IT'S THE WEEKEND: Abergavenny Food Festival a fabulous feast for all of the senses
THINGS have come a long way since 180 guests sat down at a trestle table in Abergavenny’s Market Hall to enjoy a delicious dinner in celebration of the first food festival in October 1999.
“Despite the manful efforts of the blow-heaters, many of us kept our coats on; but spirits were high. We were well fed, well entertained and were reliably informed afterwards that the last time a large group had sat down to eat together in the Market Hall was during the VE celebrations in 1945,” explained festival director Martin Orbach, who founded the festival, together with Chris Wardle, chairman of the festival board. Both are farmers who were looking for a way to make small farming businesses financially viable in the aftermath of BSE.
From humble beginnings, the festival has grown into a hugely successful annual event and now attracts more than 30,000 people over two days, with accommodation within a ten-mile radius of the town booked up months in advance by visitors – some of whom come from as far as Australia specifically to experience the culinary delights and meet some of the finest chefs and writers.
Mr Orbach said: “This is our 15th festival. The first was held on a wet Sunday in October.
“On that day about 30 local food and drink producers exhibited their wares in the Market Hall and, despite the weather, we were all surprised and delighted by the number of people who came out to taste and buy their products.
“Marguerite Patten and Franco and Anne Taruschio gave talks, and in the evening Martyn Lewis chaired a debate about GM foods.”
Foodies from across the UK come to immerse themselves in all things food and drink, from watching master-classes and demonstrations, to attending food and drink talks and sampling produce from more than 200 exhibitors around the town centre and in five venues– the Market Hall, Brewery Yard, Priory Centre, Lion’s Place and the castle.
Big names to have visited the festival over the years include Pierre Koffman, Yotam Ottolenghi, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Claudia Roden.
Mr Orbach said one of the guests who stands out from over the years is the American chef Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.
He said: “I remember him being interviewed by AA Gill in the Borough Theatre.”
“We were very lucky to get him.”
This year is no exception, with one of Britain’s best-loved cooks arriving in town yesterday. The Padstow-based chef Rick Stein talked to Xanthe Clay about his memoir Under the Mackerel Sky in front of a sell-out crowd at the Borough Theatre.
The weekend is jam-packed with offerings from top chefs including Bryn Williams, Scandinavia’s Signe Johansen, Cyrus Todiwala and TV presenter Kate Humble, to name but a few.
Today sees world-famous Arctic Circle chef Magnus Nilsson talking to TV chef Valentine Warner in the town’s Borough Theatre at 2pm.
Mr Nilsson is currently the chef of the renowned restaurant Faviken, in the north of Sweden. The restaurant, which has only 12 seats, is near the Arctic Circle, and features a menu based on year-round living off the land. The dinner-only menu has made the restaurant one of the most innovative in the world and features dishes such as Top Blade from Retired Dairy Cow and Broth of Autumn Leaves.
Among the highlights tomorrow ( Sunday) , is a tutored-tasting by cider-maker Simon Day at 3.30pm in Lion’s Place. Mr Day will present the ‘Once Upon a Tree’ range that won the BBC Food and Farming Drinks Producer of the Year 2012. He’ll introduce the range with Bill Bradshaw, co-author of The World’s Best Ciders. Tickets are adults only at £7. TV presenter and Monmouthshire resident Kate Humble, who runs a working farm at Penallt, will be in conversation with former TV colleague Genevieve Taylor at the Borough Theatre at 1.30pm. ‘Chicken and Egg-conversation and cookery includes demo’s from Genevieve’s book ‘A Good Egg.’ There is plenty of entertainment throughout the day for youngsters at The Food Academy (sponsored by Organic Centre Wales), which is located in the Dome at the Castle. There will be workshops and the chance for budding chefs to work with Jethro Carr from the Kitchen Academy to make an array of treats. The castle is great for families, with plenty of food stalls, live music and activities for children.
The grand finale of the academy’s ‘Grow It, Cook It, Eat It Harvest Meal’ competition for secondary schools, compered by Kate Humble, takes place at 10.30am in the Market Hall on Sunday.
Among the highlights are the open-air Party at the Castle from 7.30pm on Saturday. Live music will be performed by the UK’s favourite festival Bhangra Band RSVP, International Jazz Disasters and Little Rumba and Lori Campbell. Tickets are £15.50 per person.
Incredible Edibles Live with Stefan Gates kicks off at the Borough Theatre on Saturday at 11am, where the audience will be treated to a live show featuring edible insects, mindblowing food science and some very big explosions. Tickets are £6 adults and £3 children.
There will also be tutored tastings with chefs, wine and ale experts such as Master Chocolatier Marc Demarquette, Scott Davies and Jeff Evans.
For those wanting a sit-down dining experience, Anand George, the multi-award-winning chef and founder of Purple Poppadom restaurant in Cardiff returns to St Michael’s Centre with his innovative style of Nouvelle Indian Cuisine with a pop-up restaurant. There are dining options for 7pm tonight (Sat) and Sunday breakfast at 9.30am or 11am and for lunch at 1pm.
Organisers are also offering visitors the chance to sample a taste of Spain by showcasing producers from one of Europe’s greatest city markets. La Boqueria in Barcelona was established 170 years ago and has 250 traders. Among the traders are a fifth generation stallholder who specialises in fruit and vegetables, herbs, edible flowers and delicatessen products and a cheese-monger.
Mr Orbach said he relishes the atmosphere that the festival creates in the town over the weekend.
“Abergavenny always has a carnival atmosphere during the festival and the whole town turns out.”
“We strongly believe it’s about being fun and getting people interested in food,” he added.
The festival’s new chief executive, Heather Myers, said she has been an avid festival-goer for many years and is relishing the role.
She said: “This is one of the biggest and most influential festivals in the UK with a great reputation for hospitality, fun and feasting.”
“I have been going to the festival for many years so when the opportunity arose to get involved I jumped at the chance.
“This year we’re keen to promote the children’s events around The Food Academy at the Castle and to widen our appeal for families. We’ve also improved the use of the Welsh language in our printed literature.”
The festival is run by a not-for-profit organisation which employs 100 young people from the local area to work at the event itself and does not rely on volunteers.
It is one of three events to be short-listed in the National Tourism Awards and is held between September 21 and 22.
Weekend stroller tickets give access to five venues and cost £14 for adults and children under sixteen go free if with an adult.For each day stroller tickets cost £9 adults on Saturday and £7 on Sunday. Strollers can be purchased over the weekend from various ticket points. Be sure to pick up a copy of the free festival guide on arrival. Tickets for most of the individully ticketed events are available to purchase online for printing off at home. To see the full programme visit www.abergavennyfoodfestival.com
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