The Universal Cookery and Food Festival is a chefs’ conference with a difference, not least because it is usually held in a field! This unique event is the brainchild of three Craft Guild of Chefs representatives, John Feeney, Ian Nottage and Lee Maycock (Vice Chairman of the Guild), who wanted to get chefs of every level out of the kitchen and reconnecting with each other as well as the land around them. ‘We didn’t want to go for the typical hotel or college environment,’ says Ian. ‘We wanted to get back to basics, so we took the festival outside to make it really rural and rustic.’ As a result, chefs find themselves rubbing shoulders with farmers, foragers and growers as well as suppliers, industry insiders and, of course, other chefs. As Lee puts it, ‘we’re building bridges for them. It’s putting the farmer and the chef in the same place so they can have a conversation, so they can understand. It works on so many levels.’ John adds, ‘we’re after that culinary cross-pollination of minds that opens up new opportunities.’
This year, on 23rd of September, the festival is heading north east to Northumberland, or more precisely to Vallum Farm in the beautiful countryside on the edge of Hadrian’s wall. The change of location is echoed by the lineup of chef demonstrators, farmers, growers and food producers who will be there to showcase the very best that the North East has to offer; including food hero Ken Holland who John describes as a ‘garden wizard’. Ken is responsible for introducing wonderful heritage vegetable varieties and micro living vegetables into the kitchens of such high-profile chefs as Simon Rogan and Tom Kitchin, amongst others.