Leeds Food Festival

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As a nation, we Brits used to have a dire reputation for our food, often derided by people from around the world.

Today, however, all that has changed and we can now hold our heads high and compare our cuisine to the best that any other nation can provide.

‘Celebrity’ chefs, cookery and baking programmes are all on our tv screens constantly, whilst restaurants and pubs have improved immeasurably both in quality, ambience and presentation.

There is much interest in sustainable and locally produced food, organic produce and ‘food-miles’ – the distance from farm to plate. All factors which have led farmers, producers and chefs to raise their game substantially.

I love to wander round local farmer’s markets and artisan food shops to see and try the latest and tastiest products on offer.

Where I live, on the outskirts of Leeds, I am privileged to have local access to one of the northernmost vineyards in the country at Leventhorpe, to the ‘Rhubarb Triangle’ of Morley, Wakefield and Rothwell (a trip to the candle-lit forcing sheds is an absolute must), and the liquorice producers at Pontefract (Liquorice Festival in July.)

We also have the largest covered indoor market in Europe in the centre of Leeds at Leeds City Market. Fish, Meat and Game rows of shops are supplemented by numerous indoor and outdoor fruit stalls at amazingly low prices. There is a Jamie Oliver Cookery Kitchen here as well as Marks and Spencer’s Original Penny Bazaar (good luck getting anything for a penny!)

Throughout the country, there are centres of food excellence, many towns and cities having forged ‘foodie’ reputations for themselves over recent years.

One feature of these centres is the rise and rise of food and drink festivals.

Having just celebrated it’s ninth such Food and Drink Festival, the Leeds version goes from strength to strength.

Held annually in May and June, the stated aim of the organisers is to make it the biggest and best such urban event in the country. It is already enormous and a very popular event in the calendar. I have seen it blossom from small beginnings, into the seventeen day extravaganza it is today.

More than 100 exhibitors attended this year’s event at various venues, from hotels to shopping centres, pubs to restaurants, open spaces to streets.

As well as permanent venues, pop-up restaurants like the Pink Shed in the fabulous Trinity Centre appeared, whilst talks, master classes, deli-markets, farmer’s markets, demonstrations and sampling took place throughout the city centre on various days.

The events cover the whole range of food and drink from wines, ciders, beers and cocktails to street-food from around the world. It is amazing that such quality food is produced from what appears to be tiny street vehicles, vans and stalls.

The event culminates in the three day climax that is the Yorkshire Food and Drink Show, held in the massive outdoor area that is Millennium Square.

There is plenty of space to relax at tables and chairs around the square, although it does get busy, with up to 60,000 people attending over the final three days.

Local streets also burst with food vans and stalls whilst Hand Made in Yorkshire have an avenue of stalls in nearby Victoria Square outside the Art Gallery.

The main venue, which has cookery demonstrations relayed live via it’s permanent big screen overlooking the square, is crammed with stalls.

The aromas and scents that pervade the air are mouth watering.

Feasts for the eyes assail you from all quarters as various meats are griddled whilst steaming vats of curries, noodles, paellas and much more add to the colourful scene.

Many of Yorkshire’s finest restaurants and bars are represented. You can acquire quite a collection if discount cards and free courses, drinks etc. for future visits.

There is also the opportunity to sample hundreds of different foods and drinks and to buy those which take your fancy.

This event gets better and bigger every year. Here’s to 2015.

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