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Abergavenny Food Festival

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Celebrating community food culture

This year the Abergavenny Food Festival celebrated its 19th birthday with a new Chief Executive Aine Morris (most recently Festival Director for Bristol Food Connections). Nineteen years ago, did we care about food in the same way as we do now? I am sure we didn’t. Growing from 3000 visitors in 1999, to 35,000 attendees, Aine is set to take this festival further and wider.

Such beautiful bread from the Angel Bakery

Such beautiful bread from the Angel Bakery

Before I go further, and even you are not in the habit of planning far in advance, please put the dates of the next Abergavenny Food Festival in your diary – 15th and 16th September 2018 and book out the whole weekend not just one day. The Abergavenny Food Festival is not to be missed.

Next time, I will know what to expect, and plan accordingly. I only saw and experienced a fraction of what was going on. Here are my tips.

Walk the streets

It’s unusual for a food festival to involve the local community in such an inclusive way (Ludlow is the only other one I can think of).

Whilst some of the festival areas are for paid guests only, at every turn there are food stalls groaning with a huge variety of foods. The permanent shops got into the spirit and placed stands outside their premises or as in the case of St David’s Hospice charity shop, the whole shop was food themed. Beautifully displayed cookery books, kitchenware, glassware and ceramics proved very tempting.

“Abergavenny is fundamentally all about the food, with a focus on read food, real farmers and real chefs. We are keen to get people trying new things, tasting new product and strengthening their engagement with where our food comes from”. Aine Morris, Chief Executive of the Festival

Pre-book an event or two

With so many different topics, it is difficult to choose.

Dining

There were dining experiences I would have loved to attended including old friends Edinburgh Food Social whose Nordic inspired menu sounded as adventurous as ever including halophytes which I now know are plants growing in a salty area (I think samphire would be an example).

Workshops

I chose two workshops on photography, Smart Phone Food Photography and Professional Food Photography and Styling.   In the spirit of all great workshops came away with tips I know I will use, time and again.

Kirstie Young and Genevieve Taylor showed how to style and photograph food

Kirstie Young and Genevieve Taylor showed us how to style and photograph food

Chef demonstrations

With so many chefs to choose from, I plumped for Romy Gill’s masterclass where using humble squash as her main ingredient she cooked up three easy to make dishes which were delicious.

Learning how to light food with Rob Wicks was fascinating

Learning how to light food with Rob Wicks was fascinating

The critic’s voice

My final choice was booked last minute: Jay Rayner’s 10 (Food) Commandments (also the title of his latest book). His highly amusing food commandments (example “though shall eat with thy fingers”) engaged the audience with a surprisingly entertaining Q & A session after the interval. Here would you believe one woman berated him for a bad review of Bristol restaurants 12 years ago!

I loved the range of the event – it wasn’t just market stalls with a demo stage – there was a lot of thought put into the programme of activities – they really make use of what the Abergavenny community has, from the Castle to the Priory, there’s something in every corner you look. Karis Bouher, But First We Eat

I found parking was easy as I arrived before 9:30 am but it soon got busy. Plenty of parking was made available at a reasonable price of £4 a day, some of which could be pre-booked online.

Turn up and Taste at the Abergavenny Food Festival

A wristband (£12 for Saturday or £18 for the whole weekend) provided access to areas all over town where you could feast on food.

Soft shell crab tempura from the Mighty Soft Shell Crab

Soft shell crab tempura from the Mighty Soft Shell Crab

The gloriously named Fish and Fizz Market was just that. Here I discovered soft shell crab tempura to die for among other treats. Later I tried a veggie treat from The Parsnipship – who needs meat if fast food can be this tasty?

I am pleased to learn that Vegware and Triodos Bank are supporting future plans to ensure all food is served on and in compostable packaging.  Probably the only aspect of the festival that didn’t gel, was the amount of non recyclable packaging being used.

Oysters anyone? Abergavenny Food Festival

Oysters anyone?

Channel your inner cave wo(man)

Toasting ourselves around the cauldron waiting for the demo to start Abergavenny Food Festival

Toasting ourselves around the cauldron waiting for the demo to start

In addition to paid events, you could watch chef demos in the Market Hall and up at the castle. There, a huge cauldron burned throughout the day where an interesting succession of chefs and cooks sharing their passion for fire. We sat there, occasionally enveloped by smoke as Genevieve Taylor author of How to Eat Outside made it look quite effortless. It was amazing to see how easy it was to make bread and butter pudding over the fire and steam mussels in a foil package .

Genevieve Taylor showing how to cook mussels over fire Abergavenny Food Festival

Genevieve Taylor showing how to cook mussels over fire

Abergavenny is not just about the Food Festival

Representatives of Agri-Urban a European network for the promotion of Agri-food employment in small and medium sized cities were at the festival gain insight into the impact that a food festival can have on a town.

Abergavenny is the only town in the UK taking part in the Agri Urban networking project. Other countries include Spain, Italy, Sweden, France, Belgium, Portugal, Latvia and Croatia. It is lovely to think that lessons learned will be applied elsewhere.

My verdict?

Note to self: Choose wisely, leaving yourself time to eat or grab a coffee in between activities. Arrive early, leave late

It’s been a great year for food festivals. I highly recommend the River Cottage Festival too.

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