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Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Newport Food Festival 2012 Launched

Bigger And Better, building on the strengths of 2011, and creating a community based event.

That was the message emerging from the launch event for the 2012 Newport Food Festival.

An early launch means that planning and involvement with a range of participants and organisations means that the actual festival 6th October is the day, will have a strong lead in and can develop into a major event in the food calendar. Last year it unfortunately clashed with the Cowbridge Food Festival but this year it will be a standalone date.

The actual launch event brought together chefs, producers, community groups, businesses and bloggers with the aim of setting out a plan for the festival.

The introduction from Sarah Dickins reminded us that whilst a rather fine meal had been laid in, hats off to Popadoms who provided it, there was no such thing as a free lunch and we would be filling in post-its with ideas and responses which would be co-ordinated into a planning strategy.

First a reflection on last year and a few statistics. Around 30,000 people attended of whom 6,000 came just for the festival and the others were in town for other reasons but joined in. £250,000 additional spend was generated in the 6 hours of the festival and the overwhelming majority of traders, commercial operator in town and most important of all the citizens of Newport wanted a second festival and an annual one at that.

This year would concentrate on the core area of town the Market Hall, streets around it and the Riverside for chef demos and workshops, but have a larger selection and range of stall holders and seek to involve even more local producers, suppliers and chefs. One participant suggested that all hotels and restaurants should be offered a stall but a chef pointed out that Saturday is the busiest night in catering so take-up could be low. Perhaps though there is a chance for a link to the festival with local restaurants offering a “Festival Menu” for the week before using ingredients from exhibitors?

One of the real strengths of last year was the involvement of young people in the Mini Chef and Teen Chef competitions and we heard from one of the Teen Chef winners about their day at Lucknam Park cooking with Hywel Jones in a Michelin Starred establishment which was part of the prize! Another real positive was the offering of training to unemployed people as servers, they served the Festival Supper, and several have found jobs in hospitality as a result. This needs to continue so that the community gets a real gain from the Festival.

Increased skills, marketability and employment must be a key issue for this, and any other, Food Festival. People bang on about the Olympic Legacy of 2012, but with festivals all over the UK there is a real opportunity for regeneration and economic development offered by the food industry.

But enough of the pontificating for now….

We had been offered a hot buffet at the event but it turned out to be so much more!

An initial glass of wine on entering gave us the chance to meet up with old friends and make new ones before we sat down at long tables for what turned out to be a three course meal.

Local award winning restaurant and takeaway Popadoms laid on a starter of mini popadoms with a yoghurt mint sauce, onion and tomato salad and a mango chutney on a serve yourself basis, large baskets of mini popadoms sat on the table with small bowls of the accompaniments and were appreciated by all who attended.

The main course showed some of the restaurant’s top dishes and we each collected a plate groaning under the  weight of Chicken Tikka Massala, Bombay Potatoes, Onion Bhaji, Vegetable Samosa, Pilau Rice and Green Salad. Again all cooked to a high standard though Mrs K found the Bombay Potato a little spicy!

As we ate we continued to discuss all things festival with Sarah Dickins plus roving mike touring the tables and eliciting points and reactions from diners, these being the basis of rapidly filling flip charts which recorded the ideas and suggestions that would be the basis if the strategy.

Finally a Mango Kulfi was served and I am prepared to bet that it was a staple on the Popadoms menu years before Masterchef caused a world Mango shortage. Good coffee ended the meal as the final comments were collated and the evening wound to an end.

But what of drinks I hear my reader (and you know who you are) cry. Well we were served with beers from Wales newest brewery!
Tiny Rebel have only been in existence for four weeks, setting up on Newport’s Maesglas Industrial Estate. Brad and Gareth are seeking to combine both retro and modern brewing and are developing a range of beers.

On offer last evening were Fubar , on draught, a hoppy beer with a distinct bitterness in the background and Orange Weisse, a prototype bottled beer, with a Coriander and Orange infusion. This was a great beer to accompany curry and it could replace the ubiquitous Cobra in discerning establishments, and it’s local!  (I brought one home with me for later consumption.

Other beers in production or development include Urban IPA, The Full Nelson a single hop beer, Chocoholic a Belgian infused speciality beer and one that definitely tickles my taste buds Smoked Oat Stout. Without a doubt a visit to the brewery is on the cards and I will be blogging about Tiny Rebel in the near future.

Overall a good launch, good to see early and positive involvement from all sectors of the foodiverse and some very positive signs emerging. Perhaps the most important of these was the unanimous agreement that a Newport Food Network would be a must. This would involve all sections of the community and provide an exchange for ideas, positive help for producers and providers and keep the Food Newport concept going for the 364 days a year when there isn’t a Food Festival.

It will be a one day event again in 2012, but building on strengths a weekend event cannot be too far ahead.

Many thanks to Chris Jones and the team behind the Food Festival for organising an informative and involving evening, if we all pull together Newport Food Festival will be an even bigger success this year than last!

That date for your diaries is Saturday October 6th and there will be the Friday Night Supper on 5th. See you all there!

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