Remember that time I did a post on The Lancashire Market in Preston? That was a great foodie day out! Had I not been unemployed at the time (boo!) I could have spent a small fortune on the amazing food that was available to me, and by my standards, I did! So when Blog Preston posted to Facebook about the Preston Food Festival this weekend, naturally I was excited! There is so much excellent produce in the north-west, so I couldn’t wait for the weekend to arrive, so I could get there and come home with bags full of edible goodies! I was so excited for a food festival in Preston that I invited my friends Mary and Rob over from Hebden Bridge to spend the day eating food from the Preston region!
Boy was I underwhelmed…
I knew that this food festival wouldn’t be as big and sprawling as the Lancashire Food Market, which takes over pretty much the entire city centre, with it being solely located on the Flag Market outside the Harris Building, but what I was expecting was to be impressed by the quality of the exhibitors. Sadly, that wasn’t to be.
There was a Thai food stall, who were charging around £5 for a very small tray of Thai food. On the plus side, they are a local business, based in Chorley, although my research has led me to discover they are considered exempt from needing a food hygiene rating by a food safety officer in Chorley. How on earth can a business selling cooked food be considered exempt from food hygiene ratings!?
Preston Food Festival was organised by the Lancashire Food Festivals team who organise food festivals across Lancashire, all with the same chef popping up at each. and. every. one. of. them. Who exactly is Aazam Ahmad? He’s billed at each of these events as one of the “celebrity chefs”… now please excuse me for having starry eyes, but just because he would show up to cook at the opening of an envelope doesn’t make him a celebrity chef. Gordon Ramsay is a celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver is a celebrity chef, St Delia Smith is a celebrity chef… Aazam Ahmad is not a celebrity chef. He is just a regular chef, like every other chef working hard in their thankless roles back in the kitchens of restaurants across the country. Aazam claims to have been titled the BBC Fusion Chef of the Year, an award I’ve never heard of, and when I search on Google for it, the only results accompany Aazam’s name. Let me just stress, I’m not saying he wasn’t awarded this, but what I am suggesting is that he probably won this title a long time ago and is still trading on this award, furthermore, his name does not appear anywhere on the BBC’s search function either.
Personally, if I was organising a food festival in Preston, I would have booked some local chefs, such as Andrea Mellon from DukPond, Paul Heathcote from Heathcote’s Brasserie in Preston, and either Nigel Howarth or Lisa Allen from local Michelin starred restaurant, Northcote! However, these events seem to have one focus… pushing Aazam as a celebrity chef. Who again, let me just make this clear… is not one.
With these events being organised by a group called Lancashire Food Festivals, you’d expect to see local produce, such as Lancashire cheese. However, there was of cheddar on show. Firstly selling a heap of flavoured cheddars (y’know, that famous cheese from Lanca… oh, right… yeah, Somerset) were London registered, so a very local company, The Great British Cheese Company. Their stall, plastered with Union Jacks screamed “GREAT BRITAIN” and just to up the Britishness, they had the “Keep Calm” meme on their tent. Delightful(!). I sampled these cheeses, which I’ve seen a million times before with different stickers from different companies, but the flavours are ten a penny at cheese stalls at markets and food halls at garden centres. Aside from all the flavoured cheddars, they also sold a Lancashire cheese under the name “Lancaster Bomber” which was completely unlike any Lancashire cheese I’ve ever tried before.
Something I didn’t expect to see at this so-called food festival was an abundance of crap food. Photographed above isn’t even all of the stalls that I saw selling junk food. There was a great selection for people who liked a burger (even if they are kangaroo burgers, again, nothing I’ve not seen at music festivals or on the streets of Manchester on an average Saturday… I mean, Walkabout
chav pubs pubs sell kangaroo burgers!) or a selection of fizzy beverages from Pepsi Co or The Coca-Cola Company. My personal highlight of the selection of junk food sellers was definitely the locally sourced, artisanal crushed ice with organic syrups… sorry, I meant the “Sno-Cones” stall, selling ice with an exotic blend of simple syrup, blended with e-numbers. Exquisite…
Of course, that’s not the end of the cheese (and nor is this) because what is a food festival without masses of people crowding around to eat as much free cheese samples as possible, steadfastly refusing to move so other people can actually see what’s available, because they want to sample every single one of the cheeses repeatedly, and then leave without ever having had the intention of buying any. And yes, I’ve been guilty of doing this, but I always make sure to move out of the way for others to do the same. This cheese stall was Ryan Jepson Cheeses, and being fully aware of sounding like Tubbs or Edward from The League Of Gentlemen, once again… not local. An improvement on being a company based in London, at least they’re only from across the border in Yorkshire, Halifax to be precise. What this stall sold was no different to any cheesemongers, except for an interesting 3 year aged unpasteurised mature cheddar, which was spiky with salt crystals and little wisps of blue from it’s extended maturation.
Of course, you can’t have a food event with the obligatory olives, baklava, Turkish delight and candied nuts stall, can you? This stall is repeated at every instance of local food market, international food market, and food festival I’ve ever been to. I’ve even seen this sort of stall in Preston train station before now! No, I don’t want to buy a piece of your overpriced and overly dry baklava bought from a wholesalers!
We eventually gave up on the food festival. It was completely pointless, and you know what… it wasn’t a food festival. It certainly had zero Lancashire about it, let alone any Preston about it. If you’re still reading this post (which I guess you could call something of a rant), and don’t mind reading it all again, I suggest you return to the top of the page, and replace every instance of “food festival” and replace it with “event featuring a disparate assortment of traders selling junk food, burgers and around 1000 different flavoured cheddars” it would be a much more accurate blog.
Another stall selling an assortment of flavoured cheddars was Lymn Bank Farm. They were all much of a muchness, a smoked one, a garlic & herb one, a spicy one, one made with yeast extract, one made with fruit. The usual suspects, that every company who add flavours to cheese do. However amongst these humdrum offerings were 2 cheeses that made me pay attention. Skegness Blue, a creamy and quite mild blue cheese that reminded me of dolcelatte cheese, and Black as Coal, a cheddar (yes, I know… I know…) mixed with charcoal. I couldn’t resist Goth Cheese (they’re free to use that one) and you know what, it’s really nice. So nice, I bought a truckle of it. It’s a creamy, slightly mature cheddar, but the charcoal just comes through and lingers on the palate. I wouldn’t use it to make cheese on toast though, you would struggle to tell when it’s burnt.
I guess it’s hypocritical of me to complain about the lack of local vendors and then say “but I liked this product (all the way from Linconshire, on the east coast!)” but I’m not opposed to producers being brought from anywhere in the country to showcase their products if it’s something different, exciting and most importantly, delicious.
My issue is, we have some great local produce that could have been promoted at this event, however Lancashire Food Festivals seem to have the same exhibitors at each event they put on, and very few of them seem to be from round these parts, so in order to redress the balance, I’m going to share some local producers and businesses who should have been involved. Sorry about the rant.
Dewlay of Garstang – Makers of Garstang Blue and Garstang White, along with a selection of some of the tasties Lancashire cheeses I’ve tried
Hart Brewery – A microbrewery based in the centre of Preston, producing small batches of classic ales
J. Atkinson & Co – Some of the best coffee I’ve tried (including an affogato I had earlier in the day) has been made with coffee roasted and blended by J. Atkinson & Co, from Lancaster
Choc Amor – Tarleton based chocolatiers, who produces some exciting flavoured chocolate (try the Sea Salt and Schezuan Pepper Dark Chocolate!) in small batches.
Weatheroak Ostrich Farm – Yep, we even have an ostrich farm in Preston, I bet you didn’t know that?
Bonds Of Elswick – Looking for excellent quality ice cream in various flavours? Look no further than Bonds Of Elswick!
… so, Lancashire Food Festivals, if you need some help finding some local food producers for your next event, give me a shout and I’ll hook you up with some suggestions.