The invitation to the first ever IF Oxford Science and Ideas Festival dinner didn't give much away, only that there would be a short talk from a philosophy professor at the end, so I arrived not really knowing what to expect. The concepts of 'science and ideas' covers an area too broad to count as a theme in itself, so the subject of the talk had endless possibilities.
I ended up discussing the many useful applications of virtual reality with two charming representatives of an engineering company, before considering the complexities of language and translation with a delegation from
Dr Dane Comerford, the festival's director, told me that the choice to have a fully vegetarian menu was a deliberate one, in keeping with the scientific theme, given the overwhelming body of research suggesting that meat consumption is terrible for the planet. The intention was to demonstrate that a meat-free three-course meal can be just as luxurious as its carnivorous equivalent, and it certainly succeeded. The starter was a blue cheese soufflé, twice-baked for extra crispiness, accompanied by a poached pear with a pickled walnut dressing. These looked very pretty on the plate and were even more delightful to eat, with the strong saltiness of the blue cheese softened by the sweetness of the pear so that the balance of flavour was just right.
The wild mushroom roulade was also fantastic, proving just as hearty as a pie or roast, without the guilt. I couldn't quite taste the shallot in the dressing as much as I would have liked, but this is a minor quibble: the overall effect was impressive and filling. The chefs clearly saved the best for last, however, with a dessert that was simply stunning: a delicious medley of different appley elements all combining magnificently. The apple sorbet was particularly interesting - you could almost pick out the variety of apple just from the taste - as was the almost toffee-like seed florentine (about which I had been a bit perturbed when I saw it on the menu!). Based on this experience of vegetarian fine dining, I would console meat-eaters that giving up their carbon heavy steaks will open a world of culinary possibilities.
Professor Peter Millican in something of a legend amongst
The post dinner discussion provided an inspiring and enlivening aspect to a truly special occasion, and if this event can be seen as a microcosm of the festival itself then I would urge you not to miss it: it runs until this 22nd October and intends to return next year.