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Behind the scenes at Brighton Food Festival

Behind the scenes at Brighton Food Festival

by Chloë King Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Have you noticed an upsurge of foodie festivals near you recently? Chloe King speaks to Nick Mosley, Managing Director of Brighton and Hove Food and Drink Festival, to see what’s behind this food festival obsession. All photographs courtesy of Julia Claxton.

Chloë blogs about honest home cooking and has the odd rant about obnoxious food trends. Based in East Sussex, she hosts occasional supper clubs, is a trustee of her town’s annual food festival and works freelance as a writer and graphic artist.

A summer or two ago I was peering over a wheatgrass shot at the proliferation of bodies on Hove Lawns and I suddenly thought: what created this? At what point in recent history did swarming at hot food stands, forcing delicacies into an already overburdened digestive tract to the sound of skiffle, become a hot recreational pursuit?

The food festival craze seemed to have sprung from nowhere, but in the back of my mind I knew that in Brighton and Hove, at least, it was in no small part down to the hard work of Nick Mosley, Managing Director of Brighton and Hove Food and Drink Festival.

The festival celebrates its fifteenth birthday next year, and until Nick joined the team five years ago, it was pretty much the same format as most other local festivals – a one-time-a-year hotchpotch of events, council funded and run by volunteers. In recent years, however, the festival’s activities have expanded like popcorn. The team put on events year-round and for their next, over August Bank Holiday (21st-31st August), 60-70,000 people are projected to attend. The biggest draw is their bi-annual ‘Sussex and the World Market,’ which incorporates over 100 stalls hosted by restaurants, producers and street food vendors; a Children’s Festival; Live Food Show and a Sussex Wine and Beer Marquee. The next, which is free to enter as always, runs from Sat 29th to Mon 31st August at Hove Lawns.

Sussex wines bus tour
Sussex wines bus tour
Michael Bremner of 64 Degrees
Michael Bremner of 64 Degrees

Also in August, the festival team is putting on a fundraising dinner for Fareshare, featuring a six-course tasting menu from acclaimed chef Michael Bremner of 64 Degrees matched with English wines. Another highlight is a cocktail reception and three-course dinner from chef Jimmy Grey of Jeremy’s Restaurant in collaboration with Sussex artisanal distiller Blackdown Spirits.

But that’s not all. The festival’s year-round programme includes the International Chef Exchange, for which, in August, The Restaurant at Drakes will be hosting chef Craig Jones from Cap Maison in St Lucia. The company is also closely involved with the development of a purpose-built South Downs Wine and Spirit Centre; the Sussex Wine and Gourmet Bus Tours; Big Sussex Christmas Market; and commercial food festivals in Kingston upon Thames, Fitzrovia and Guernsey. It’s all gone a bit mad.

Over a glass of English wine, I ask Nick what big changes he has witnessed in the last few years that have led to the growth of food festivals like his. ‘Food in the UK has become a lot sexier,’ he says. ‘I certainly know from recent Visit Britain research that, in terms of inbound tourism, food, drink and restaurants are now quoted more than heritage, which has always been the big pull.’

 
 
Three Chefs go to the movies
Three Chefs go to the movies
Mixology Rum Shack on Hove Lawns
Mixology Rum Shack on Hove Lawns

Asked what he thinks has caused that, Nick laughs. ‘I take all the credit. No. I think, in Brighton we are lucky… we have a good heritage of good restaurants… there’s a great price point and variety.’

Nick thinks it could be Brighton’s historic charm – often blamed for being prohibitive to development - that has created the city’s boom in independent eateries which, in turn, contributes to the food festival’s draw. ‘Maybe Brighton has been lucky because it is a conservation area… a lot of listed buildings are too small for the multiples to move in to. Multiples are going to struggle at less than 70 covers, so that’s allowed the independents to thrive.’

Brighton and Hove Food and Drink Festival is unique compared to others around the country, partly because it’s a Community Interest Company, or CIC. ‘Brighton still sits alone, but it grows and grows and grows,’ says Nick. ‘A lot of the commercial festivals - big money-making, ‘smash and grab’ type things - I don’t think they necessarily have a huge amount of respect for locals; they don’t really care about the local economy.’

 
 
Chef Feliz Zhou from the Parker in Vancouver with Matty Bowling of Terre a Terre for ICEx
Chef Feliz Zhou from the Parker in Vancouver with Matty Bowling of Terre a Terre for ICEx
Kieron James of Beach BBQ on Hove Lawns
Kieron James of Beach BBQ on Hove Lawns

By contrast, Nick says Brighton and Hove Food and Drink Festival has ‘specific objectives around promoting local food, nurturing the food economy, export, healthy eating and variety for all social backgrounds.’ For the last four years the festival has worked with Fareshare, and their programme boasts some inventive kids’ activities. For Waste Not Want Not, local children repurposed food packaging by making lampshades out of chopsticks and clocks from plastic spoons. At the forthcoming Boho Gelato ‘Boho Disco’, a blacked-out ice cream parlour will sell day-glo, colour-changing and ‘interactive’ ice creams.

I wonder whether, in Brighton food land, things are becoming increasingly pushed towards the gimmicky and conceptual because of the city’s already vast range of eateries... Nick tells me a Brighton cereal café may be opening soon, but he’s not worried. ‘I think, with the festival, it’s got to be fun. You want to get the message across in a different way. Food should be fun - it’s a communal experience.’

 
 

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