gardens, a day long excursion to Vancouver Island, but utterly worth it as we got to see half a million tulips bursting into bloom. Gorgeous.

22 March 2016


They say, “Everything you have ever heard about India is true, but the opposite is true too.” After ten whirlwind days on a trip with the patrons of the Auckland Writers Festival to northern India, I will second that.

We started in New Delhi, moved on by coach to Agra to see the magnificent Taj Mahal and then had five days in Jaipur to attend that city’s famous Literature Festival. Along the way there were glorious buffet meals, superb street food, some interesting meals in restaurants and of course numerous visits to stunningly preserved temples, forts and other historic edifices that reached back to the 15th century.

No, it was not hot (I needed a sweater and jeans most of the time and I hadn’t packed those – thank goodness for the wonderful pashmina stores) and no again, I nor anyone else in our party of 20 was ever sick (we were careful to eat only hot cooked food.) We stayed in the stunning Imperial Hotel in Delhi which is totally reminiscent of the British Raj, while in Jaipur we almost took over the Narain Niwas Palace Hotel. Almost everyone simultaneously declared it the Third Exotic Marigold Hotel. It truly could have been.

The Literature festival was crazy. Stephen Fry, Margaret Attwood, Atul Gawande, Esther Freud, Helen McDonald and a host of other well regarded authors, musicians and artists took to the stage to share tales of their writing. The five day programme was bulging with opportunity for the thousands that attended to listen and learn, while the extended lunch buffet feasts were filled with every day with different curries, breads, rice dishes and more. Delicious!

Ten books were launched during the festival, and two of those were cookbooks. In their own way these events were complete opposites. The first, Indian Accent, was an utterly sophisticated book from the Delhi restaurant of the same name. The panel to launch the book in the crowded Google sponsored Mughal tent was headed by journalist and socialite Shobhaa De who took the audience through the book with the author, adventurous and cutting edge chef Manish Mehrotra, and Rohit Chawla, one of India’s top food photographers.

Indian Accent opened in Delhi in 2009 with an inventive Indian menu at The Manor, New Delhi. It serves Indian food for the twenty first century with a unique marriage of global ingredients and techniques with the flavours and traditions of India and has become India’s most celebrated restaurant. It is the only Indian restaurant named in the current list of the World’s Best 50 restaurants, and for one short minute I thought about buying the book to bring home to the very talented Sid Sahrawat of Cassia in central Auckland. Two things put me off. First was Mehrotra’s food is probably as inventive and interesting as the food as Cassia but certainly, by the look of the pages, is no better. It is good to know that here in New Zealand we have an equivalent. And secondly, the book was as big as a tombstone, and weighed in around two or three kilos. Try putting that in your suitcase!

As I took my seat in the Mughal tent for the second cookbook launch, Rajasthan On A Platter: Healthy, Tasty, Easy I pondered why almost every other seat was taken and the crowds were building on the edges. The authors were two seniors, Suman Bhatnagar and Pushpa Gupta, both beautifully dressed in saris and their silvery grey hair neatly swept back into buns. Their book is a simple publication with the look of home shot photography. They explained to a very calm, polite, but somewhat disinterested audience, Rajasthani cuisine is famous worldwide and in this book they explore the different types of Rajasthani dishes and its nuances. They were very proud of their recipes, carefully researched and tested, and emphasised the health factor and calorie analysis of their food. I whispered to the women next to me, “Why are these elderly ladies so popular with so many young attendees?” They explained that the following session, Literature vs Cinema – Influence in Shaping Beauty Ideals had been transferred at the last moment to the large marquee we were sitting in and that everyone was claiming a place to see their Bolliwood heroes.

And that was exactly why the crowds were there. I still think about those lovely ladies and how excited they must have been to draw such a huge audience. By the time their session wrapped up more than 4000 Indians, both young and old had gathered. Some were even perching in the surrounding trees for a better view. I hastily exited, giving up my seat to my daughter Katie who was keen to see the next session. She loved it, texting me, “This panel is mad. But everyone here is a crazed fan screaming at every word.”