Abergavenny Food Festival – the way a food festival should be

As you may remember, I recently had a less than enjoyable experience at a food festival, but I’m now happy to report that my faith in food events has been restored by the Abergavenny Food Festival in Wales.

The Abergavenny Food Festival

The Festival has been going and growing for 19 years (longer than any other!) and offers a brilliant way for people of all ages, cultures and professions to come together and learn about food.

Last weekend Alex (Gingey Bites) and I took at early(ish) morning (hey, it was before 9am!) drive through the lovely Welsh countryside to get in early for a day of food celebration.

At the press launch, we heard from Aine Morris the CEO of the Abergavenny Food Festival, and Tom Kerridge, who you’ll know from various cooking shows. They shared why the Festival was so important to them and it got me excited about what the event was aiming to achieve around educating people about food.

Abergavenny Food Festival

We may also have tested some delicious baked goods from Alex Gooch and this surprisingly good chocolate almond milk from Boringly Good.

Abergavenny Food Festival

After the press launch, I raced off to the Priory for the workshops I’d prebooked. While my day was set in stone, Alex was very lucky to wander the event site checking out traders, the Castle, and the Linda Vista Gardens while I learned a few tricks (she’ll probably tell you about her day on her blog!). I was a bit jealous, but I’ve learned my lesson and I won’t pack out my days next year!

Never fear, there was food nearby! I was excited to find that there were plenty of food options and some great traders in the Priory courtyard, so I wasn’t missing out on the festival entirely.

Ticketed events

To access the non-ticketed events, you needed a wristband. This gave you access to the market, the Castle and the Linda Vista Gardens, where a range of fun things were organised, including cooking demonstrations (over the fire and in a proper kitchen).

The ticketed event options were brilliant though, ranging from chef talks to hands-on workshops like photography, and gin masterclasses. I went for the hands-on workshops and spent the day learning tips and tricks about smartphone photography, and food styling. As someone who never takes notes, I learn by doing and both sessions were great for giving us an opportunity to get involved.

It’s defintely worth getting a couple of ticketed events in, but don’t make the mistake I made and book out your whole day with ticketed events unless you’re going to the Festival for both days. You’ll soon (like me) regret missing out on the amazing traders and other activities.

Abergavenny Food Festival

Traders

I had an hour to walk round the market area in the late afternoon and it was brilliant to see a mix of traders selling a wide range of goods from smoked meats and fish to grains, tomatoes, bread and cured meats. While there were some traders who had come a fair way to be involved in the event, many were local to Wales (one was just eight miles down the road!) and quite a few were from just over the bridge in Somerset and Wiltshire.

That’s the way a food festival should be! We loved seeing local produce and talking to traders about why they came to the Abergavenny Food Festival.

Abergavenny Food Festival

Abergavenny Food Festival

Abergavenny Food Festival

Abergavenny Food Festival

Abergavenny Food Festival

Eat Your Words

After our long day, we needed sustenance and we were glad we’d booked tickets for the Abergavenny edition of Bristol’s Eat Your Words.

We were lucky to have our meal cooked by the author of the chosen cookbook! Olia Hercules cooked up a Georgian feast based on recipes from her new book Kaukasis and shared her passion for food from the Caucasus region.

Abergavenny Food Festival, Kaukasis and Eat Your Words

Abergavenny Food Festival, Kaukasis and Eat Your Words

Abergavenny Food Festival, Kaukasis and Eat Your Words

At the end…

It was a long day, but it also wasn’t. In fact, I think it went way too quickly. There were so many things to see and do in Abergavenny, and so much of it was about local and good quality producre that it’s the perfect example of a food festival.

I *cannot* wait for the 20th anniversary of the Abergavenny Food Festival next year! In fact, Alex and I are already making plans to be there for the full weekend!

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The food festival fail

Here a food festival, there a food festival

These days it’s not hard to find a food festival on pretty much every weekend. If you google food festivals, there are more results than you can poke a stick at, and if you look on Twitter, you’ll find just as many.

As a lover of food, I think it’s great! Many of these small food festivals are about showcasing local producers and chefs, and often there are a few celebrities thrown into the mix – usually, they’re the ones passionate about eating local and pushing the seasonal food philosophy, and they very well should be!

However, I have a problem.

Some of these events just seem like excuses for making a bit of cash for the organiser/s.

There are about 10 stalls selling fudge, 5 selling beer, another 10 selling liqueurs or gins, and another 5 selling jam. The rest of the stalls are people selling handcrafted furniture or jewellery.

And that’s fine. For a market.

Not an event claiming to be a food festival.

The Great British Food Festival

Today, I went to the Great British Food Festival at Bowood House in Wiltshire. The premise seemed fine – some demonstrations from local chefs, plenty of food to eat, loads of independent food producers, a few things for the kids.

When we arrived at 11:30am, we wondered why so many people were already leaving, considering the event had only opened at 10am. To be honest, the only reason we stuck around was to see a chef I like do a demonstration at 2pm.

We walked into the shopping tent to find the handmade jewellery, soaps and pyramid schemes. That was two minutes of my time I’ll never get back.

Then we checked out the two artisan tents. As I mentioned, it was essentially mostly liqueurs, gins, beers and fudge, and many of the traders are ones I’ve seen at events far from Wiltshire. There was even a stall selling Turkish delight that I’d seen in London a few weeks ago (not locally made is what I’m getting at). Pretty uninspiring to be honest.

Mostly people are walking around trying things they have no intention of buying (and look, we’re all guilty of it), but this is people’s livelihoods.

What I was expecting: local makers of breads, cheeses, and oils. A range of cakes and pastries. Locally farmed produce. Meat sourced from British farmers.

After that, we wandered the food stalls for some lunch and, again, it wasn’t very exciting. If I was going to an event called the ‘Great British Food Festival’, I’d be expecting some amazing options from the local area. While I can’t claim each stall wasn’t offering that, there were definitely some stalls who weren’t – in fact, one was offering “100% greek meat”. Let me remind you that we were at the Great BRITISH Food Festival.

What I wanted: people to be proud of their British or local produce. Doesn’t ‘our chicken comes from 2 miles up the road and we want to share it with you’, sound more exciting?

We sat under a tree for the next hour because the event organisers were woefully unprepared for the sun, which was intense, to say the least. More importantly, I wondered what would have happened if it was raining (because let’s be honest, that would have been more likely!).

The entertainment was OK, I guess. Small producers talked about their wares at one tent; at another two there were kids activities; at another, there was the ‘man versus food’ eating events and the bake off – don’t get me started on that! There was also some music, but that’s not why I’m here.

In short, I felt like I’d wasted my day. If I wasn’t hanging out with a friend and waiting for a demonstration (which was the only good bit by the way!), I’d have been there for just 30 minutes.

I get that I’m probably not the target market. But who actually is? Because you could find the stalls at a market and not have to pay an entry fee, and the cooking demonstrations were very short and there weren’t many of them.

Even when you go to the Great British Food Festival website, you can’t find any information about the people who run the event. Where’s the ‘I’m passionate about local food’, ‘I wanted to support local producers’? It’s a lifeless event that could be so much better.

I’d honestly love to chat to some of the traders who go to these events. I hope for their sake they do get something out of attending them.

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