For the best in local Devon produce, make sure to put the North Devon Food Fest in your diary, held once a year in October.
Why it’s on my list
Devon has got a lot going for it, including some of the finest local produce in the country. Seafood, meat, vegetables, cheeses, cider; Devon does it all and does it well. The Food Fest has been heavily advertised lately, and the 2016 event was billed to be the biggest and best in its nine-year history. With the certainty of great local produce and celebrity chefs including Michael Caines of Gidleigh Park fame set appear, I can think of no better way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Location: Pannier Market, Barnstaple
Date: One Sunday in October
What a great festival. This is a great way to spend an afternoon, and you can enjoy the benefits of it long afterwards too. The produce and fresh food on offer was plentiful, varied and, on the occasions I got to taste some, delicious. Add to this some excellent chef demos and a cracking atmosphere and the result is a thoroughly good time.
The Pannier Market was chock-full of stalls and food vendors. Locally grown and made produce was available to buy from a variety of stalls, including fruit and veg, fish, cheese, ice cream, fudge, cupcakes, cider and gin. We sampled a couple of cooked meat items, including a variety of different sausages, such as apple and thyme, and could then go on to buy some to cook at home.
Sticking with the meaty morsels, there were a couple of stalls offering meat pies, scotch eggs and quiches – we picked up a couple of HUGE scotch eggs from Johns of Instow and Appledore. There were a few other stalls selling pies and quiches in an amazing array of flavours – we took home three large pies from Wessex Pantry for £12 to have at home: chicken and mushroom, steak and Stilton and game. Having eaten all three of these now, they all get a double thumbs up, one for great fillings and one for great pastry. My favourite was chicken and mushroom, but the game one was excellent if that’s your kind of pie.
As well as this produce, there were plenty of food vendors offering an instant tasty hit. Carvery baps and roast potatoes from the Brend Hotels stand looking delicious, and so did the fancy mac and cheese place, but we opted for the seafood stall run my Clovelly Fish/Dan the Fish Man. I enjoyed a freshly grilled scallop, which was hot, delicious and needed no accompaniment to taste sensational. After a bit of a wander round, we returned to the stall to have the paella, which was fresh and packed full of a variety of seafood, including salmon, mussels and a chunky white fish.
Of course one of the greatest parts of the event is the chef demos, and we managed to get a seat when Michael Caines was on. He made a variety of dishes on stage, which looked like no mean feat, and it was great to hear about all the projects he has going on. Whilst he’s no longer at Gidleigh Park, I’m looking forward to seeing what his new venture has in store – Lympstone Manor.
My favourite thing was honestly the atmosphere. It was fantastic to see so many people crowding into the Pannier Market, and so many local food producers and businesses showcasing their best and having it snapped up. If I had to pick my favourite food item, it has to be the scallop – gone in a flash but oh so good!
Not the best
We arrived a little late to Michael Caines, so we could only get a seat at the back, and that was lucky in itself. But because we were far away it was difficult to see what food preparation was happening on stage. There were cameras, but they were zoomed out quite far and were completely stationary, which meant that although they tried to show as much as possible in a wide shot, it actually meant that you couldn’t ‘see’ very much at all. I hope either the cameras or my timekeeping improve next year.
Arrive early to any chef demos you want to see. Hopefully you should be able to get a fairly good seat that way. Front row got to enjoy some free wine tasting!