Monthly Archives: September 2013

Abergavenny food festival (day one)

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As the summer wanes and the hectic music festival and wedding season draws to a close, Autumn arrives with a glint in its eye offering a whole new wave of food festivals to keep me busy.

First came the Menai Seafood Festival. As one of the organising committee this was a biggie for me. It was the first time I’d stage-managed a chef demo tent, booked chefs, set out the itinerary etc. I was kept busy, as you can imagine, ironing out problems, filling gaps and firefights when things didn’t go according to plan but it was a buzz watching all the chefs do fantastic demos and seeing the crowd have such a great time. The down side of working at events like this is that you get to see very little of the festival. I only managed the briefest of walks around the site and that was at the end of the day once all the stall holders had sold out!

Last weekend was different as I paid my first visit to Abergavenny Food Festival, this time as a visitor rather than as an organiser or presenter, so I was able to enjoy the full array of events, activities and food sampling on offer. In earlier years I looked on with envy as fellow bloggers and food producers wrote and Tweeted about the weekend but this year I got to do it! What an amazing weekend it was. I was bowled over by the scale of it all, the excitement, bustle and general feeling of good will around the town. In three words, I loved it!

Abergavenny Food Festival is so much bigger than other food events I’ve attended. With demonstrations, master classes, tutored tastings and inspiring talks spread across four different venues around the town, I found it hard to decide what I wanted to see and do. There was also a fifth demo kitchen featuring local and regional chefs (I didn’t manage to spend any time there at all), plus a series of walks and forays around the local area. There just weren’t enough hours in the day to take it all in.

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Unlike smaller festivals where most of the demos are free and open to all, the bigger events here (tutored tastings, masterclasses and talks) are ticketed and many had sold out on the day. As a guest I was lucky enough to attend any I wanted, but it was impossible to fit in more than three or four in a day. On day one I managed three, plus a food debate that went on until about 6.30 pm. I finally left for the refuge of my friend’s house in Crickhowell at 7.30, totally exhausted.

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The day’s highlight was Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food masterclass at The Priory Centre. I love the simplicity of his food. Proper British dishes cooked without fuss, focusing on great ingredients and clarity of taste. His masterclass was entertaining and inspirational and under it all he seems a genuinely lovely, down to earth bloke. I came away an even bigger fan and a bit star struck having had a brief conversation with him about his visit to North Wales. I wanted to talk more but felt like a stalker as he was ushered off to sign books.

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From here I took a walk over to The Angel Hotel Ballroom to join Martin Morales’ Ceviche tutored tasting session. I love South American food and especially enjoy making ceviche, so Martin’s Peruvian menus have always appealed (along with a good Pisco sour). Martin is an inspiration. Just at a time when he was a successful DJ and music producer he had a sudden urge to change career, a move driven by a passion for his native Peruvian food and the wish to share it with others.  His ethos is one of sharing (it’s no surprise he began his journey with supper clubs) and his aim is to leave a healthy legacy. This is clear in his commitment to and links with Amantani, a charity focused on helping the poorest children in Peru.

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He Tweeted me earlier this year to invite me along to his Cardiff pop-up and I was gutted I couldn’t attend (it was the same weekend as FBC13, the food bloggers conference in London) but his restaurant in Soho should be top of everyone’s list to visit. Again the event was in great demand. I sat on the press table at the back wedged between his wife and children, photographer and publisher. They were all lovely as we sat chatting food and kids over the delicious tasters; Cancha, Pisco sour, Don Ceviche (with sea bass) and it was great to finally meet Martin, who gave me such a warm heartfelt greeting that I was a little taken aback!

Next up was another tutored tasting, this time with master chocolatier Marc Demarquette. Apart from a love of chocolate I also wanted to see Jess from Halen Mon and Shop Cwtch who acted as his glamorous assistant for the demo. Her cheeks turned a little pink as she saw me taking photographs! Marc demonstrated how they make their 85% chocolate truffles (dark and rich and tasting as if laced with rum…although it isn’t. It’s a trick of the chocolate, something I’ve discovered when making my chocolate torte). Marc’s aim is to create chocolate with length and depth – a chocolate that’s smooth and rich but without the sugar hit and crash afterwards. A chocolate that stays with you. His velvety ganache (71%) was as it should be, silky smooth with a hint of orange (although again this may have been a trick of the chocolate) and the fresh strawberry caramel, my particular favourite, just dissolved on the tongue, flavour trickling down the throat, neither too sweet or too sharp, an almost erotic experience. I could have eaten a bucket full! To finish we drank hot chocolate made of full fat milk and pure chocolate. Heaven in a cup. The last sample was a Halen Mon salted caramel with a dollop of cream on top. The perfect finish to a truly heavenly tasting.

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By the time I wended my way back to the Market Hall for the Big Debate with food writer, presenter and bug eating fan  Stefan Gates Director of the Environmental Justice Foundation Steve Trent, biologist and farmer Jonathan Herrington and fruit farmer Anthony Snell, I was already shattered.  It was hard to concentrate as I was tired and to a certain extent I felt it was a missed opportunity; the conversation firmly focused on GM versus non GM and intensive farming and not the issue of food waste which I think is key when we talk about feeding future generations. With food poverty on the increase in the Western World, discussion of food grown for export or animal feed, rather than to feed the indigenous population and the reduction of animal farming needs to be to the fore. But then that is my favourite soap box rant!

…oh and the weirdest thing I put in my mouth over the weekend (courtesy of Stefan) ? Just so you know, they weren’t alive….they were crispy, salted and with a hint of smoked paprika.

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An end of summer Salad Niçoise…put some sun back in your lunch

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Salad Niçoise evokes visions of lazy lunches in France, holidays, sunshine, the beach……please excuse me while I drift into hazy memories of camping in the Vendee with my kids….my first visit was with Rosie (the teen) when she was 11 months old. We camped next to the beach, bought fresh bread from the boulangerie, shopped in the Super U (French supermarket chain) and the market in Ile de Noirmoutier. Even in the supermarket the produce was fresh, local and a reflection of the warm, sunny climate. I returned again when my youngest kid was exactly the same age as Rosie had been on the first trip. This time we camped in an area of woods and forest, the smell of pine and sea air heightened our appetites and although at that point money was tight (eating out every night was beyond us), we filled our baskets once again with all the amazing produce grown in the area.  I vividly remember that the campsite take-away sold home-made boeuf bourguignon, not any old take away this! The beef melted in the mouth, the sauce thick, rich and supremely tasty with all the lingering flavourings from the wine in which the beef had been marinated.

Memories aside, I don’t think I ever actually ate a Salad Niçoise while in France. Soft boiled eggs are generally not my thing (I have a strange aversion to runny egg yolks, the only thing I physically cannot eat) and I know the kids would never have chosen a dish with anchovies or olives. These days that has changed (except for the anchovy bit) and the kids will eat it and I make nicoise a fair bit for parties and buffets. With the eye-catching colour contrast of the scarlet tomatoes, green lettuce and bright yellow eggs it really stands out.

With so much fresh local produce in my veg box, a glut of cute pink bantam eggs and a craving for a pretty salad to make me think summer will never end I set about making this slightly cheaty Salad Niçoise. I used runner beans (of which there is an unending supply at the moment) and not green beans, crisp lettuce hearts, beautiful and sweet deep red tomatoes, fresh basil and garlic and lots of (hard) boiled eggs. sorry, I know they should really be soft, but as I said I have this aversion. The missing ingredients were olives (which some people include, while others don’t) and anchovies, but I improvised with a can of green olives (stuffed with anchovies) found on the shelf of my local shop. This is not the perfect choice at all; they should really be the beautiful purpley French olives, or nice juicy fat black ones but in the absence of these (you can’t have Niçoise without olives) it worked all the same.

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Locally grown lettuce, tomatoes, basil and pretty pink bantam eggs from my hens

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add olives, anchovies, blanched runner beans and a basil garlic dressing made with flaked (Halen Mon) seasalt

Recipe: Salad Niçoise (to serve 4 as a main or up to 6 as an accompanying dish)

1 or 2 heads of crisp cos or little gem lettuce

5 ripe tomatoes quartered

5 eggs boiled (to your preference, mine were hard-boiled)

250g green beans or runner beans

6-8 nice fat anchovies (preferably from a fishmonger in a pack or tin packed in salt and washed before use). Jarred anchovies in oil should be washed before adding, and are not as tasty as the former.

100g purple or black olives

Dressing:

2 good tablespoons of red wine vinegar

100ml olive oil

1 fat clove of garlic chopped finely

a small handful of fresh basil leaves finely chopped

half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard

a good pinch of Halen Mon sea salt and ground black pepper

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From the Sea: a salty seafood pop-up

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To close the inaugural Menai Seafood Festival a very special pop-up charity supper took place. Inevitably salt and sea were its principal themes; the salt provided by Halen Mon (Welsh sea salt specialists) and every course focusing on a different type of seafood, provided by local fish monger Matt White and with local farmed sea bass from Anglesey Aquaculture.

Now I get little opportunity to attend supper club’s or pop-ups as generally there are none locally, and my forays out of Wales don’t always coincide with supper club dates or events elsewhere. This, as you can imagine was a massive treat for me! I also took my mum along to say thank you for looking after the kids over the holidays and I think she was just about as excited as I was. She’d seen the menu online thinking how delicious it looked before I told her I’d booked for us both. It wasn’t a  cheap night, but as it transpired it was the perfect, decadent end to a busy day.

Jess Leah-Wilson, glamorous owner of Shop Cwtch hosted the event. Her shop, transformed into a stylish intimate dining room for the evening, has a lovely vibe by day, and is the sort of place where you just want to buy everything (during the festival I think my Mum did!). She has great taste, an eye for detail and scatters the shop with so many beautiful things that it was destined to make the perfect backdrop for this dinner. The food, a seven course tasting menu with paired wine, cocktails and Prosecco was designed and cooked by Eamon Fullalove (yep, that IS his real name) with the help of three young aspiring chefs; my assistant chef Mark Burns helped out along with Elfed Roberts and Dion Hughes from The Oyster Catcher Restaurant, where Eamon is the motivational chef and a tutor. Waitressing and helping introduce the food and wine was Nia Williams, also from The Oyster Catcher. All proceeds from the event were donated to Hope House children’s hospices who give specialist nursing care and support to life-limited children, young people and young adults from Shropshire, Cheshire, North and Mid Wales.

Eamon’s background is impressive. Former head chef at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, he has years of high-end restaurant experience and this supper was the perfect platform for his skills. It offered the young chefs an opportunity to experience food preparation in a very different environment (i.e. in an open air kitchen outside the shop in Menai Bridge). They survived the onslaught of questions from relentlessly curious passers-by and later drunken hangers-on slumped over the kitchen wanting to taste the food!

I cannot make a single gripe about the evening, friendly, informal, great conversation, stunning food. At the beginning of each course Eamon introduced the dish and the matched wine. By the end of the meal we’d tasted many incarnations of Halen Mon salt…from  smoked water used to cook the puy lentils, spiced salt in the bisque,  plain sea salt to cure the salmon and vanilla salt to crust the glasses for the watermelon margarita….as Eamon introduced dessert he simply said “there’s no need to gild a lily” before bringing in warm chocolate brownie’s, vanilla ice cream with salted caramel sauce. He was right, it needed nothing more. Simple pleasures.

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mackerel cured with salted limes, pomegranate and cress

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Perfect scallops, puy lentils cooked with smoked water and unsmoked bacon to top…”Chefs hate unsmoked bacon, but here the smoke is in the lentils”….one of my favourite dishes of the night

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Happy guests

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four different salts…spiced, vanilla, plain and smoked. We were invited to use them to season our own seabass…which had not been seasoned at all. In fact I didn’t need anything extra, the samphire brought enough saltiness to the dish along with the olive tapenade. The fennel, cooked until it broke down, is referred to as Trufillo (to be like truffle) in Italy. There is no alternative translation in English so Eamon told us…its just fennel mush….apart from dessert this was my other favourite dish of the evening

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“no need to gild a lily”

We finally staggered off home at almost midnight….with a glass of wine matched to every course, a couple of Margareta’s and two glasses of Prosecco I almost carried my mother home. I smiled to myself as I escorted her to bed with a glass of water that this was a great night and one to remember.

Matched wines were sourced from Llyn Wines and were as follows:

  • Di Maria Prosecco
  • McPherson Verdelho
  • Yalumba dry white
  • Cher et Tendre Vouvray sec
  • Torre de Menagem Vinho Verde
  • Gavi La Battistina
  • Bacalhoa Moscatel de Setubal

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One day in Menai Bridge: The Seafood Festival in pictures

Today is the fourth anniversary of my blog. My very first post was a recipe for courgette chutney, (quite apt considering I currently have a glut in my fridge) but today I will mostly be writing about my amazing weekend.

What can I say? I keep finding myself smiling at random moments as I think back over Saturdays first ever Menai Seafood Festival. We thought people would come, we hoped it would be worth all the effort and hard work. We expected maybe three, four thousand but in the first hour we clocked 1,500 and stopped counting when numbers reached 8,500. We were gobsmacked (for want of a better phrase, but this perfectly describes our open-mouthed observations of the crowd that streamed into Menai Bridge). It didn’t just catch us, the organisers, off guard. Stall holders sold out in two hours, car parks overflowed and my demo tent had queues of people waiting to get in!

The total number of visitors was undoubtedly closer to 10,000. I’d call that a success, don’t know about you!

Sadly I didn’t get out to see much as I was so busy stage managing the demo tent, but here is small selection of the pictures I managed to snap on the day (between rounding up chefs, ingredients and getting the washing up done in-between demo’s)…I think the pictures speak volumes about how good our day was and how professional the event was.

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Demo tent at 10.30am packed already

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Rob Alexander from The Black Lion, cooking razor clams

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Aled Williams, Cennin….and his beautiful crab risotto served in a stunning Welsh slate bowl

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Neil Davies, Dylan’s Restaurant cooking clam chowder and drunken mussels

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The boatyard

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Rowan Clark, Coleg Menai tutor overseeing their demo

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Backstage discussions

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Young chefs Jake and Ioan do a double act as they cook up two mussel dishes….they had the audience in stitches. It was their first ever demo and they loved it (both are third year Coleg Menai students training as they work…one with the Bulkeley Hotel in Beaumaris and the other at the Hayloft Restaurant, Ye Olde Bulls Head in Beaumaris.

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Visitors enjoying the event

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The air sea rescue helicopter and boat do a quick fly past…

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Crowds in the boatyard give them a wave as they pass over head

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Bryan Webb from Tyddyn Llan, made four stunning dishes in just three-quarters of an hour!!

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Our wonderful compere Elliw Williams from ATOM PR…dropped in it by me, she did a truly wonderful job especially as it was her first time compering

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Matt White and I also did a double act…Matt is one of very few local fishmongers (he runs MJWhite Fishmongers) . He demonstrated how to fillet seabass and turbot

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…while I demonstrated how to hot smoke at home, then pan fry turbot and make a simple white wine and cream sauce to go with it. 

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mum watches on enthralled

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smoked seabass with beetroot slaw and a lime and ginger cream…the healthy option!

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….while Elliw enjoys the turbot dish

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Filed under British food, festival food, Food activities for kids, Food festival, Food travel, in the press, local produce, photography, Seafood recipes, sustainable fish, Welsh produce