Foodies Festival offers a feast for the senses

Scones with strawberries at a previous Foodies festival got this little girl salivating. Picture: TSPL
Scones with strawberries at a previous Foodies festival got this little girl salivating. Picture: TSPL
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TAKE a selection of various chefs, add a Michelin star, sprinkle in some serious food-lovers and a splash of drink. Mix vigorously and serve over a large site in Inverleith Park. Good weather preferred but can be optional.

• Win tickets to Foodies Festival

Of course, chuck in a few performers from the Fringe and the annual Foodies Festival becomes a bit more than just a series of al fresco cookery demonstrations which may – but hopefully not – end up with the added extra ingredient of a bucketful of rain.

By this time next week, the seventh Foodies Festival will be up and running – three days of food, drink, demonstrations and displays aimed at tickling the tastebuds of folks still drying out after its rival, Taste, was washed away in torrential rain last year.

Taste’s organisers later declared their food show would not make a repeat performance in the city – leaving next weekend’s series of events the sole option on the menu for food-lovers.

It’s a chance for some of Edinburgh’s leading chefs to show off their kitchen skills, including Michelin-starred Jeff Bland of the Balmoral, Craig Sandle, the executive head chef at The Pompadour by Galvin at the Caledonian Hotel, Great British menu contestant Mark Greenaway and former Scottish Chef of the Year, Neil Forbes of Cafe St Honore.

And for the sweet-toothed sugar fans, there’s a new element to this year’s event – a special emphasis on baking, chocolate and sugarcraft.

Around 6000 food lovers a day are expected to make the pilgrimage to the park, drawn by the unique fusion of food, drink and Fringe performances – among them guest appearances on the cookery stages by television personality Gyles Brandreth and Celebrity Masterchef contestant and comic Stephen K Amos.

The bigger than ever event has grown beyond recognition from the original Foodies Festival, dreamed up by organiser Sue Hitchen one April seven years ago bizarrely, she admits, while having a shower.

“I love my food and I was thinking about all the different festivals we have and how something entertaining, family-based and involved local food and restaurants would be a great addition.”

The initial event took just three months to pull together before it was eventually staged at the Roxburgh Hotel, where it attracted 5000 people. Two years later the idea had expanded to three English venues – and last year it was held at eight locations, attracting over 600,000 food-lovers, making Foodies the biggest food festival in the UK.

According to Sue, there’s a clear appetite among chefs and the public to share their joint passion for food and drink. “Chefs see it as a great way to cook for the public and to talk to their diners about specialist ingredients, recipe secrets and the quirks of their cooking. And the people that come along love to learn and delight in being able to talk to chefs and learn from them.

“It’s all a bit of a performance – it’s real theatre to see proper chefs at work.”

Fringe performers add to the occasion, with musicians and acts giving a flavour of their shows, while in the Chefs’ Theatre Mattia Camorani (Cucina at Hotel Missoni), Iggy Campos (Iggs) and Paul Wedgwood (Wedgwood the Restaurant) will join others from around Scotland demonstrating how to prepare some of their favourite restaurant dishes. Meanwhile, dishes normally served under the chandeliers of the Pompadour by Galvin will be delivered to diners in a pop-up restaurant at the heart of the park.

For those who prefer their meat straight from the barbie, a new BBQ Arena offers hourly classes in the art of sizzling outdoor cooking, with time out for Man vs Meat contests where contestants cook their own chicken wings, ribs, sausages and burgers and are then given 60 seconds to eat as much as possible, with the crowd judging who made the best effort.

For the more refined, the new Cake & Chocolate Theatre is where crowds can indulge in delicious demonstrations in chocolate truffle-making and chocolate tastings, learn patisserie secrets courtesy of the Edinburgh School of Food and Wine and test their sugarcraft skills. For the more adventurous, there’s the chance to discover how to lace homemade chocolate with foraged flowers and plants from award winning chocolatiers, Sciolti Chocolate.

Michelin star chef Jeff Bland, who will demonstrate his award winning skills at the Chefs’ Theatre, says he’s thrilled to be involved: “Last year was a fantastic success, packed with people with a real passion for food. This event is a great opportunity to come together with friends, celebrate the extensive natural larder that Scotland has to offer and pick up new tips and recipes from professional chefs.”

Fellow chef Mark Greenaway, who’ll play it for laughs at a “comedy cook-off” in the Chefs’ Theatre when he invites Fringe comedians to re-create one of his dishes, adds: “There’s always a great crowd at Foodies and a great atmosphere.”

Returning for a second year is “Street Food Avenue”, with a huge selection of ready-to-eat hot and cold food from around the world, plus drink, wine and producers’ areas showcasing the latest trends and products.

For young ones, The Children’s Cookery Theatre, run by Edinburgh-based cookery school Chocolate Mama’s, gives little fingers a chance to cook up their own treats. And there’ll even be a beach complete with deckchairs, artisan ice-cream and sandcastles.

“The festival is constantly evolving,” adds Sue, “We’re already thinking about next year!”

• The 2013 Foodies Festival runs from Friday to Sunday (9-11 August). Tickets are available from www.foodiesfestival.com or by calling 0844 995 1111 and cost £12 (£10 concession) for one day or £18 (£15 concession) for three days. Children under 12 go free when accompanied by an adult.