Saturday, 28 September 2013

Abergavenny Food Festival 2013 - A Review from the Front Line


Abergavenny hosts one of the UK's top food festivals every September. This great town in south east Wales is surrounded by incredible restaurants and locally produced food. On Festival weekend they are joined by over 200 stall holders from around the country, and the streets, market hall, and castle grounds are packed with incredible sights, tastes and aromas.

It isn't only food and drink that are the main attractions. After fifteen years, Abergavenny has a reputation that draws top chefs, writers and other experts hosting masterclasses, pop up restaurants, tutored tastings and talks. Some of this year's guests included Rick Stein, Valentine Warner, Pete Brown, Xanthe Clay, Roger Stevens (who really fired up the kids with his passion for organic produce and his ability to whip up delicious treats in a Ready,Steady, Cook style), and Magnus Nilsson. Abergavenny isn't simply about eating well while you're here. Visitors also have the opportunity to learn about how to source great food (even if that means foraging) and prepare it at home, too. While most of the action takes place over Saturday and Sunday there are pre-festival and fringe festival events in the week leading up to it.

My view as I emptied waste water from washing up into the recycling tank. Virtually everything is recycled and the refuse team worked non stop
 There has always been a great family friendly vibe at Abergavenny Food Festival. It really is a fab day out and, as someone who has kids of my own and who works with children, I was super impressed with this year's offerings. The Festival's new Chief Executive, Heather Myers, has done an awesome job at ensuring there is something to appeal to even the youngest visitors. As well as the Food Academy where free masterclasses are run by Jethro Carr of the Kitchen Academy, there was live cow milking; CBBC's Stefan Gates and his Incredible Edibles Live show, where he encouraged kids to eat, um, insects; and the grand final of Organic Centre Wales' Cook It, Grow It, Eat It competition for high school students. Arts Alive were in the Dome on Sunday, helping children create animal sculptures out of a variety of fruit and veg, and some of the results were really impressive.

View from my "office" shortly after the festival opened on Sunday morning. The castle dates to 1087.
I was lucky enough to be working in the Food Academy this year. It's the third time I've worked there and it just keeps getting better. This year we were centre stage in the Dome up at Abergavenny Castle, moving from the previous location on the lower lawn. It meant an increase in capacity from around 25 to 40 children per session, which is a real testament to how hard Cath Fookes, the Abergavenny Food Festival kids events co-ordinator, has worked and the popularity of Jethro's masterclasses. Two days x 40 kids x 4 sessions + parents = a whole lot of cooking and fun! Chris Young of the Real Bread Campaign was also working in the Dome and it was awesome working with people who really care about making good food and about instilling an interest in food in kids. We were opposite the gorgeous smells and sounds of Grillstock and right near the Chase Vodka Cocktail Tent, and with full on views of the Blorenge you couldn't ask for a better location.

My favourite recipe was the Spiced pumpkin, pea and Y Fenni arancini, which made a tasty second breakfast! Valentine Warner whirled in to do a masterclass on Saturday and his lentil salad was also delicious. 

 I managed to catch parts of some Rude Health Rants, including local food blogger Bill King. You can see these at http://rudehealth.com/rants/

The only downside about working at the festival is that I don't a chance to do much shopping (or taking photos) Still, I managed to pick up a few goodies that included
13 x punnets of blackberries and damsons for a tenner - bargain!
Gower Cottage Brownies (using pic from their website as mine didn't last that long)
Halen Mon Salted Caramel Sauce (again, using their picture as mine is embarrassingly depleted after just a week) and Celery Salt

                                                     Celery Sea SaltImage


The kids benefited from these massive meringues (or Merangz) from the Little Round Cake Company which were almost as big as their heads... seriously.

                                                          

You can expect to see more Abergavenny Food Festival inspired posts from me over the next few months, including my attempt at sourdough (which I am slightly nervous about trying)

If you haven't got Abergavenny on your calendar yet, mark it in BIG RED LETTERS for the third weekend in Septemeber. It's in a spectacular location, the atmosphere is really down to earth and friendly with plenty of passion but no snobbery, and with all the other activities there is something to keep everyone happy.