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Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Newport Food Festival 2012

After a good start last year the Newport Food Festival was expected to be bigger and better and so it was! With a packed day of demos and masterclasses over four venues, 75 plus stalls on the streets, the Teen Chef final and a fringe venue organised by the Voice Magazine, one blog post will not do it justice.

A real buzz was around town and the usual Saturday shoppers got into the feeling and I heard nearly all positive comments all day, be they from visitors, stall holders, performers or chefs. Given the positivity the 2013 festival should build again and become one of the major fixtures on the South Wales calendar.

Let’s get the (minor) criticisms out of the way: better signage would help, particularly for people arriving by train and some banners outside the Market Hall would help. More maps in town showing all the stall sites – you might have missed some, and finally Newport City Council finishing their street furniture replacement and repair work would help. But these were minor distractions and ones which can be easily overcome.

I spent quite a lot of time in demos but still had time to get around the stalls and to catch the street entertainment which included a Bhangra band and the “Dinner Ladies”.

Definitely more stalls and a better mix of product, and it was good to see some producers sharing a stall so 75 stalls but probably 80+ producers. From Cheeses to Charcuterie, Breads to Beer visitors had a cornucopia to choose from, and there was more hot food available too. Sales seemed brisk and one or two had sold out well before the end of the festival. One stall holder told me that they had brought twice as much as last year and sold out by lunchtime!

People seemed to “get” the festival more so than last year and the locals were lapping it up, “bout time we had something good in Newport” an old friend that I met on the street told me, though they did confess that they hadn’t known about the festival until they came in to town centre for their regular weekly shop. “Will it be every year?” they asked “I hope so” was my response which pleased them!

Anyway back to my very busy day.

As I arrived stalls were still being set up (I was very early) but already people were talking about the event to come. We quickly went into the Market Hall where Matt Dawkins the head chef of the Star Inn Llansoy was prepping for his demo, which would kick the day off, and grabbed a coffee. Newport Food Festival had kindly given great support to food bloggers with our own little meeting point complete with free Wi-Fi, information and a chance to meet some of the chefs as they would use it as a greenroom.

Whilst Matt set up I was able to chat with Simon Wright (TV and Radio presenter and former partner in Y Polyn in Carmarthenshire) and Mike Morgan the owner of Llansantfraed Court Hotel – which has just secured its AA Rosette for the 16th year running. They would be compering many of the demos and were looking forward to seeing some top chefs and brilliant food. Simon would mainly cover the Market Hall whilst Mike would be over in the Riverfront.

As if to prove their point about seeing great chefs Hywel Jones of Lucknam Park and Bryn Williams of Odette’s arrived to talk about food and their demos and take a keen interest in Matt Dawkins’ demo. Hywel has been a huge supporter of the festival and the Teen Chef competition and this year would be joined by Bryn in judging the winners.

Matt’s demo used Seabass, a theme for several chefs this year so it will be the subject of a separate blog post. It was good to see a young chef cooking in an imaginative way and talking about his love of local and seasonal produce. The Star Inn Llansoy only reopened after a period of closure last year and has already won the CAMRA Community Pub of the Year award and, with Matt’s cooking an AA Rosette and recognition in the Guides cannot be far away.

Time was pressing so it was a quick trot to the Riverfront where I caught the beginning of Hywel Jones’ demo before moving into the foyer for Lisa Fearn’s Pumkin Patch Cookery School for children. Lisa runs a cookery and gardening school from her Carmarthen home and also cooks on S4C’s Wedi Tri. Lisa believes, as do I that cooking is an essential skill for life and that children should get involved as early as possible. Rather than a necessity squeezed in at the end of a busy working day cooking should be fun and Darina Allen has, as the motto of the Ballymaloe Cookery School where I trained, “Cooking is fun”.

A good number of children had gathered for the morning session on Pasta and I was pleased to see that they would be making Farfalle as that is my grandchildren’s favourite pasta and one that we have made a few times. Under Lisa’s guidance they made and rolled the dough, using Spinach and Beetroot, to produce Green and Red Pasta then cut them and gave the little pinch that produces the bow tie shape. There was neither time nor equipment to cook the finished pasta but each child had a bag of their own pasta to take home and cook for tea, and left proud with their efforts and product. The afternoon class would make bread and take it home still proving to bake later.

Both Lisa and I had reserved seats for Anand George of award winning Purple Poppadom’s master class and we hurried into the theatre for that. Anand’s demo and recipe will appear later as he was another chef using Seabass! The Masterclasses were intimate, a circle of chairs on stage around the work surface where you were up close and personal, able to see and smell every dish and process.

At the end we left and, despite the Food Festival having kindly provided Tiny Rebel Brewing beers and a selection of warm Indian snacks for bloggers in their Market Hall base I did not have time to get there so visited a few stalls by the Riverfront before heading back for another master class.

This time it was Malaysian Chef, and owner of Manchester based Ning restaurant and Cookery School, Norman Musa. Norman is an ambassador for Malaysian foods and regularly tours the country giving free demonstrations and introducing the ingredients and food of his home country.

The Dish Norman cooked was Kari Ayam Kapitan, the Captain’s Chicken Curry, and he explained the processes of cooking the Wet and Dry Ingredients separately and then combining them for the final dish. A number of people, myself and fellow blogger Carol Adams (Babettes Fest) got to join Norman behind the hobs and we all had a great time and enjoyed the tasting at the end. Norman had a number of copies of his book available “Malaysian Food” and you can get it yourself from his website

Time was pressing again so it was a dash to the stalls for a little shopping and catching up with producer friends.

On the way we called by the Voice quarter, set up in John Frost Square. The Voice is a Newport magazine and editor (and Newport City councillor) Chris Evans was keen to support local businesses. Voice arranged a number of stalls for local producers, including Elm Tree Foods who make award winning pies as part of the fringe. I would like to see more of this type of enterprise so that the Food Festival can add to regeneration in a way that large scale retail development can’t.

As I said previously the producers were happy, one attending for the first time told me that it was his favourite festival of the season and a one day fest was ideal as he had sold out already and was glad he didn’t have to work all night to replenish stocks.

Finally we got to have lunch, shortly before 4!

A range of hot foods were available but for us it had to be the Back Yard Company. Antonio Smith who runs the company, making a range of genuine Jamaican Jerk Sauces, is a Newport boy and, whilst production is currently outside the city he is looking for premises to bring it back home and was the main sponsor of the Food Festival – believing in his home town.

Antonio’s story and product is worthy of a blog post on its own but suffice to say that our Jerk Chicken in a bap was tangy, tasty and filling. One of the highlights for me was seeing the heat challenged Mrs K really enjoying her bap, “it was warm across your tongue but didn’t attack the tip of your tongue before you ate it, and it didn’t set your throat on fire!”, and her amazement and delight when told it was Antonio’s second coolest rub and sauce.

Just time then to catch the final Market Hall demo with Giacomo Cucinella from Ristorante Vittorio who had provided the dessert at the Supper.

This really has been a brief gallop through a packed day, and there was more that I could have done on the day but time did not allow.

My overall impressions, a bigger and better Festival, more stalls, producers and diversity and a festival that should strengthen and grow over the years, Really there is only one way to appreciate the Festival – Be there. I hope next year you will.
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Morphy Richards

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