I ventured into Devon last Sunday as I had been asked to do a demonstration at the Exeter Food and Drink Festival which was held in the grounds of Exeter Castle and the adjoining Northernhay Gardens. It was an extremely well organised affair and I must give a special mention to the Exeter Sea Scouts who helped out with directing the crowds, and the young chefs from Michael Caines Academy who did all the prep in the demonstration kitchen. Even though the weather had been unsettled for the few days before, on the Sunday the clouds disappeared and the sun shone for most of the day adding to the fantastic atmosphere there.
Really, doing this demonstration wasn’t what I’d call ‘work’ as I was there with my good friends, Micheal Caines, the driving force behind the festival and Mitch Tonks from the Seahorse in Dartmouth, who had agreed to go ‘head to head’ with me cooking two dishes using the same basic ingredients, squid and lemon sole. My offerings were Squid and Asparagus Salad with Ink Vinagarette and Lemon Sole with Oyster Sauce, Cucumber and Horseradish whilst Mitch cooked Squid in Squid Ink with Spaghetti and Whole Lemon Sole with Balsamic and Capers. We were fortunate to draw a fantastic crowd who seemed to enjoy not only the cooking demonstration but also the banter between us, particularly when I was off guard and stupidly agreed to smell Mitch’s hot vinegar which made my eyes water for ages afterwards. Why did I do that? Every student chef gets caught by that trick so I really should have known better! However, I did get my own back at the end as the crowd voted for my dishes, in albeit a very light-hearted competition.
I was amazed at the variety of stalls on display at the festival; a reminder of the wonderful array of produce the South West has to offer. This was a really serious ‘foodie’ event with lots of delicious and interesting food items to enjoy but I was also really pleased to see stalls featuring information about various aspects of food too. Even kids were catered for with a whole area dedicated to them and run by the people from Crealy, making it a truly family event. My two had a great time in the food and drink pavilions, tasting all sorts of things from hot fudge sauce, granola and jams to cheeses, chutneys and mustards. We also found one where they had sea buckthorn ice-cream on offer! It was really good to see stall holders who were happy to let children taste and take time to talk to them about their products, what goes into them and how they are made thus encouraging the next generation of ‘foodies’.
Another thing that fascinated all of us was the stall run by the Severn and Wye Valley Smokery who had two tanks of elvers (tiny eels) swimming about. The guy looking after them was really knowledgeable and chatted away to us about their project and the eels. Apparently, they are placing these tanks in local schools for the students to look after until the eels are big enough to release them back into local streams. What a fantastic way of getting children in involved in the issues surrounding sustainability!
I like doing festivals but, of course, I do have to limit how many I can do each year or I would be out every Sunday, not something that would go down well at home! This year I will be appearing at several across the summer months, Port Eliot Festival, The Crab Festival in Dartmouth, Cornwall Food and Drink Festival in Truro and Boscastle Festival. I’ll give you more details nearer the dates. Hopefully, the sun will shine on them all and I’ll see you there!