Tag Archives: chocolatiers

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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Baravelli’s…the Welsh chocolatiers

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During half term Rosie the teen and I took a drive along the blustery Welsh coast to visit Street Food vendor Jon from Providero coffee.

We bought coffee, cake and a minted hot chocolate for the teen and stood chatting about the wonderful local produce we get to source from. We discovered that his chocolate sticks are from somewhere not that far up the road, so decided to drop in and see the suppliers, Welsh chocolatiers Baravelli’s,on our drive back home along the coast.

Our first mistake was going to visit a chocolatiers on Valentines Day…what was I thinking!!? As Rosie and I opened the door of their workshop in Conwy Industrial Park (not the most glamorous place) the smell of sweet cocoa filled our senses.  Our eyes lit up as we spied the array of chocolate hearts, truffles, chocolate sticks and cakes laid out around us. Suddenly the teen wrenched the camera from my hand stating firmly that she HAD to take some pictures of their amazing cakes. I let her get on with it as I chatted to Mark, the owner.

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I have to admit I was slightly embarrassed. Mark and Emma remembered me from a brief meeting we had a couple of years before at Conwy Honey Fair….my only excuse for not recalling the earlier encounter is that I have a memory like a sieve. When Jon had mentioned Baravelli’s I didn’t make the connection as back then they ran a small delicatessen.

Since that first meeting the deli has closed but the chocolate business which they started in 2010 has grown into the ‘bean to bar’ operation (the first in Wales) and in 2012 they moved into their new premises. Now they are firmly focused on full-time chocolatiering.

Trademarking their Chocstix product (extra-large chocolate shots for stirring into hot milk) is their first priority and rightly so. Although there are other people doing similar products, theirs are larger shots and come in a range of flavours from the straight up milk, white and dark chocolate to all kinds of strange and wonderful combinations…mint, strawberry, caramel, mocha, spiced orange, hazelnut and white rice pudding.

Hhhmmm…well, it did get me thinking about my market stall and whether people might buy proper hot chocolate and I’d prefer to sell the locally made stuff! My customers are a discerning bunch and love to try new local products, so to help me decide what to go for Mark gave me some samples to take home.

The following afternoon my avid team of taste testers had a great time trying our six samples which included, a spiced orange, hazelnut, dark chocolate, white rice pudding, milk chocolate and strawberry.

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We all loved the milk chocolate, hazelnut and orange. They were rich and creamy, the flavours were not too intense and they had just the right level of sweetness. Rosie the teen snuck off with the strawberry later that day so I didn’t get a taste…but she declared it delicious. Only two failed to hit the spot. The dark chocolate was rather bitter and not sweet enough for our tastes, but then none of us are big dark chocolate fans and we really weren’t keen on the white rice pudding which had an overpowering nutmeg flavour and was quite sickly. It turned out this view was unanimous, none of my taste test team were very keen.

As for the rest of their products, well I didn’t get to test their truffles or preserves while we were there but if they are half as good as the Chocstix i’d highly recommend them…also, you can call me a silly romantic but a girl could just fall in love with someone who presented her with one of those Valentines creations (instead I spent two days making heart-shaped cupcakes and biscuits with my ten-year old son…at least he’s in tune with his romantic side!)

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Baravelli’s website is still under construction but they do have an online shop up and running. You can also call to discuss their products (especially if you want something special for Easter).

They are also planning chocolate making courses…so keep an eye on the website for details (as I will be!)

T: 01492338121

M: 07854905485

E: sweetstuff@baravellis.com

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