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Glastonbury for chefs: the Universal Cookery and Food Festival 2015

Glastonbury for chefs: the Universal Cookery and Food Festival 2015

by Izzy Burton 06 October 2015

The fourth annual Universal Cookery and Food Festival took place in Northumberland on 23rd September, providing over twelve hours of solid foodie entertainment. From edible flowers to portable pizza ovens there was plenty to see and, with farm tours, butchery demonstrations and talks from leading figures across the industry, the day offered even more to do.

The Universal Cookery and Food Festival was a full day affair, and a beautiful day at that with blue skies, bright sun, and crisp air – a little too crisp for some of the city dwellers in attendance, in fact, who found themselves ill-equipped for the nippy coastal breeze. Breakfast was served at 8am, a big feed to set everyone up for the day’s events which included farm tours, talks, demonstrations and, happily, lots and lots of food.

Luckily for the chilly amongst us, much of the action took place in a tent – a move which earned the festival its moniker ‘Glastonbury for chefs’. There were no floral headbands, no Michael Eavis and a lot less mud than the real Glastonbury, fortunately, with the festival located in the beautiful surroundings of Vallum Farm near Newcastle. Vallum, proclaiming itself the ‘artisan gateway to Hadrian’s Wall’, boasts an onsite dairy and expansive kitchen garden supplying a restaurant, tea room, cook school and ice cream parlour – the perfect environment for a day of learning, tasting and tromping through fields.

Guests and participants had travelled up (and down) from all over the country for the festival, each with their own story to tell. The exhibitor list was wonderfully varied, with interesting, enthusiastic people at every turn; one minute we were nibbling fennel and wild boar salami and discussing Scottish-Italian ice cream with a game producer from Kilmarnock, the next we were cuddling a trio of sleeping pigs and then, suddenly, we were probing a Streatham-based British cheese supplier on the best edible gifts for Christmas (the answer was cheese, surprisingly).

Chef Alan's mysterious 'breakfast juice' powdered everyone through the crisp autumn morning
A dizzying variety of fresh produce was on display, including one or two slightly less familiar items

A display of vibrant – albeit slightly misshapen – vegetables destined for the kitchen of a popular Peruvian restaurant in London caught the attention of many, but it was not just the fine dining world which was represented at the festival; several exhibitors were offering high quality convenience products aimed at the mass market. The focus here was on expertise, not elitism.

This variety was evident in the programme of talks, too. Alongside a galaxy of Michelin-starred chefs – including Sat Bains (Restaurant Sat Bains), James Close (Raby Hunt), Nigel Haworth (Northcote Manor), Nick Beardshaw (The Coach), Aaron Mulliss (The Hand and Flowers), the newly garlanded Kenny Atkinson (House of Tides) and, after he was spotted in the crowd, Australian legend George Calombaris (Press Club) – other areas of the industry were well represented. Matt Anderson and Adam Routledge, founders of the Edible Bug Farm, encouraged the audience to try eating insects, while Paul Lewis (Prezzo), Scott McDonald (Bill’s) and Terry McDowell (TGI Friday’s) shared their insight into developing menus for chain restaurants. Also on the bill was local hero Ken Holland, founder of North Country Organics who supplies Simon Rogan, Tom Kitchin, Sat Bains and many more kitchens across the country with salad, herbs and micro vegetables unpicked in trays for maximum freshness.

George Calombaris, MasterChef Australia judge and founder of the iconic Press Club in Melbourne, was attending the event and asked on stage for an impromptu interview
Not many are able to scintillate while preparing a chicken Kiev, but both Aaron Mulliss and Nick Beardshaw managed exceedingly well

This careful balance of expertise and experience from the entire industry was down to the vision of the festival organisers, Ian Nottage, John Feeney and Lee Maycock from the Craft Guild of Chefs. The UCFF grew out of their passion for bringing people of every level together; letting industrial equipment suppliers explain their products to culinary students, allowing famous restaurateurs to meet small scale artisanal producers and try products they might never have heard of. The logo, a tree from which hangs an apple for each festival so far, is flanked by the festival’s motto: farming, learning, provenance, sustainability, trends, taste, seasonality and development. With an inclusive attitude to both speakers and exhibitors, it’s clear this motto also provided a checklist throughout the curations of the programme.

Next year the organisers will be adding another apple to their tree, as the fifth Universal Cookery and Food Festival has already been announced for 2016. Taking place on 20th September within the grounds of biodynamic behemoth Laverstoke Farm in Hampshire, it’s a date worth saving for those who like their culinary conventions a little more … unconventional.

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Glastonbury for chefs: the Universal Cookery and Food Festival 2015


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