4:28pm Monday 29th October 2012 in Local News By Fiona Phillips
Hereford has staked its claim as the food capital of the country with a hugely successful festival at the weekend that won acclaim from locals and visitors alive.
Moving the Flavours of Herefordshire festival, sponsored by Allpay, away from its out-of-town home at Hereford Racecourse and into the heart of the city was a bold move by the newly-formed Visit Herefordshire organisation – but a gamble that paid off by attracting an estimated 32,000 people to the delight of established traders and stallholders alike.
Several food producers had entirely sold out of their stock by Saturday afternoon and many burned the midnight oil cooking and preparing new items for sale on Sunday only to see them snapped up just as quickly.
The Cathedral provided a stunning backdrop to the marquees offering everything any self-respecting foodie could want – from home-grown chillis to Christmas puddings; rare breed sausages to spices.
There was cider galore, cheese from far and wide and there were local butchers, artisan bakers and candle-makers.
Stalls saw crowds 10 deep as visitors munched and slurped their way around the free samples and clamoured to get their hands on some of the finest quality food and drink available.
In addition there were demonstrations and competitions to watch and take part in and music and dance all day and into the night.
The collective noun for cooks is a hastiness – and while there was certainly a fine crop of big names demonstrating their expertise – all took plenty of time to meet and greet fans clutching cookery books for signature , proving that cooking is definitely the new rock ‘n’roll.
Xanthe Clay, the Daily Telegraph’s food columnist kicked off proceedings, most ably supported by Castle House Hotel head chef Claire Nicholls, with a delightful, informal but informative demonstration of simple but spectacular dishes with a Middle Eastern twist.
Tony Tobin – stalwart for BBC’s Ready Steady Cook put the fun into food with a highly entertaining demo that provided some seriously good food.
Headlining the festival was the doyen of British cookery, the inimitable Mary Berry, currently riding the crest of the Great British Bake-off wave.
The Shire Hall was packed yet Mary created a cosy atmosphere that felt like she was chatting in her own kitchen while cooking a simple chicken supper dish – and a signature chocolate cake, the recipe for which she has given to festival –goers.
But local cooks were much in evidence too – and even politicians Jesse Norman MP and Bill Wiggin MP quite literally got into the mix by taking part in a cook-off.
Matt Slocombe, charismatic chef at the Crown in Woolhope did his best to bring some Order, Order to the proceedings, but when it came to his own cook-off against Visit Herefordshire chief Executive Sir Ben Gill, Matt really had his work cut out.
Dedicated carnivore Sir Ben cooked up a vegetarian dish while Matt’s offering was of Herefordshire meat dishes.
In addition there were fish preparation demonstrations by Duncan and Susan Lucas and cooking demos by the Jolly Frog at Leintwardine; Rayeesa Asgar-Sandys, from Mordiford, demonstrated recipes from her Indian Cookery School; Julia Thomas showed off her gluten, wheat and dairy-free cake recipes and Rowlestone icecream provided an insight into its business.
There were competitions for pumpkin carving, sausage-making, young chefs, cider and window displays.
CBeebies presenter Katy Ashworth ran story-telling sessions for youngsters in a yurt and BBC Hereford and Worcester provided entertainment and live music on castle Green, where visitors could enjoy an ox roast or embark upon a ghost walk.
Sir Ben Gill, Chairman of Visit Herefordshire said: “We are delighted to have received so many positive comments and reports from visitors, sponsors and exhibitors alike. You can be sure we will be building on this to develop the County’s Flavours of Herefordshire Festival for future years.”