The Cornwall Food & Drink Festival, held on Truro’s Lemon Quay towards the end of September, is a pretty unique foodie event in the UK for the fact that every food and drink producer, every exhibitor, every chef and every sponsor are totally Cornish. There can’t be many festivals where fifty stallholders (there could be a lot more if the location didn’t limit the size) and a ‘Croust’ bar for Cornish refreshments, plus 3 days of chef’s demonstrations can claim this totally regional exclusivity, can there?
Having known Cornwall all my life, claiming itself a gastronomic capital of food would not have seemed remotely likely 25 years ago. Ask anyone, from Cornwall or beyond, and only Cornish pasties and clotted cream for the ubiquitous cream tea would have summed up food from Cornwall. Rick Stein had opened his first business in Padstow in 1974 and so back in 1986, his restaurant was the best of maybe of two, possibly three, places to dine out in Cornwall. Everything else was very mediocre and I can remember thinking: Just once, before I die, someone will love me enough to take me to eat at The Seafood Restaurant. It represented the pinnacle of food heaven that was out-of reach in terms of cost to the average Cornish wage.
So much has changed. Rick Stein had broadened his empire, great restaurants are aplenty and ridiculously good food is everywhere even in little cafe’s and bistros.I now get sniffy if even pub food in Cornwall isn’t freshly cooked and locally sourced.
Of course clotted cream and the ‘genuine’ Cornish pasty will always been synonymous with Cornwall and wonderfully they’re now both protected with special geographical status to stop inferior imitators giving the foods the wrong image. Motorway service stations would have us think as pasty came wrapped in plastic, contained minced beef and diced carrots and tasted rather dull.
Food hype is everywhere and all over the nation, food enthusiasts are all shouting for their own region. No wonder then that ‘fun’ polls to find Britain’s favourite food spot should inspire passionate food fights, where each county champions their own local food producers, their regional specialties and top-notch dining establishments. If local people don’t support their local producers they disappear, and if a single region can establish a reputation as a foodie destination then it can thrive like no other.
…And the argument for Cornwall?
Location and climate, it’s basically warmer and wetter here, means fruit and vegetables are sweeter and the land for grazing is lush year round. In turn, this cranks up the quality of meat and milk produced here. Milk goes into making cream, ice cream and cheese. Added to which, Cornwall has the sea on three sides and sits within the Gulf Stream, so the variety of fish and shellfish is amazing. The quality and variety of ingredients that any chef can draw on within a 10 mile radius of their kitchen is therefore pretty rare for any county to boast and it has generated some inspiring and delicious food in turn. Yes, I have now once eaten in Stein’s famous Padstow restaurant (I took my husband there for a pre-children birthday lunch) and it was indeed very good. The delicacies and subtleness of fresh fish presented simply and without fuss.
Today, it’s possible to get food as good as this in dozens of restaurants throughout Cornwall and at a fraction of the cost. The style of super-fresh ingredients, cooked simply so the flavours sing through (and with bigger portions) has become the way of Cornish dining. Great food in a class of it’s own, is now readily affordable and so aplenty, we’re in danger of taking it for granted.
Cornwall’s farmers have struggled over the last decade through poor prices and rising costs, plus incidences such as the foot and mouth crisis only added to the misery. On the up side though it forced many farmers to diversify. The result is an up swell in skilled artisan food and drink producers and top quality produce increasingly winning world-class awards, Philip Stansfield with his World’s Best Cornish Blue Cheese has been a case in point.
The UK’s media maybe a little bored about hearing about Cornwall, however in Europe Cornwall’s has been identified a great food destination. If you’re not convinced then check out the buzz at the festival.
Check the programme, let’s not be meek about it, Cornwall has some of the UK’s best chef’s will share tips about how to make the best dishes with locally sourced ingredients; perhaps the highlight for many will be Nathan Outlaw, Cornwall’s two star Michelin chef, creating his magic with fresh Cornish fish.
And recently, the Scarlet Hotel with its stunning views over the blue ocean and gorgeous golden sands, and reputation for food excellence have conspired, luring food aficionado, Jeremy Medley from Northamptonshire to take on the role as head chef. On Friday 23rd September at 4.15pm he’ll be making delicious use of Cornwall’s best produce while adding his own unique twist in the festival’s chef’s theatre.
After sunset, ‘Champions’ Night’ on Saturday 24th September, at only £20 a ticket is the ultimate party since the Cornish blue cheese and Camel Valley wines happen to have been awarded the best in the World; plus, the annual favourite: the exclusive ‘Magnificent Seven Dinner’ where Cornwall’s most acclaimed chef’s prepare a six course dinner on opening night. All this is proof that the Cornish food industry is inspiring many ardent devotees.
In the ‘Croust Bar’ not only the place to find something to eat and soak up the festival atmosphere but also full of a rolling programme of masterclasses, demos and food talks. ‘The Funky Food zone‘ is the place for kids and on Sunday 25th September at 11am Neil Haydock, Executive Chef at The Hotel and Extreme Academy at Watergate Bay will lead the pasta stretch where one continuous sheet of pasta will be rolled out in a record breaking attempt.
I sought some tasty hors d’oeurves of opinion to whet the appetite from a festival exhibitor, a chef and a festival sponsor. Deborah Richards of ‘Crellow’ is exhibiting for her third time and launching a new Apple, Apricot and Cider Jam. Jason Jobling, Business Development Manager for ‘Simply Cornish’ is one of the key sponsors in the ‘Croust Bar’ and will be selling, among other bakery products, their Triple Gold winning saffron cake. Fiona Were, Head Chef at the ‘Greenbank Hotel’, will be showcasing Cornish Mutton in her cookery demonstration and offering a special menu at the Greenbank in conjunction with the festival. Who better than these three to deliver an amuse-bouche of festival bites and answer my tantalising Cornish food lover questions?
Why is the Cornwall Food & Drink Festival so special?
Deborah: It’s a bit like going back home for the weekend to catch up with lots of familiar, friendly people and being part of a big food family.
Jason: The passion and talent of Cornish producers, and their products, are on display for all to see.
Fiona: It brings chefs, producers and foodies together in a fantastic environment, enabling all to celebrate the best food and drink that Cornwall has to offer. It also gets me out of the kitchen for an afternoon!
What’s your favourite ‘Cornish’ food flavour?
Deborah: It has to be clotted cream. I married a Cornish dairy farmer who was always very proud of having supplied quality milk to ‘Roddas’ for three generations.
Jason: An original Cornish pasty!
Fiona: Wild line caught sea bass, pan-fried with a crispy skin and served with foraged rock samphire and Cornish new potatoes. The whole sensation is even better if we have caught the fish and grown the potatoes!
For life on a desert island (assuming refrigeration wouldn’t be a problem) what three Cornish products would you take?
Deborah: Anything from ‘Camel Valley’. Perfect after a swim. Also, ‘Cornish Orchard’s’ Cider – currently only available in barrels but that’s not a problem is it? It’s lovely to drink and it makes a great marinade or preservative. The third would a pair of organic ewes and a ram from ‘Nancarrow’ farm because sheep survive so well on next to nothing and even adapt to eating seaweed.
Jason: Cornish new potatoes because they are so tasty, sea bass because it’s my favourite and a Cornish real ale to wash it all down!
Fiona: One cockerel and two hens of Cornish game chickens. They spend a lot of time broody so with two hens I’d have better odds with egg production! Secondly, a breeding pair of large black pigs from the ‘Primrose Herd’ to keep me in pork products, and finally ‘Treleaven’s’ Sea Buckthorn Sorbet because its delicious, refreshing and good for you too. No other explanation needed.
If you were going to make someone fall in love with Cornish food, what’s your aphrodisiac?
Deborah: It would have to be our own national award-winning ‘Crellow Beetroot Relish’ made with organic beetroot from ‘Nancarrow’. This luscious crimson product is such a surprise to people who think they hate beetroot. Perfect with fresh or smoked mackerel, salmon, or a meaty white fish like monk and with salads and pâté. One customer told us, “It’s irresistible. I’ve been known to stand by the fridge door eating it with a spoon at midnight!”
Jason: Quite simply, a ‘Simply Cornish’ saffron cake made into a bread and butter pudding, topped with clotted cream.
Fiona: It would have to be Cornish Brown Crab. Its succulent, addictive flavour and texture can be transformed into the simplest of sandwiches. Even more seductive if you pick it together, albeit a little messy!
For more information:
23rd – 25th September.
Lemon Quay, Truro
- Vote if you Love Cornish Food (beyondthepasty.wordpress.com)
- Cornwall’s finest ice creams: ‘first and last’. (beyondthepasty.wordpress.com)
- Taste of the Fairground (beyondthepasty.wordpress.com)
- Treat yourself to a holiday in Cornwall (ukcredit.com)
- Celebrating the Cornish Pasty (wonderingpilgrim.wordpress.com)