Abergavenny Food Festival

PUBLISHED: 13:30 05 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:49 20 February 2013

Abergavenny Food Festival

Abergavenny Food Festival

"It's the biggest and best in the country. It's a joy to be a part of it." Michelin-starred chef James Sommerin describes the Food Festival in Abergavenny which, this year, will be over the weekend of September 17-18

Its the biggest and best in the country. Its a joy to be a part of it. Michelin-starred chef James Sommerin describes the Food Festival in Abergavenny which, this year, will be over the weekend of September 17-18. Chris Poole gets a taste of whats on offer.

Not somany years ago Abergavenny struggled to adapt to a fading industrial heritage, falling back on its traditional position as a market town. The busy cattle market has, in its turn, also moved on. But this isnt a place that stands still and ruminates. Recognising that attracting visitors would be the key to its future prosperity Abergavenny (and, it would be true to say, the delightful county of Monmouthshire as a whole) has been busy finding new niches.

One of the striking features of our region broadly speaking Herefordshire, Monmouthshire and Powys is the number of fine restaurants. This is no great surprise given the range of high-quality produce available locally. If you blend an abundance of culinary skill with ingredients to match the best in the world you have the makings of a festival devoted to the love of food.

Andy Addis-Fuller, born and bred in Hereford where his brother is also a chef, brings his culinary expertise to The Bell country pub at Glangrwyney, a little outside Abergavenny. The Food Festival is a fantastic event bringing over 30,000 visitors to the area and pulling in some of the big names in the culinary world. This year Ill be working with beer writer and critic Pete Brown exploring menus that match beers with dishes that are complemented by the combinations of spices, citrus, ginger popular with the micro-breweries now.

Chef demonstrations, such as those that Pete and Andy will give in the Market Hall over the weekend, are a popular feature of the festival. Many will be by first-class chefs who work in our region. Rupert Taylor, for example, at the superb restaurant with rooms, The Bell at Skenfrith, will demonstrate the variety of organically-grown vegetables grown in the Bells own gardens.

The festivals masterclasses will be hosted by food writer and consultant Angela Gray at The Angel Hotel and at the Borough Theatre. The list of celebrities is impressive. Richard Bertinet and Henry Harris will be proving that the British and the French can get along well in their show of entente cordiale. Bryn Williams, Angela Hartnett, Trina Hahnemann, James Ramsden and Niamh Shields are among the many experts at The Angel too.

As one of the principal venues for the Festival, the hotel is bustling from breakfast to supper all through the weekend. General manager William Griffiths explains: We have masterclasses in our ballroom and tutored tastings elsewhere in the hotel. The festival has been steadily gaining in credibility and reputation. Making no compromises in quality is important. Its a major event for the town, needing meticulous planning of street closures, parking and everything that goes with such a huge influx of people.

The hotel is neatly positioned between two of the main venues the Market Hall itself and Abergavenny Castle. The castle has a chequered history, some of it not glorious, but today its ruins provide recreation space and a museum. For the food festival it becomes a party space and a lively arena. There is an emphasis on children here. James Sommerin again: There is a lot of attention to children at the festival. Getting them interested and excited about food is important.

The Food Academy in the castle grounds is where children can get a taste of growing and producing food. Workshops, competitions and entertainments are there for children to savour and enjoy.

While the tastings, demonstrations and masterclasses might be the headline events there is much more to sample. Abergavenny Food Festival has become the place for discussion and debate about everything connected with food. There are talks, walks, classes and a conference on the theme of changing attitudes towards local food. There are links to special occasions in restaurants and hotels in the area. And there are, of course, hundreds of exhibitors to see.

Visitors cannot fail to be impressed by the scale and variety of stands. You will find food and drinks, catering and bee-keeping, chocolates and Cheddar, the familiar and the exotic. Arun Kapil, for example, brings an amazing range of spices from his Cork-based company Green Saffron. Spice expert Arun will also be giving tutored tastings in Trinity Hall. Iranian chef Kamran Khanverdi will be revealing the mysteries of Persian cuisine.

Gareth Baker, who exhibited last year with Wye Valley Apiaries, says: Abergavenny takes a lot of beating. Events in London, for example, have become rather antiseptic. People come here to enjoy not just the festival but also an opportunity to take a break in this beautiful part of the country. So there are lots of spin-off benefits for the town and the region.

Mark Coulton of Sugarloaf Catering agrees: Last year we prepared the Fanfare Feast which is a regular opening ceremony on the Friday evening. This year it will have an African theme. The whole town buzzes during festival weekend.

Abergavenny Food Festival has proved that in this place of stunning natural beauty, as it moves on from industries that brought economic well-being but blighted the nearby landscapes, you can create a fusion of talent and quality that brilliantly showcases some of the finer things in life.

Monmouthshire-born James Sommerin sums it all up: We are blessed with so much first class produce and so many good restaurants. As this festival shows, Wales now knows how to promote the best of itself.

The festival, the town and the country have much to celebrate.

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