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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Crowds enjoy a Taste of Cumbria

CELEBRITY chefs and delicious Cumbrian food attracted around 25,000 people to this year’s Taste Cumbria festival in Cockermouth.

The event – run with the support of Britain’s Energy Coast and Nuclear Management Partners – was held over the weekend of September 29 and 30.

Festival-goers enjoyed demonstrations, workshops and food stalls celebrating the very best of Cumbrian produce.

James Martin, presenter of BBC One’s Saturday Kitchen, performed cooking demonstrations to a packed audience on the Sunday.

He had the crowds in stitches as he told jokes while cooking delicious food, including lamb and plaice. He also held a book signing at the Trout Hotel marquee.

Celebrity chef Simon Rimmer was also popular on Saturday and Simon Rogan’s pop-up restaurant at Dovenby Hall was a big hit.

A jazz night with food writer Jay Rayner at the Trout Hotel marquee was a sell-out.

Nick Lawler, chairman of Taste Cumbria and owner of Lorton’s Winder Hall, held cooking demonstrations with children from schools around Cockermouth on Saturday, while on Sunday he cooked dishes using ingredients from the various stalls taking part in the festival.

He said: “I am loving it; it’s a real community event. I like it when we do things that bring people together.”

Stalls on Main Street featured local food producers and businesses, including Cockermouth’s Shill’s of Station Street and JB Banks and Son Ltd.

Colin Le Voi, of the Quince and Medlar, on Castlegate, had to go back to the restaurant on Saturday afternoon to cook more produce as they were running out on their stall.

Gareth Kemble, who co-owns Carvetii coffee roasters in Embleton with his wife Angharad McDonald, held a coffee demonstration at the Riversmeet Community Resource Centre on Saturday. The couple only started their wholesale business last November and their stall on Main Street was constantly busy.

Gareth said: “The whole thing is brilliant. People are so interested. I just love them stopping and chatting.”

There were also food stalls and fairground rides at Bitterbeck car park, plus demonstrations and tastings at the Kirkgate Centre.

Jennings Brewery held a beer festival with a wide selection of beers, ciders and perries to choose from, as well as performances by local musicians.

A number of shops not involved in the festival also benefited from the huge crowds, with many opening their doors on Sunday.

The festival kicked off with a food tourism conference where local producers were urged to focus on making their products different to everything else already available, rather than trying to make better versions of products that can be bought everywhere.

The advice came from celebrity food critic and journalist Jay Rayner.

About 100 people, including food producers, hospitality business owners and representatives of public and private sector bodies, attended the event at Dovenby Hall on the Friday.

Mr Rayner, one of four panellists answering questions at the event, said: “You’re selling a distinctiveness in what you do. Don’t go for what’s best and finest; go for distinctiveness. What makes you different?”

The other panellists were Poul Christensen CBE, chairman of Natural England, Keith Jones MBE, area director for the Forestry Commission and chairman of the advisory group working on the world heritage site nomination for the Lake District, and Eric Robson, chairman of Cumbria Tourism.

Eden Valley hill farmer and rural campaigner James Rebanks, who compered the event, said Cumbria should be “a great version of itself, not a mediocre version of everywhere else”.

Promoting Cumbrian food better should involve joining together the great landscape, food producers and hospitality industry, he added.

A study commissioned by Taste Cumbria showed that tourism brought £2.2 billion a year in to the county.

Helen Tate, of Red Research, told the conference 40.1 million visitors came to the county in 2011, spending £429 million on food and drink.

Food is the third most important factor for people when choosing a short break destination, the research showed.

The pub industry was a key part of food tourism, with two thirds of visitors saying they would visit one during their stay.

The numbers interested in visiting farmers’ markets, farm shops and delis are also up, the research shows.

But, while the quality and demand are there, high prices can be a barrier to producing local food.

Mr Robson said that before the foot and mouth crisis the tourism industry and farmers were in different camps but since then they had realised they were in it together and moved towards co-operation and collaboration.

The conference heard that the concept of food miles, which previously led people to think local food was environmentally better, was a thing of the past, with evidence showing that some food from abroad had a lower overall carbon footprint.

Now food provenance is increasingly important, as shown by the rising popularity of allotments among parents of young children.

Mr Rebanks warned that those at the conference needed to act on the discussions to make a difference and avoid it being a talking shop.

The food producers agreed they would like to work closer together, under the Taste Cumbria umbrella.

Mr Rayner said: “The idea of Taste Cumbria as a group of entrepreneurs is the clearest message I have heard. It makes sense.

“Money is tight but it’s about attracting tourists. You’ve got to go out and find the tourists because they’re not going to come otherwise.”

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