Forget Prince Harry, food, glorious food is the star of the Chelsea Flower Show

Date:23-05-2013 07:58:05 read:6

Forget Prince Harry, food, glorious food is the star of the Chelsea Flower Show

The barbecue has come of age via a startling new range of outdoor cooking equipment

Hot stuff: the Big Green Egg is the latest top-of-the-range barbecue must-have  

The crowds have been flocking to Prince Harry’s garden, but the real “oohs” and “aahs” at the Chelsea Flower Show this year are being generated not by flowers, but by food.

Audiences gathered to watch a demonstration of a gadget, which looked like a small atomic bomb, but was in fact an outdoor oven. As the heavy, ceramic lid was lifted to reveal a succulent leg of lamb, a sigh of satisfaction emerged from the throng. “This is the future of outdoor cooking,” said Ellie Ezrine, from Big Green Egg. The crowd nodded as if they were prehistoric worshippers being shown fire for the first time.

Chelsea is, indeed, all about outdoor cooking this year. Yes, the hazel looked majestic and the alliums in the great pavilion caught the eye, but the planting has been matched by the braziers, fire pits, fridges and double-burners on display.

Jinny Blom, the designer of Prince Harry’s Sentebale Forget-Me-Not Garden, tells me: “I’m doing a garden with an outdoor kitchen at the moment. I always thought they were a bit naff – a rusty barbecue covered in some dirty tarpaulin. But people are increasingly cooking outdoors. I think it’s partly because they just like the food produced. Also, if they spend all day in an office and they commute, when they get home they want to interact with the outside world.”

Of course, it is rarely warm enough to be outside in the evening. Which is why the rusty barbecue has morphed in recent years into the fully-fledged alfresco kitchen. Consumers want not just a grill, but another room tacked on to the house; a “kitchen without walls”, as the brochures say.

A key prop is the fire pit, this season’s chimenea. It is a contraption designed to keep the Emergency Services in a job: an incinerator, open to the elements, and lethal to any passing toddler. But the Chelsea set were lapping them up at the Timothy Addison Ross stand.

Kara Gnodde, an elegant customer with a South African accent, says: “That’s why they are so brilliant in England. It’s only warm enough to sit outside for about one night of the year, but with this,” she said, pointing to a £750 large cast-iron bowl, “you can stay out to midnight. And they are brilliant to cook on.”

But why get your hands dirty, throwing logs on a pit, when you could settle down at Gaze Burvill’s £37,000 elegant oak table, which was being displayed alongside a Jamie Oliver-branded outdoor pizza oven (an extra £10,000). The patio, on which the table sits, has sophisticated vents which provide a gentle, warm breeze to snuggle your feet. “Once your feet get cold, there is no way you can ever get them warm again,” explains the designer Simon Burvill. He’s right, of course. But I do query his prices, which chill the blood.

“They are extraordinary prices, but people who buy our pieces are buying works of art,” he offers.

But it’s a fad not confined to chi-chi Chelsea designers – basic supermarkets have also got in on the act. Tesco sells the Landmann Avalon 5 Burner Gas BBQ for £1,700; Lakeland says its Heston Blumenthal £780 wood-fired oven is selling well; while B&Q’s most popular product is not a recession-busting £20 number, but a £129 model, with attached chopping board, warming rack and bottle opener. A spokesman says, “the barbecue is increasingly being viewed as an outdoor appliance”.

Admittedly, many of these verge on the ugly. Aficionados want their outdoor kitchen to look as stylish as their Corian-topped, Nigella-accessorised indoor kitchen, which is partly why the Big Green Eggs are being snapped up despite their £800 price tags and why the likes of Kirstie Allsopp and Raymond Blanc are fans. They promise to both slow-roast joints as well as flash-cook pizzas using charcoal, but they are also far funkier-looking than your traditional garden centre garden grill.

The outdoor kitchen was inevitable for a country that loved barbecuing but was being hamstrung by the recession, says Ezrine. “They’ve fixed up their houses, now they’ve moved outside. They love to entertain, but they’re not going out to restaurants. What they are prepared to do is invest in their gardens.”

Now all we need is the weather.

    Ever For Health Copy Rights 2013