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Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Newport Food Festival, the start of a new tradition?

So the inaugural Newport food festival happened, and a good first event too.
Of course there’s room for improvement, but consider the first Glastonbury – if you’re old enough and can remember!

The highs were very high and the lows, well nothing time and experience can’t resolve.

What most impressed me was the way that the community was involved. Both the Mini Chef and Teen Chef got right back to basics, involving young people in food and cooking. Having very serious chefs mentoring and judging the competitions gave the kind of weight to the competitions that will encourage others to take part in future years. I was amazed at what was produced, even more so by the minis than the teens. For 9 and 10 year olds to produce fresh food at the level that they did was wonderful and it was no wonder that Stephen Terry could not part them in the judging.

It was good to see much maligned teenagers competing and producing good food as well. Working as a team is hard in a kitchen but all three groups managed to get up good dishes and Hywel Jones clearly had a difficult decision to make. Congratulations to all the teams, in so many ways they were all winners.

Following on the theme of involving young people in food and cooking Lisa Fearn “The Pumkin Patch” ran a series of workshops for younger people and a demonstration that attracted a number of adults as well as the younger element. Her simple Butternut Squash soup was warm, filling and rounded whilst the clever take on Toffee Apples, Toffee Grapes certainly delighted the children in the audience.

I caught another brilliant demo by Justin Llwywelyn of the Newbridge on Usk who did three dishes in 35 minutes, starter, main course and dessert. The starter Chorizo and Scallops on Sourdough Bruschetta with a fried Quails egg was followed by A Salad Nicoise with Cornish Line Caught Albacore Tuna and Justin’s take on Eton Mess involving Blackberries and B Blackberry Liqueur, Chantilly Cream, Blowtorched Meringue and a toasted Marshmallow complete with Blow Torch action won over a highly appreciative audience with both the theatricality of the demo and the taste of the finished product.

Sadly the final demo that I hoped to see by Pascale and his brother from Gemelli had to be cancelled as over runs meant that they had to be back at the restaurant.

The over runs were partially caused by the lack of reliability of the halogen hobs in the Studio Theatre of the Riverfront. Throughout the day these suffered regular malfunctions and, with professional chefs working on instantly responsive gas hobs cooking times were extended and a backlog built up. Perhaps the very ambitions timetabling of demos needs some adjustment but first time out things happen and lessons are learned. The mark of any good event be it food or otherwise is can the organisers adapt to improve the next one. Given the enthusiasm for the event from participants and punters I am sure that they will.

Of course demos and competitions are only part of a Food Festival and the number and quality of the exhibitors an suppliers is as important, or for some more so.

A good number of stalls had been set up and, but for a number of last minute cancellations there would have been more.

It was good to see very local enterprises such as Back Yard, with their Jamaican Jerk Barbecue, attracting as much interest as food festival veterans such as Caws Cennarth. Overall foods of all types from Beers and Wines through cheeses, charcuterie and meat to chutneys and relishes, jams and the ubiquitous cupcakes were on offer on the streets and well received by the crowds.

Again if I had to be critical it would be to state that having a split in the lay out of the stalls with some around 150 yards adrift from the main collection was not helpful. However, in discussions with one of the semi-detached stall holders it emerged that even if they were a bit apart there was good footfall and interest and that they would certainly be back.

Interest was sparked amongst the usual Saturday shoppers by the entertainment laid on, whilst the Courgettes sang food related songs – Tutti Frutti etc. – the best reaction was saved for the French Chef wheeling a large Lobster in a handcart. It was great to see spell bound children and even better to see the looks of shock on faces as the Lobster suddenly pounced upon unsuspecting onlookers!

So what did I make of it overall? A very strong start with many more plus points than minuses. The festival set out to have its own identity not just to clone others. It succeeded and I believe that there was more than enough interest, excitement and engagement to fully justify another. The compere on the streets said “this is the first annual Newport Food Festival”, let’s hope that the support offered by the people of Newport and those who came in to town for the event makes the compere right and this was just the first of many.

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  1. I agree with your comment about the stalls being too far apart in places. But the festival as a whole was very good and the Back Yard jerk chicken was well worth queuing for! My daughter enjoyed the entertainment of the Courgettes and the giant lobster too. I hope they can iron out the little problems and make a fabulous second year in 2012.

  2. Yes Great start and the minor problems will be overcome very easily. Well done Chris Jones and all the organising team and sponsors.