Visitors to the 21st Abergavenny Food Festival experienced awe-inspiring stories from some of the most knowledgable and powerful voices in food this weekend (21st/22nd September) as the Monmouthshire market town hosted forages, exclusive feasts, talks, debates, Fringe programme events and masterclasses on everything from butchery to vinegars.
In unprecedented Saturday sunshine, Wales’ largest food festival got off to a flying start as the nine Producers Markets filled up with shoppers around town, with those in the Market Hall pausing to delight at the 2019 decorations on the theme of ‘Precious Pollinators’ in homage to the winged creatures who play such a vital role in our ecosystem. The festival atmosphere continued at The Castle with popular street food stalls, the Kids Cookery School, and Cooking over Fire demos by Hang Fire Southern Kitchen and Freddy Bird. Also at The Castle, The Dome was packed out for a discussion on The Rise of #MeToo in Hospitality which saw a panel of incredible speakers (Danish chef and food writer Trine Hahnemann, Sam and Shauna from Hang Fire, Asma Khan chef/founder of Darjeeling Express, ground-breaking US chef Mary Sue Milliken, and supper club founder Fozia Ismail) share their experiences and hopes for the future of gender equality in the industry. The Farmyard hosted a new Welsh Chefs demo stage as well as topical debates around the future of farming on the Farming Matters Stage. Plus, there were masterclasses on ‘Beyond Fermentation’ with Sandor Katz, pasture-fed mutton with Cyrus Todiwala, Jane Baxter and Black Welsh Lamb and an orchard walk complete with visitors taking away their own pickled apples with author James Rich.
The rain may have arrived in town on Sunday, but the enthusiasm of visitors to the festival didn’t wane as Sunday saw Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver, the team behind iconic British restaurant, St.JOHN discussing their new book, The Book of St.JOHN celebrating 25 years of cooking as they reflected on the growth and change of the industry during this time. Chefs Tommy Heaney, Josh Eggleton, Gareth Ward and Tom Watts-Jones shared culinary tips and techniques on the Market Hall demo stage, while DJ BBQ and Genevieve Taylor were Cooking over Fire at The Castle. There was mezcal tasting with Sara Sanna, everything you needed to know about herbs with Jekka McVicar and further food for thought with a discussion on Food, Families and Life with acclaimed food writer Bee Wilson.
On her first visit to Abergavenny Food Festival, founder of the award-winning Darjeeling Express and the first British chef to feature on Netflix’s cult TV series ‘Chef’s Table’, Asma Khan stole the show at every event she took part in over the weekend. Her passion for cooking the food she loves, her warmth and generosity were evident as she shared the story of her Life in Food in conversation with Xanthe Clay. Her determination to give a voice to women working in kitchens, herself running an all female kitchen at Darjeeling Express, inspired a huge crowd at the #MeToo discussion at The Dome and she also hosted a Cookery School class cooking recipes and sharing stories of history and heritage from her cookbook ‘Asma’s Indian Kitchen’.
CEO Aine Morris adds:
“This year was undoubtedly our most successful festival yet. We had more visitors on Saturday than we’ve had on any other single day at the festival before. We went into the weekend with more sold out events than previous years and our wonderful stallholders are telling us they had their biggest show ever!
“This means we were able to introduce even more people to those who make and create their food, encourage them to try and learn something new and bring more people into the important debates that matter about our future food systems.
“Our programme of events over the weekend included some hugely important and relevant panel discussions including The Rise of #MeToo in Hospitality, mental health and rants in The Dome on topics such as the important role of grass-fed livestock in a sustainable food system. We were also incredibly honoured to have welcomed the team behind the iconic St.JOHN back to the festival again.
“The feedback we’re hearing from visitors leaves us feeling that we provided the opportunity to have food experiences that really made an impact on them. Abergavenny Food Festival is rapidly becoming an important meeting place to talk about sustainable food systems. What visitors are able to discover and learn from the chefs, farmers, producers and experts here, could affect changes in food and farming that are needed across the industry.
“I must also say a huge thank you to all our wonderful sponsors and supporters, speakers and stallholders who helped make this year's edition of Abergavenny Food Festival such a resounding success. We couldn't have done it without you.”