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What Flavour Fest Plymouth reveals about British food obsessions

September 28, 2014

It was a rainy day in Plymouth (Devon, UK) but the crowds were still out to sip, taste, nibble and sample their way round the stalls of Flavour Fest. Pick up a newspaper, leaf through a magazine, drive through a village and read the signs – in the past few years there has been an explosion of food festivals in the UK, especially during the summer. They range from big ones like Taste of London, the Foodies Festivals, BBC Good Food Shows and The Big Feastival, festivals centred on one place such as the Ludlow Food Festival,  Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival  to specialist events like the Tavistock Real Cheese Fair, British Asparagus Festival and Dorset Seafood Festival. Top of my own personal wish list is the Ballymaloe Literature Festival of Food and Wine in Ireland (not UK I know).

Having a look at what was on offer to eat and drink, I couldn’t help thinking that the stalls gave a snapshot of our food obsessions as a British nation. Here’s my not very scientific rationale…

Celebrity chefs

Like the minor ‘slebs’ I’ve never heard of that populate the pages of OK and Hello, it seems that every chef has star status these days. Of course there are those in the stellar reaches of the chef-o-sphere like Rene Redzepi and Ferran Adrià (who do pop up occasionally); TV chefs come next with Jamie and Nigella as royalty trickling down to past contestants on the Great British Bake Off; then there are a whole herd of regional chefs from Michelin-stardom to just having the gift of the gab and a boyish smile. Whoever they are, we all want to watch them cook (and taste their food).

Over the three days in Plymouth, the Tanner Brothers and Mitch Tonks were the big names. The rest of the schedule was filled by chefs from renowned local restaurants. Ben Squire & Jack Noades of the Boat House Cafe, Stephane Beneteau of  The Glassblowing House, Dave Jenkins from the Rock Salt Cafe, Nick Barclay of The Blue Plate, Benjamin Palmer of Glazebrook House Hotel, and Joe Draper & Andy Richardson of the River Cottage, Royal William Yard were among many who took the stage.

Bring on the booze

Drink is everywhere, and by this I mean the hard stuff. From the proliferation of bargain booze stores to the displays in supermarkets to signs outside pubs it does seem like we Brits are obsessed with it. Having lived in the Middle East for over two decades, the ability to sample, buy and drink alcohol in the street is an extreme novelty.

A food festival is the place to root out artisan brewers and distillers; in Plymouth there was an array of cider, ale, wine, liqueurs and a gin producer. My favourites were Crispy Pig ale from The Hunter’s Brewery, Devon Mist from Sandford Orchards, I also tasted blueberry beer and Tarquin gin (and met Tarquin!) I didn’t taste any Old Cock (raised by hand) or Lazy Sod from Direct Beers “Giving good beer a bad name”. Fnarr, fnarr.

Passion for pork

It is now obligatory to have a hog roast at every food event of any size (there were two here). I naturally gravitate to these as it’s difficult to order pork at restaurants in Dubai and impossible to eat on the street. One gourmet burger stand tempted with hand salt and herb rubbed crackling. In the end I made do with a bite of elder teens pulled pork bun with crunchy slaw as something else turned my head lunchwise. A lady, passing this stall, asked “What’s everyone queuing for here?” “PORK” the man in front of me answered. Enough said.

Who ate all the pies?

Once upon a time, the only pasty you found outside Cornwall was a rather industrial-looking, plastic wrapped Ginsters in a chill cabinet. These days they are everywhere and thankfully of much better quality. Our passion for pastry extends to pies too. Chunk of Devon were doing brisk business (although they came bottom of this year’s pasty eating charts). We bought a very rustic and homemade looking steak pasty from Red Earth Kitchen (good) and one from Cornish Country Meats (which won the award for the unfriendliest stall holder and most stingy amount of filling). KP takes pasties very seriously.

Farmhouse cheese

The stalls of Worthy Cheddar, Cornish Cheese Co and Norsworthy Dairy Goats were hard to get near. British farmhouse cheese making, nearly killed off by proposed over-regulation in the 1950’s and saved from extinction by cheese fanatics such as Major Patrick Rance, has never been more exciting, diverse or inviting.

Scones

While people were tucking into real ale or cider rather than a cuppa, the British love for tea and cakes is alive and well. What could be more typical than a freshly-baked scone? Even when my sister and I struggled to find a decent evening meal in Derbyshire this summer, the quality of the cakes was never in any doubt.  Several high-end establishments were handing scones out in Plymouth to eager takers. Slathered in clotted cream and jam? Need you ask.

A taste of the world

All very traditionally British up to now? How about a dish of curried goat (from Afro Caribbean Pot), a plate of paella, a taste of Tom Yang Goong (Thai Style) or a cheeky quesadilla (Sabor de Mexico)?  The world has come to Britiain and we’ve welcomed them a a plate, literally. Our enthusiasm and reinvention of Bangladeshi and Indian curries is well-documented (balti and chicken tikka masala). So many other nationalities have made their homes in the UK including Jamaicans in the 1960s, Ugandan Asians in the 1970s, Vietnamese boat people in the 1980s. Our multiculturalism is served up from pots and saucepans.

Flavour Fest Plymouth mycustardpie.com

The evil chilli purveyors

Faves from the fest

  • The BEST TARTS I HAVE EVER EATEN IN MY LIFE. The lightest, crumbliest pastry, home cooked in an Aga and filled with combinations such as Devonshire goats cheese with dandelion greens and onion marmalade, Lundy crab, Cornish chorizo, and wild Exmoor venison. Big Bellys I am making a date with you again next summer.
  • Smokey BBQ pulled pork with tangy slaw in a bun and Moroccan spiced lamb with giant couscous and herb salad in homemade flatbread from Field and Kitchen. Winners of the Exeter street food festival 2014 serving up sustainable food from local, seasonal ingredients. They seem super nice too.
  • The hottest chilli sauce I have ever tasted, no joke. I had to run over to Sandford Orchards and beg for a swig of their sweetest cider after a taste of their bhut jolokia mash. This should carry a health warning South Devon Chill Farm (oh, actually it does have skull and crossbones on the label).

N.B. All (slightly dodgy) pics taken on iphone (which then died) as I didn’t risk the DSLR due to very inclement weather in the morning. Here are a few more… click on any pic to view the gallery…

Have you been to a food festival this year? Do you recognise anything about the food festivals you’ve visited in this description from the US (Why you should never, ever go to a food festival)? What do you think of the food festivals in Dubai?

12 Comments
  1. therealgeordiearmani permalink
    September 28, 2014 9:32 am

    That looks like a fantastic day out! wish we had more events of that standing here in the UAE, great post Sally

    • September 28, 2014 6:16 pm

      It was very relaxed and casual – free to wander round – mainly very small producers. Lovely time had by all including KP and teens

  2. September 28, 2014 11:55 am

    Your experience sounds much more exciting than mine – I particularly like the sound of Big Bellys (although I’m not keen on the name at all!) I went to a food festival in Oxford this summer and it was just dull. It seemed to be full of food that could be bought in supermarkets, some of which didn’t even taste very good. The one great find was Hiver beer, infused with honey. I wish I’d joined you at your food festival instead – it sounds great.

    • September 28, 2014 6:18 pm

      I’m not keen on the name either – it doesn’t match the simply superb tartlets handmade with stunning ingredients. I’ve heard less than glowing reports about some of the very big festivals – pretty commercial. Will look out for Hiver.

  3. September 28, 2014 2:12 pm

    What a fabulous festival and great day out!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  4. September 28, 2014 3:09 pm

    what a lovely day. It is nice in particular to see the wonderful British cheeses emerging from the shadow of the French! sounds like a great event promoting local food producers.

    • September 28, 2014 6:20 pm

      The South-West is amazing for cheese and little producers. West Country cheeses is one of the best stockist and I buy fresh goats cheese made in a farmhouse in Tavistock market.

  5. September 28, 2014 7:01 pm

    That looks like such a fantastic day out – all those lovely things to taste and smell and gaze at. Yum! The only food festival I’ve ever been at is the annual one here in Shetland – and it’s quite small fry compared to all the events down south. You should come up for it one year! 🙂

  6. andreamynard permalink
    September 28, 2014 11:44 pm

    Sounds like a great food festival, all your mentions of pulled pork and slow-cooked lamb with couscous is making me feel hungry. Can’t help thinking of the lamb & pork in the freezer and mentally planning meals after your great descriptions. We went to Stroud farmer’s market last weekend, obviously on a much smaller scale, but I loved the similar mix of great local cheeses & free-range/organic meat, along with delicious thai curries & tasty Indian nibbles.

  7. ramblingtart permalink
    September 30, 2014 7:34 am

    How I love food festivals! And this one looks absolutely brilliant. That pork roll has me salivating. 🙂

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