Food and Drink: Gastropod

THE Culinary Olympics, a four-yearly marathon cookery competition which was founded in 1900, will be held in Frankfurt in October. The two main events of the Olympics, which is organised by the World Association of Cooks' Societies (WACS), are the national cold buffet table and the restaurant of nations. Various teams from the United Kingdom will be taking part in the Olympics, but only the official British team will be entering the two main events.

The buffet is a massive display, 20 metres square, showcasing such arcane artistry as fat carving and pastillage (pastry sculpture), with a huge illuminated interpretation of the Green Man in wicker interwoven with greenery as the centrepiece. All of it is being prepared in advance.

For the hot food section, the five-man team will work in a glass-fronted kitchen, cooking a three-course menu for more than 100 people on a budget of DM9 (about pounds 3.70 at the time of writing) per person. The British team recently staged a trial run in final preparation for this gruelling test of culinary skill and stamina.

Under the leadership of Brian Cotterill, executive development chef for Marks & Spencer, they served Kensington chicken royale, a light chicken mousse with goat's cheese and topped with a brunoise (small dice) of black olives; boiled beef Charterhouse, a fillet that had been brined and smoked before being poached and served with baby vegetables and Savoy cabbage; and bread-and-butter souffle with Victoria plums and apricot ice-cream.

The meal, according to one of the 110 guests, was 'not bad' and the occasion, said Mr Cotterill, gave the team valuable match practice before going for gold in Frankfurt. Brian Steele, executive chef at the Regent's Park London Marriott Hotel and one of the team selectors, declared himself bullish about their chances. 'The British will win on pure professionalism and dedication,' he said.

THE idea of turning up to a desolate airport at 11.30am on a Sunday, boarding a light aircraft and flying over the south of England for a couple of hours while enjoying a good Ruby Murray (curry) may not be everyone's cup of tea. But as a connoisseur of meals eaten under peculiar circumstances, the Gastropod found the concept of Le Raj Avion, which claims to be the world's first flying Indian restaurant, irresistible. One envisioned comfortable couches rather than the usual airline seats, serene stewardesses in saris, a panoramic view and food that was out of this world. Inevitably, the reality was rather more prosaic.

The 42-seater De Havilland Dash 7 aircraft, while doubtless perfectly practical for commuting to and from Belgium (its regular route) was no more comfortable than the average charter flight and the galley, from which fish cutlets and chunks of tandoori chicken on vividly coloured rice were distributed, was evidently no better equipped. The crew were wearing rather dashing uniforms, but the view was obscured by such a thick layer of cloud that we might just as well have been sitting in a flight simulator.

The food, although a cut above the fare regularly doled out by airlines, was distinctly pedestrian. Still, free champagne was in abundant supply, although a rather turbulent descent left over-indulgent passengers feeling a bit queasy.

However, Enam Ali, of Le Raj restaurant in Epsom (0737 371 064), whose brainchild this is, was undeterred. He pointed out that this is the first venture of its kind, that he is learning with every flight, and that the idea may have more pertinent applications for corporate entertaining. In future, the Gastropod will stick to terrestrial tandoori, possibly at Le Raj on terra firma, but those who are intrigued by what amounts to the most expensive Indian takeaway in the world, at pounds 95 per person, can make reservations on the restaurant number. Le Raj Avion departs every fortnight and bookings are being taken to November.

JULIA CHILD, octogenarian doyenne of American television cookery, was in England last week to attend the Oxford Food Symposium and to suggest setting up a British chapter of the American Institute of Wine and Food (AIWF), which she co-founded in 1981. A non-profit-making educational organisation, dedicated to promoting a broad exchange of information and ideas about food, the AIWF is the only group of its kind in which trade professionals mix with amateur gastronomes to explore the pleasures of the table.

The institute has nearly 7,000 members in 33 cities across the United States who organise local events such as tutored tastings, cookery workshops and scholarly lectures, and maintain a library of cookery books at the University of California in San Diego. Members subscribe to the AIWF newsletter and to the Journal of Gastronomy, and have the opportunity to meet celebrated chefs and dine with them. A British chapter would operate on similar lines. For further details, contact Sarah Nops at Le Cordon Bleu (071-935 3503).

PROSPECTIVE members of the Institute of Wine and Food will be interested to hear that Leith's School of Food and Wine is hosting a series of demonstrations next week as part of its four-week advanced cookery course. The demonstrations are open to the public at a cost of pounds 15 per two-hour session. Tuesday is summer buffet, Wednesday is nutritious vegetarian dishes, and Thursday is cocktail-party canapes. On Friday Fiona Burrell, the school's principal, will demonstrate an ambitious dinner-party menu and give tips on freelance catering - both for the industry and for prospective party-givers seeking hired help. For information and reservations, telephone 071-229 0177.

REPLIES fairly flooded in from folk hoping to win bottles of Maker's Mark Gourmet Sauce in the Gastropod's competition, but there can be only six winners and they are: Paul Anderson of Hampshire, John Booth of Baron's Court, Bill Britt of Leighton Buzzard, Gerald Jessop of Surrey, Ralph Loeper from Germany and Mr R Philpot of Wiltshire. They all knew that the difference between Maker's Mark and other bourbons is that the mash in Maker's Mark is made with wheat grains, not rye.

The winners may be intrigued to learn that most of the winter wheat is grown by an order of Catholic nuns which owns a large piece of land about three properties away from the distillery at Star Hill Farm in Kentucky. 'The Sisters of Loretto are wonderful, because they just don't know how to screw up,' declares Bill Samuels of Maker's Mark. 'They are so conscientious, plus they've got the best land in the area.'

Contestant Beth Nelson, who signs herself as 'a Southern gal in London town', was off-beam with her anecdote about her mother, who apparently always carried a bottle of Kentucky's finest bourbon in her luggage, since it was only sold east of the Mississippi and south of the Mason-Dixon line. Isn't that the ad campaign for Rebel Yell you're paraphrasing, ma'am? Anyway, Bill Samuels likes your style, so he's sending you some of his sauce, too.