Liverpool Food and Drink Festival

5 Sep

In a previous life, having helped run and organise food festivals all over the North West with the long (and sadly) defunct North West Fine Foods,* it has been nothing short of a bloody wonder to see this once small-time scene burgeon and blossom into the foodie beacon it is now. Having grown out of the quaint tradition of the farmer’s market, a still somewhat under-utilised and under-appreciated medium for local producers of food and drink, the food festival of today is an all-encompassing and many faced beast.

Run by organisations as varied as local councils, tourist boards and savvy event companies, the food fest comes in many a guise. The stalwart of any good event is a local producer’s market, of course, in addition to a sprinkling of master classes and demonstration theatres, with the more populated areas and better funded organisers (through sponsorship and council investment) attracting celebrity chefs and food personalities to help further draw the greedy masses.

The passage of time, however,  has seen creativity ramp right up, with children’s food education areas as standard, debates held with food writers, independent wine and cider festivals attached to the main event and local restaurants getting involved to spiff up the catering (beyond the ubiquitous bratwurst hut that we have all come to know and love). Locale has varied through the years too, moving out of the traditional muddy field to the urban landscape, allowing the recent pop up and street food trends to truly come into its own.

In the name of research (cough), my family and I went along to Liverpool Food and Drink Festival for the launch event located in my favourite city spot, Sefton Park. Situated in an expanse of greenery to the south of the city, now in its fifth year, the festival had more than doubled in size, and the sheer numbers it is now attracting is beyond belief, apparently pulling in over 30,000  visitors on the opening  weekend.

50 deep queues at the Chocolate and Churros tent at the Liverpool Food and Drinks Festival 2012

The organisers, SK Events, pulled off a mammoth coup in getting the majority of the city’s independent restaurants to attend, including the much loved Alma de Cuba, serving up busting fat hot dogs with Cajun spiced onions, and Catalan restaurant Lunya, where my sister and I sampled our first (and my gagging sister’s last) mackerel semen, a kind of intense mackerel pate. And with a veritable feast of special offers and events planned from the increasingly vibrant Liverpool restaurant scene, the festival food fun lasts all week.

Alma Dog, Alma de Cuba

Mackerel Semen, Lunya

King of the refined Liverpool dining scene, Paul Askew was in attendance with a pop up of The London Carriage Works, which due to poor advance planning I didn’t get anywhere near. That said, who needs tablecloths and cutlery? A festival isn’t a festival without slopping mustard down yourself, a feat my lovely Dad was only too happy to perform. With beer and cider tents in the mix, plus a pop up cocktail bar from Palm Sugar bringing the glamour, the organisers know how to deliver for their Scouse audience all too well. 

The London Carriage Works Pop Up

Palm Sugar Pop Up

The organisers also pulled a blinder in attracting Tom Kitchin and Lisa Faulkner of Celebrity Masterchef fame, to take part in cookery demonstrations and a well attended bake off, pitting the two against each other in the battle to bake the best apple muffin, with man of the moment Paul Hollywood calling the winner. The ever lovely and entertaining Malaysian chef, Norman Musa, also made an appearance, running cookery classes out of a tipi and promoting his Manchester restaurant Ning.

Paul Hollywood, Tom Kitchin and Lisa Faulkner: The Liverpool Bake Off

My only sadness was the limited number of food producers at the festival, and appearance of large brands like Soreen and Typhoo, though Fitzpatrick’s of Dandelion and Burdock fame and Port of Lancaster Smokehouse were representing the regional scene.The small showing from producers also resulted in there being only one stall selling one type of produce, so couldn’t get near The Liverpool Cheese Company or Friendly Food and Drink stand (to get hold of the incredible lemon curd they make) for the size of the queues. Harrumph.

As a HUGE supporter of regional producers and independent restaurant businesses, I try and visit as many as North West festivals as I can when the season is upon us, running from May through to late November each year. A huge motivating factor is sheer greed, of course. I love finding new producers, new ingredients to cook with and like most foodies, never shy away from the opportunity to learn some new trick. Plus, you can’t beat grabbing a carpet picnic from the stalls and binging back home later on.

On a more worthy note, however, I want to support these small businesses, which out of my experience working with them have incredible amounts of passion and creativity, with the products or hospitality to prove it. The food festivals give them a new platform and wider audience, and for that alone are worth supporting, whatever their shape and size, so here are some of the best I’ve experienced in our fine region to try out over the coming months:

Manchester Food and Drink Festival: Manchester / 21 September – 08 October 2012

Taste Cumbria: Cockermouth / 29-30 September 2012

North West Food Lover’s Festival: Tatton Park / 19-21 October 2012

* A spectacular organisation set up in the wake of the foot and mouth crisis, to support small to medium sized food and drink producers in the North West in developing and promoting their businesses. This organisation kick started my passion for all things food, and with its demise due to a lack of funding, took any hope of regturning to my dream job with it. Sigh.

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One Response to “Liverpool Food and Drink Festival”

  1. Kevin Ashton October 6, 2012 at 10:18 pm #

    I would like to offer an outsider’s point of of this year’s festival. As a chef a food writer from Worcestershire. I was very impressed with organization of SK events, the mix of stalls, the demonstrations, and kid friendly nature of the show. Sure, like you said it would have been even better if more local producers had been there, but with crowds of 30,000-40,000 a day that will come in time.

    I loved the strong musical element to the event which I guess is to be expected given Liverpool’s heritage. The atmosphere was relaxed, plenty of places to sit and I felt the festival was very inclusive, which can’t be said for all food festivals.

    If you wish to read more about my weekend in Liverpool just click on the lick and don’t forget to say hello.

    Best Wishes
    Kevin Ashton

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