Saturday, 6 October 2012

Article: The Suffolk food festival with a difference

I was sworn at by a market trader on a fish stall the other day. A few weeks before that, in an independent wine merchants shop, I (along with my stream of detailed questions) was cast aside at the first sign of a definite sale from an unnecessarily pompous Chateauneuf-du-pape drinker. Last weekend, however, the only foodie fire I came under was a little harmless jostling by some Joules gilets and a light stampeding from some Hunter wellies. No danger of ill treatment at the Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival, that's for sure!

Jokes aside, the food festival held every September near Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast is most certainly a food and drink event with a difference. The holiday atmosphere, tranquil and picturesque setting, passion for food, and friendly stallholders are quite unique. Team that with some impressive celebrity chefs and the best ingredients the fair county of Suffolk has to offer, and the festival makes for, frankly, a damned good weekend.
This year was my first visit to the event, although I know and love the area well, and what struck me most was the overwhelming, raw interest in local food. Sure I've been to other festivals aimed at lovers of food, drink, and cooking, but all I usually come away with is bags of "stuff" and a few vague recipe ideas that, for the most part, get shoved to the back of the cupboard or the bottom of the blog list never to be seen again. At the Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival I actually learned things and the goodies I came home with are now proudly displayed on the kitchen counter, destined for exciting and creative uses and, hopefully, entertaining and informative blog posts.

At this festival, I attended workshops on foraging and food writing; tasted cyder with one of the top guys at Aspall (and his lovely wife); and watched on in awe as Cromer fishermen told tales of the sea and dressed freshly caught crabs. I had the opportunity to not only learn from but mingle with the likes of celebrity chef Valentine Warner and Masterchef finalists Thomasina Miers and Tim Kinnaird (I even tasted one of his delicious macarons). And they weren’t untouchable, TV-styled chefs safely penned in by a display kitchen (although, don’t fear, I didn’t actually try to touch them). They were right there, browsing the food stalls, touting their wares, and enjoying the festival just like I was. In short, I went away even more inspired and intrigued by food and fellow foodies than I was before. And I finally bought a bay tree - for just £3.80! That alone makes a good weekend in my book.

This article was written in response to food journalist Andrew Webb's 500-word write-up challenge at his talk on food writing at the festival. You can visit his website here and follow him on Twitter @foodjournalist.