Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink

The children's cake competition, judged by Michael Caines

Exeter, Devon March 28, 2004 If in the not too distant past, Exeter has been known as something of a culinary and gastronomic desert, the Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink has demonstrated that the capital of Devon today is at the heart of a true renaissance in local and regional food production of the highest quality. For three days the food marquee set up in Northernhay Gardens has attracted literally thousands of visitors; the galaxy of renowned local and celebrity chefs have given entertaining and informative demonstrations to packed, and usually standing-room-only audiences; the children’s workshops have been well attended, demonstrating that appreciation of good food begins at an early age; and the exhibitors of fine quality produce from the South West have seen an immense interest in the foods that they are so passionate about. Slow Food, the Italian-born organisation dedicated to the traditional pleasures of real food, the safeguarding of artisan quality produce and biodiversity was in attendance through its newly founded Devon convivium, with representives over from its headquarters in Italy.

Some of the star attractions were the well-known chefs who gave cookery demonstrations. Their names read like a roll-call of the very best high profile chefs in the West Country: Michael Caines (Gidleigh Park and MC @ the Royal Clarence, Exeter), Lesley Waters (Ready, Steady, Cook), the Tanner brothers (Tanners, Plymouth), Peter Gorton (Horn of Plenty and Carved Angel), Tina Bricknell-Web (Percy’s, Virginstow), Paul Da-Costa Greaves (The Galley, Topsham), Nick Coiley (formerly Carved Angel, now Agaric, Ashburton), Richard Guest (The Castle, Taunton), Andrew Shortman (Lord Haldon, Exeter).

Meanwhile, around town, along the Restaurant Trail, Exeter establishments offering special Festival menus were filled with enthusiastic and appreciative diners. Beer lovers did not go thirsty either: those in search of real ale were able to follow the designated Beer Trail, enjoying local and regional cask-conditioned ales along the way.

“The South West has the best larder in, well, why not, Europe,” said chef Michael Caines, speaking at the press launch on Friday morning. This is not, when you consider it, an idle or far-fetched boast. Organic South Devon and Red Ruby beef and grass-fed lamb from Exmoor, properly hung and butchered; humanely raised poultry; truly world class fish and shellfish landed at Brixham, Padstow, Newlyn, Exmouth; game from field and moor; homegrown organic produce; some of the greatest farmhouse cheeses in the world made from rich West Country milk: all demonstrate that when it comes to raw ingredients, the South West truly is second to none.“Many of the producers who are here today supply me at Gidleigh Park and in Exeter,” added Caines, Britain’s youngest two-star Michelin chef and the inspiration behind the Festival. “I hope the Festival will serve to introduce them to you because good food, whether in the home or in the restaurant, must begin with top quality produce.”

Wandering through the food marquee, the quality on show was clearly evident. The common threads that tied together the exhibitors were at once excellence and a passion and enthusiasm sometimes bordering on the obsessive. These were not large companies but committed individuals who, as much as anything, wanted to talk, to share their passions, to take you by the arm and look you in the eye, to tell you why they love doing what they do. There were farmers, cheesemakers, wine growers, cidermakers, enthusiasts of real ice cream, organic farmers, and producers of chutneys, jams and pickles. To listen to cheesemakers extoll the quality of the rich Jersey milk they use, and meat producers wax lyrical about their herds that graze on the lush pastures of the South Hams is to gain an understanding, and a bond between producer and consumer. The wonderful flavours of a roll stuffed with organic, spit-roasted pork, washed down with a flute of raspingly dry Devon cider made sparkling by the laborious champagne method, is to taste and understand Devon in a glass.

The Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink has been inspirational foremost in bringing together literally under one canvas roof so many commited and passionate lovers of quality food and drink: the producers themselves, professional chefs who value and use their produce and products, and we consumers who are able to enjoy, at home or in restaurants, the best our region has to offer. The organisers and sponsors of this event are to be congratulated above all for their vision in bringing an idea, a dream to reality, and in recognising and celebrating the hard work and considerable efforts of those in the South West food and hospitality industries.

The Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink is set to become an annual event, with next year’s Festival to take place in April 2005. Put the date in your diary now!

Some personal Festival highlights

Well Hung Meat Co. Great name, great meat, from passionate beef and lamb farmers located in the beautiful South Hams. Monthly mail order scheme available.

South Devon Chili Farm Lip-numbing chilli sauces, jellies and jams from own-grown chillies. In season, fresh chillies can be sent by mail order.

The Organic Farmers Market A new distribution network for a range of organic foods and produce, meticulously West Country sourced and home delivered by courier.

Percy’s Country Hotel Quite simply the best lemon tart, made from organic lemons, I’ve ever tasted. Available by mail order.

Sharpham PartnershipWhat can be better than wine and cheese. Sharpham produce both: outstanding soft cheeses from rich Jersey milk and truly brilliant English wines from grapes grown on the Dart Valley estate.

Ashbridge Sparkling Cider, Modbury tel 01548 831131 Raspingly dry Devon cider made sparkling by the champagne method of secondary fermentation in the bottle. Not to be missed!

Rocombe Farm ice cream, Newton Abbot tel 01626 834545 Organic ice cream in a range of imaginative flavours made from rich Devon milk.

Kenniford Farm, Clyst St Mary tel 01392 875938 Stupendously good organic pork, with speciality spit roasted pig.

Slow Food Devon www.slowfood.com Spreading the Slow gospel to the West Country . Contact Phillipa Hughes at Holne Chase Hotel tel 01364 631471

Michael Caines With restaurants in Exeter and Bristol, and from his base at Gidleigh Park, Michael is a champion of quality produce from the West Country and an ambassador for the region.

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Copyright © Marc and Kim Millon 2004