Tuesday 18 September 2012

A word of warning Abergavenny!

Abergavenny Food Festival came to a close this afternoon after a great star studded weekend of talks, workshops and demonstrations: Yotam Ottolenghi, Pieere Koffman and Claudia Roden to name but a few. www.abergavennyfoodfestival.com For all those involved with real food either professionally or because they simply appreciate good food and who have never been, it is a great opportunity for finding new producers, new tastes, making discoveries, new contacts and catching up with old ones.

For me it was good to catch up with the Abergavenny team, Martin, Kim and Kathy and stalwarts such as Freddy in the Market Hall Stage who make the venues and the events work so well. I always say Abergavenny is to food as Edinburgh Fringe is to comedy. Overnight the little market town becomes a great big national food community, a crossroads, a meeting place for British food and foodies. In an industry that never stands still it is so lovely to bump into old friends and make new ones, exchange ideas and pleasantries; not to mention discovering new producers and tasting their wares and seeing the great British public wallowing in the sheer joy of the food revolution.

But a word of warning Abergavenny! The atmosphere and smell in the brewery yard on Saturday afternoon was bordering on Saturday night closing time fever and smelled of beer, chips and burgers. Something I had noticed for the first time at Fringe venues across Edinburgh earlier this year. By Sunday thankfully it had passed and all was well in Abergavenny.

It was great to see food writing friends, Joanna Blythman www.joannablythmanwriting.com who comes from Scotland and loves this part of the world and Alex Mackay www.alexmackay.com who will be coming to The Chef’s Room fish and cookery school in the spring to take a hands on class from his new book Everybody, everyday. www.thechefsroom.co.uk. Great to see Henry Herbert the butcher brother of the fabulous Baker boys duo who I had not seen since we cut up a pig together when he was at the Coach and Horses in Clerkenwell and good to say hello to the rest of the Hobbs House Bakery dynasty who I met at a Foodie Bugle bash earlier this year. Thanks Hobbs tots for the sticker I am still wearing it. www.hobbshousebakery.co.uk So much going on and so many foodies it is also easy to miss Abergavenny regulars such as Richard Ehrlich enriching the festival with his erudite cock-tales and Paolo Arrigo’s fabulous Franchi seeds www.seedsofitaly.com/catalogue

Franco did a dem on the Market Hall and I ran around a great deal as did Lea and Mike our volunteer s. The demo was manfully compared by Mike Morgan of the stately hotel Llansantffraed Court. We have been tweeting pals for a while but we had not met before. It was good to see Steve Robbins from Prego in Monmouth who was demming after us; Prego is a gem of a restaurant. I regret to say I have not been for ages - I must get out more! www.pregomonmouth.co.uk especially as I hear so many good reports about his food. It was good to meet Cyrus Todiwala of CafĂ© Spice Namaste www.cyrustodiwala.co.uk After the dem I went down to the Castle for my Rude Health rant and I tucked into Cyrus Todiwala’s chick pea curry while listening to others ranting.

I followed Ruth ranting about the rise in popularity of light olive oil as a healthy option (which it is not) rather than using good first pressing extra virgin oil. The www.yellowhousekitchen.co.uk Sardinian single-olive single-estate oil is utterly delicious. I have just finished a bottle (I keep it for dressing salads and dishes that need a flourish of oil. It is delicate but robust leaving a rich aftertaste. Ruth Tudor, farmer and clarion for authentic food, of Trealy Farm charcuterie www.meatcourse.co.uk took over the ranting baton with “Recession” what recession? Reminding us that the days of cheap food are gone forever and we need to be mindful about what we eat and the way our food is produced. My own rant was against the overly used phrase “passionate about food” or in other words is food in danger of becoming a spectators sport? Are we passionate about food like we are passionate about football? Do we shout about it from the sidelines rather than getting out there and playing or rather getting in the kitchen and cooking and feeding ourselves and our families? Rude Health cereal’s ranting corner is strategically placed next to the Blorenge bar; a great place to enjoy some local ale or cider and listen to us foodies spouting about the things that irritate us. www.rudehealth.com

The Castle venue was a delight, focusing on food and families with plenty of green space to stretch out in and enjoy the scene. The Lemonade Lady’s, Sally’s lemonade is to die for. She is positioned close to the castle mound where the children run free entertaining themselves by sliding down the grassy bank on cardboard boxes and plastic sacks. I would add here that the lemonade is more than just a children’s drink it is crisp and refreshing; just what is needed on a sunny afternoon: especially after a plate of chickpea curry and a rant.

As I was making my way back to the Market Hall to pick up my kit I stumbled across the Mad Hatter and friends setting out a delightfully insane tea party. Not quite sure who was most enthralled the children or the adults.

The famous journalists, food writers and restaurateurs that assemble (and they love to come) in Abergavenny are the reason that the Abergavenny Food Festival is held in such high regard but it is the stall holders and producers that are at its heart. The possibility of seeing, tasting and buying so many artisan products in one place and the warm Welsh welcome the town affords is what draws people to Abergavenny over and over again from all over the country.

There are so many producers it is difficult to mention one without fear of offending others however some of my favourites include Graham and Ruth Waddington of Native Breeds taking Frankfurters to another level, James Swift’s Trealy farm charcuterie – love his pork and fennel seed salami but still to taste his award winning lamb carpaccio. Kate Glover’s wonderfully fragrant Lahloo loose leaf teas, Little Yellow House Sardinia olive oil, Severn and Wye’s heavenly world leading smoked eel, Isle of Wight tomatoes and so much more. Vin Sullivan with his fabulous fish in the Priory and the cheese producers in Lion Square all make for a fantastic festival.

Roll on December 9th the Abergavenny food festival returns before Christmas.

Saturday 8 September 2012

Thank you Ludlow for a lovely day!

Ludlow Food Festival is such a good place to catch up with friends and colleagues. Saw lots of Lesley Mackley; leading light of the festival. Even managed an end of the day Prosecco from Ludlow's Twin town in the Veneto, San Pietro in Cariano (where the Valpolicella comes from) with her and Mark. Henrietta Green turned up too. Saw Will Holland from La Becasse (wonderful restaurant) next year I will get organised and stay the night and have a meal there - should I book now? Then I bumped into Alan Murchison from L'Ortolan - both chefs contributed to Cured.

I had a chance to chat with Wendy from Peter's Yard with her delicious Scandi type crisp breads, Katie, compare from Wot's cooking, Diana from Books Books Books all so supportive! I have been liaising with Sue Chantler over my taste workshop for some time and finally got to meet and work with her too.

My Slow Food Taste workshop on Italian finger food made with local produce went well, Trish in the kitchen did her stuff brilliantly and managed to fry 40 quail's eggs without any trouble. Rather her than me!The Beacon Rooms are beautiful and the workshops with Sue Chantler are very popular. I then did a demo on the Olive Stage in the afternoon. It was advertised for some reason as Dolce Vita but was "not raw at all" ceviche, carpaccio, crudo, tartare, sashimi, raw fish recipes from Cured. The book sold well afterwards.

Naturally you can't go to a food festival without buying lots of goodies. Cureton's moist and meaty pork and pheasant sausages www.curetonsfinefood.co.uk , a variety of charcuterie products from Wenlock Edge Farm www.wenlockedgefarm.co.uk, warm kippers straight from the smoke www.ludlowtraditionalsmokehouse.com Grana Padano, Speck and Sopressa from Ludlow's twin town www.prolocosanpietroincariano.it www.valpolicellaweb.it

I did not buy but loved Ursula Evans sensational traditional fruit cakes www.mycottage kitchen.co.uk If you do not make your own Christmas cake, order now. They are not only delicious but the presentation is gorgeous too. The cakes won Great Taste gold 2011 and her Christmas cake was cited as "Best classic Christmas cake" by Felicity Cloak (Guradian.co.uk) Talking of Christmas, Kelly Bronze www.kellyturkeys.co.uk bred to be wild, also a Great Taste gold winner in 2011 is a veritable feast of flavour and available mail order. Cheese producer Sarah Hampton of Brock Hall Farm Dairy won coverted 3 star gold for her Capra Nouveau at this year's Great Taste Awards and it was voted one of the Top 50 products in the UK. She has an original marketing slant on all her cheeses. The collection is called The Art of Artisan Cheese and individual cheeses are associated by their names with famous Art movements. This is no gimmick the product is outstanding made with milk from her pedigree heard of rare breed goats.

In a moment of calm during the day I sat in the sun, enjoying the scene of crowds of British foodies enjoying the prospect of so much regional produce, all the while eating a raspberry sorbet, Hillbrooks ice cream www.hillbrooks.co.uk made on my own doorstep and of which I had never heard but will never forget as the intensity of the taste transported me to field of raspberries.

Thank you Ludlow for a lovely day.