Article by Joanna Sarah-Freedman
The Hunger Stage is back, and this year it’s bigger than ever.
We’re popping up at festivals up and down the UK, playing games, and even sneaking backstage to chat with some of your favourite artists about all things festival food.
Yup, we’re firm believers that the food at music festivals doesn’t get nearly as much love as it deserves, and we’re on a great big mission to change that.
After a chat with rapper Crystal Millz at Parklife, we booked in a cheeky call with Sophie Ellis-Bextor to talk all things food before her headline gigs at Camp Bestival Dorset and Shropshire in the coming weeks.
She knows her way around the kitchen (disco) and she’s even written a cookbook, but what’s her go-to festival meal, and the surprising essential on her rider?
The Hunger Stage meets… Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Twisted: What food would you pick to headline the Hunger Stage and why?
Sophie: “The great thing is you don’t really have to have one thing. I did my first festival in the late 90s and then the options were some kind of noodle or a sad looking burger, but now I’m just as likely to have char siu buns, cheesy fries, duck wraps… the game has just been upped hugely.
“I guess if I had to pick, I’m quite into having things like poke bowls, because if I’m at a festival and it’s because I’m there doing a gig, I need something that fills me up and gives me energy but doesn’t make me feel too full.
“I need something that fuels me and gives me adrenaline. So, poke bowl please!”
T: What festival food are you avoiding?
S: “Only because of the work thing, really, I can’t go too indulgent, or I’ll just switch off.
“I love things like fish and chips so much but that for me would just be my body’s way of saying, ‘oh, you’re clocking off’ and that’s the wrong message to send myself before going on stage!
“It’s that stuff I have saved for when I’ve finished work, though.”
T: At Twisted we’re all about fusion, if you could combine two festival foods together to create a mashup dish, what would that be?
S: “Oh wow. The first thing that sprung to mind is actually Korean because I really like Korean food. I think it lends itself well to festivals because a lot of it’s cooked quite quickly.
“You get the umami and the chilli spice of it. Then I might mix it with something Japanese because I do think those flavours and ingredients are quite good for getting me fuelled up.
“So yeah, a Southeast Asian hybrid. I’m picturing rice and kimchi…maybe some sort of chicken and some edamame beans, and definitely some chilli and pickles.”
T: If you were a festival food item, what would you be?
S: “I think I’d be a chip! It’s hard to get chips wrong, and they’re a perennial favourite.
“I don’t think I’ve met anybody who doesn’t like chips. Recently at a festival they had a whole store that was just about cheesy chips, and actually at that certain time of day it was exactly the right thing.
“It was after we finished work, early evening, and we had some really great, fat chips with melted cheese on top – they were pretty darn good. A people pleaser. That’s me!”
T: You’ve travelled around a lot performing, what country do you think does it best in terms of food?
S: “I recently came back from a gig in Oslo and that food was absolutely delicious. They had a big barbecue and they had loads of different salads, spreads and dips and it was really good.
“I do like that sort of Scandinavian palate – I’m into that kind of stuff – but that being said, another place we just did a gig was Mexico, and there you’ve got wraps, guacamole, salsa, tortilla chips, and again, barbecued meat.
“They also obviously have tequila for when you’re celebrating post show, too. Everything was amazing, so yeah, I think Mexico is my winner.
“Tacos, cold beers and tequila… it just works, doesn’t it?”
T: What food and drink is on your rider throughout festival season?
S: “We’ve built a cocktail rider, basically, and we swap it around each gig. We’ve now got a flight case that you can open up and it’s got everything you need to make a load of different cocktails, from Aperol Spritz and Negronis to Margaritas.
“My husband Richard, who runs my band and is the bass player, is really good at making cocktails. So, we’ve gone for the raw ingredients so that we can basically just do it ourselves.
“We get food as well, but we don’t go too crazy. There’s always things that we can snack on: humous and dips and crudités…and then I always have gherkins on my rider without fail.
“I really love gherkins and I quite like seeing what people go for to buy for me – whether it’s the sliced big ones, whole really massive ones or little cornichons.
“I’ve built up an impressive gherkin selection because I quite often end up bringing them home with me!”
T: Now on to music, who is the best person you’ve ever seen perform at a festival?
S: “I’m spoilt! I get to see lots of good acts at festivals. I recently watched Pulp and that was pretty cool.
“I mean, I’ve seen lots of good things at festivals, but that was two or three weeks ago and they were really good.
“The other band that came to mind was at Glastonbury and it was War On Drugs. Their music’s beautiful, but sometimes it’s not just that. It was golden hour, the sun was going down, I was with all my friends and the mood was just right. It was a really happy moment.”
T: If you had to camp with one music legend at a festival who would it be?
S: “I think I’d go with Dolly Parton. I hear she gets up at four o’clock every morning to write a new song so that’d be quite a nice way to wake up as the sun’s rising!
“I’d quite like to see how she manages her fabulous aesthetic. Also, she’s so smart and she’s got a lot of humility, so I feel like she’d be decent to share the space with.
“She’s not going to be too much of a diva about things. She’s going to bring some wholesome, good fun.”
T: Do you have any pre-show rituals?
S: “I don’t really! I do my own hair and makeup when I’m getting ready and I like having that time to get in the right headspace, but I’ve got quite a lot of children and some of them are still pretty young, so I quite often bring them with me, meaning I’ve ended up being able to get ready in very chaotic circumstances!
“I can be quite rough and ready. I’ve had festivals where we’ve been stuck getting there and turn up 10 minutes before we go on, so I can have to be able to whip it around fairly fast.
“The good thing is I don’t really get nervous, I just get excited. It’s the same job I always do, it’s not like I was suddenly going out there and doing a new circus trick or something.”
T: Has anyone thrown anything crazy at you whilst you were on stage? (bonus point if it’s a food item…)
S: “No food, but I did a show last night and someone gave me some sunglasses. Quite often it might be like hats or t-shirts that people want me to try on.
“If I’m lucky, I might get some flowers or something like that. I think I once had one trace of underwear and I’m trying remember if it was a bra or pants. It’s funny, I’m up for it.
“[Now people have read this] I hope there’s no gherkins! I don’t wanna be hit with a pickle, I think that would not be a sign the gig is going well!”
T: What is the song you’re most looking forward to playing at festivals this summer and why?
S: “We do quite an eclectic little set. It’s a lot of party tunes, but I think there’s one I’ve got called Heartbreak and it’s just such a powerful song. Whenever it kicks in it always sounds so big.
“It’s quite late into our gigs, everybody’s really warmed up and the crowd are jumping – I get everybody clapping and jumping – and it’s the song that always makes me feel like a superhero.”
Stay tuned for more interviews with music talent at festivals, plenty of lovely food chat and maybe even a recipe or two.
Oh, and on that note… Twisted is busy knocking up Sophie’s dream festival food together as we speak.
Fancy a Japanese-Korean festival banger inspired by the Queen of the kitchen disco? Well, watch this space!