One of the highlights of the ‘foodie year’ both in Wales and the rest of the UK, is the amazing Food Festival held each year in the sleepy market town of Abergavenny, here in South Wales. This year the visiting chefs included the fabulous Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.
Originally started about 11 years ago, the Food Festival was an attempt to counteract the devastation caused to local farmers and food producers from the fall out after the BSE crisis which dramatically hit the UK farmers at the time. Nowadays the festival has achieved the big-time by wowing about 30,000 visitors each day of the two day Festival!
Abergavenny is very much an old rural market town set in the picturesque green and lush Welsh countryside at the base of the Sugar Loaf Mountain and close to the adjoining majestic heights of the Brecon Beacons.
The Festival attracts some of the top food chefs and famous names and this year was no exception with not only Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, but also the fabulous Claudia Rodin and the august Pierre Koffmann amongst others.
Not only can you go and see each of them giving a talk or cookery demonstration but they will also be walking around sampling the delights of the festival and generally happy to talk to people. Such as Pierre Koffmann spied at a cookbook stand as we walked by!
A few years ago I was picking out some heritage apples from a stall when someone next to me beat me to a particularly fine specimen. The gentleman apologized and offered it to me and to my surprise it was Rick Stein! I’ve since met him a couple of times and he is a lovely chap and hugely passionate about local food.
I’ve also had the pleasure of chatting to Clarissa Dickson Wright-what a truly fascinating lady-and have met the charismatic eastern European chef Silvena Rowe.
Apart from all these ‘celebrities’ you also get the chance to meet local food producers and the majority of the food stalls are giving away free samples of their wares to tempt you.
Even the decorations made by volunteers and hung from the ceilings of the old Victorian Market Hall, symbolise food with this year’s theme being wild food...
Abergavenny closes its main streets for the two main days of the festival so you can freely wander around. The old Auctioneer’s Hall is the centre of the numerous cheese stalls with tutored tastings. One of the churches and an Old Tithe Barn is the focus of the fish and seafood stall holders section and the Castle itself focuses on the more children centred food activities and has street entertainers and strolling musicians.
The whole town becomes food obsessed with even the local wool shop having knitted bagels in its shop window...
Another kitchen utensil shop had a very artistic display-all of which was made of cake!
The downside and it is a very big downside, is that it’s very popularity nowadays means the crowds are enormous...This small market town becomes host to about 30,000 visitors each day of the main two day festival. The mornings are not too bad and we have learnt over the years of visiting, to arrive early in order to be able to park near to the centre and then have a leisurely cappuccino before it officially open at 10 o’clock and then to hit the stalls then. By the afternoon the main areas are unbelievably busy and the crowds can make it all rather uncomfortable.
In addition to the general ticket entry which is a very reasonable £6-£8 for each day-children are free- there are the Masterclasses and Tutored Tastings where you pay an additional fee. As these are hosted by some of the food ‘celebrities’, tickets for these can sell out very quickly. Mind you, even at £7 or so they are very good value as you get to meet the chef or speaker, and hear them give a talk or see them cook and at some get a glass of wine and some nibbles too.