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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Abergavenny Finalised

July 1st means the finalised line up for Abergavenny is released!

You may have missed the chance to win a great prize by getting your wristband early, but now that the full detail is available you simply have to get there!

One major star will be Raymond Blanc  who is President of the Sustainable Restaurant Association.  Raymond will be interviewed by Sheila Dillon from BBC Radio 4’s Food and Farming programme.
Raymond Blanc

Sheila Dillon

Their conversation  will explore the roots of Raymond’s  passion for produce, dread of waste and respect for the land,  revealing  how early lessons learned from Maman Blanc  guide him throughout his career as chef and restaurateur . Raymond will also explain how ,only by understanding that food connects with every part of our lives,  we can truly secure a future for our food.

Yotam Ottolenghi., alongside his head chef, Ramael Scully, will bring the inventive NOPI ethos to the festival, pushing culinary boundaries. You could be amongst the first to get hold of NOPI the cookbook too.
Yotam and Scully

Bake-Off champion Frances Quinn brings  her unique style of baking;

 Exciting new London trio, The Groundnut Boys  will demonstrate recipes from their African Heritage with a contemporary twist . 
Groundnut Boys

Festivals don’t feel complete without  Cyrus Todiwala OBE who has been changing perceptions of Indian Cuisine since her arrived from Goa in 1991, and treating us to his food and strongly held opinions in his annual Rude Health Rant.

Happily Rude Health will again be sponsoring the Rants, in the Castle, so grab some food and drink, and settle back to hear some passionate views about food and food production, with a few laughs along the way and the possibility of an accordion accompaniment from Paulo Arrigo of Franchi Seeds.

Its not all household names though,  and this year there are some demonstrations with a difference;
 Jon Old from the Wasabi Company will talk visitors through how, from a secret location in the UK, they grow one of the world’s most expensive crops.
Jon Old

 Mitch Tonks, renowned for his radical career change from accountant to fishmonger, will demonstrate recipes from his book The Seahorse, the inspiration coming fromItaly and the South West of England.
Mitch Tonks

On the drinks front,  the festival boasts a number of cocktail, foraging and alcohol master classes. 

James Chase from Chase Distillery will expertly guide you through spirits, wines and ciders, while author and forager by day, Andy Hamilton presents ‘Wild Booze and Hedgerow Cocktails’ showing you how you can make delicious cocktails from a hedgerow near you.
James Chase
Expect more additions as the website goes live and get your tickets for events at
  Finally in this quick view a big mention to Hang Fire Smokehouse, locally based and BBC Food and Farming Award Winners, Best Street Food 2015.
Samantha Evans and  Shauna Guinn came to the Festival last year as stallholders and return this year on the bill with their amazing smoked and barbequed foods.
 Sam said: “It’s incredible that just one year on from our first appearance at Abergavenny Food Festival, and just two years since starting this business, we will be standing where our inspirations from the food industry have stood. We're looking forward to both feeding the Festival goers our brand of Welsh slow and low BBQ and being a part of the Festival over the weekend."
Shauna added: “This Festival is the highlight of the foodie event calendar and we’re delighted to be included in all aspects of the programme, for the first time, as we share the alchemy of meat smoking.”
First select your meat
As always there will be over 200 stalls and the introduction of The Meat Market as well as the well established Cheese Market.

The Festival doesn't stop when the stalls close either, the Night Market is back with a great  range of Street Food and if it's entertainment you want head to the Castle for Swing Time on Friday and the legendary Party on Saturday, food drink and fun the perfect way to end your day.

More to come later, but visit the website and start planning your visit

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Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Great Taste Awards

Now in their 21st year the Great Taste Awards, organised by The Guild of Fine Food, have not only come of age, but are THE benchmark of a great product.

Thousands of products are tasted and tested,  from Anchovies to Zabaglione and all to ensure that the consumer gets the finest of product.

A volunteer collective of Chefs, Producers, Retailers, Food Writers and Food Critics do the tastings in sessions held across the UK - all seeking the perfect food that will earn a 3 Star rating.

Waiting to taste

Several sessions are held at Guild Headquarters in Gillingham, Dorset but the tastings take place in several cities which have included Belfast and Dublin and, for the first time this year, Cardiff.

Welsh producers have always taken the awards seriously, and with the Welsh Government behind them through its Bwyd a Diod Cymru (Food and Drink Wales) arm, a Cardiff heat was a chance to show the best of Wales. See what previous Great Taste Award winners from Wales had to say about the effect that winning had for them here

So, in early June I was invited to three days of tasting.

I have judged various competitions before, both here and in Ireland, but they have usually been of the complete dish, such as in The Celtic Cook Off, rather than single ingredients so there was a degree of uncertainty in the days leading up to the tastings.

I should not have worried, helpful notes for new judges were sent out in plenty of time and I was assured that you work in teams of 4 or 5 with a very experienced co-ordinator to collate your views and record them.

Experienced Coordinators

Each tasting session will have up to 10 tables of judges who will work their way through the list of foods presented for them. All foods are tasted blind with the tasting sheet having little more than a simple description, for example “Gluten Free Welsh Cake”. I did actually recognise one item from the description and obviously declared an interest and took no part in that tasting.

 After tasting, and discussing, each plate the team give a rating from 0 to 3 Stars. A 3 Star item is nigh perfection and they are limited in being awarded.  Getting a 1 Star award is a major triumph.

Once graded the items are collected, and passed to another set of judges for a second opinion.  If needed, third or fourth panels are involved to ensure that the ratings are fair and accurate. To get a 3 Star rating at least five tables of judges must agree that it deserves that accolade.

The upshot of this for judges is that you start a session with a list of around 15 tastings but with second tastings you wind up with 30 plus!
Session commences
As the aim of the Guild is to support producers every item has the judges comments sent to the producer. Judges are required to make positive comments, as well as criticism, so that products can be improved and a 1 star become 2 etc. All entries have positive aspects, even those which will not be awarded Stars, and the comments and advice given in tastings can lift the product to Star level, or raise it to the next one.l.

Food production and service is a major contributor to the Welsh economy so it was hardly surprising that on Wednesday morning we came under close scrutiny as both BBC and ITV sent camera crews to see us at work. (Confidentiality was maintained at all times.)

ITV interview the Deputy Minister

BBC Wales Economics Correspondent Sarah Dickins at work

It is the rigorous tasting and the experienced judges who ensure that the Great Taste Awards really do find great foods, and deserve the high regard in which they are held. Often called the Oscars of the Food World, they are much more like the Olympic Games of Food where getting a medal (Star) confirms you are at the top of your game.

Tastings will continue for some weeks and the results will all be collated and the final decisions revealed later this summer. How many 3 Star Awards will be given? I don’t know but we found some in Cardiff!

Did I enjoy myself, ABSOLUTELY!

Even though, as a Rookie Judge, seeing Charles Campion get his game face on and settle for some serious tasting was a little disconcerting at first, I had lots of help, advice and encouragement from fellow judges and would love to judge again next year.

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