Foodies Festival Brighton – Review
Sat 2nd – Mon 4th May 2015
Brighton residents know that the city springs into life in May, as Brighton Festival, Brighton Fringe, Artists’ Open Houses, The Great Escape, and, er, the Ladyboys of Bangkok, take over venues and public spaces with a month-long roster of arts events. Tapping into the buzz over the bank holiday weekend, the Brighton Foodies Festival catered for those craving something a little less cultural and a little more culinary. I popped along for We Love Brighton to see how many free tasters I could eat – and how many times I could spot the word ‘artisan’.
The festival saw Hove Lawns transformed into a farmer’s market come street food fair for the weekend, attracting a mixed crowd of ‘foodies’: tipsy parents queuing at the teapot-shaped Pimms bar, dogs intent on hoovering up scraps from the grass, children trying to get to grips with some of the more unusual offerings with exclamations of revolt – ‘That brownie had chilli in it!’
The gamut of food on offer ran the full range, from the gimmicky (Red Bull fudge, liquid nitrogen ice-cream) to the hoity toity (duck fat chips). As well as familiar street snacks like noodles and samosas, there were some unlikely European options on offer, such as Swedish gravadlax and Hungarian stew. Notably absent, however, were many remarkable veggie options. Rad Burger deserves a special mention for its halloumi, sweet potato and chickpea burgers with chipotle mayonnaise and small-batch buns (‘artisan’ count: 1). The majority of stalls, though, represented the rise of what has been dubbed ‘dude food’: meaty, American influenced, barbecue dishes; huge hunks of suckling pig, Cypriot lamb kebabs grilled over charcoal and glossy chickens roasting on spits.
There were a couple of unexpected larger exhibitors; presumably Kenco and Co-op paid hefty sums for their stalls. For the most part though Brighton Foodies Festival was a chance for small, independent producers to get their brand and their products out there. I met Razan Halsous from halloumi specialists Yorkshire Dama Cheese, for example, who captured the attention of the British press after she fled Syria for the UK in 2012 to become an award-winning cheese maker and one of Britain’s top entrepreneurs.
Visitors could have spent a small fortune stocking their pantry with homemade chutneys, Italian pastries, Turkish olives and fine cheeses. But the Brighton Foodies Festival wasn’t entirely geared up to make visitors part with their cash. There were also opportunities for festival goers to brush up on their cooking skills with free barbecue masterclasses, cocktail making lessons and cookery demonstrations from the likes of Terre a Terre’s Matty Bowling. Early evening each day also saw a highlight of the weekend for spice-heads, macho men and masochists: the chilli eating challenge. Martin Bond from The Wiltshire Chilli Farm (peddling a sauce ominously named ‘God Slayer’) was overseeing the competition. He explained the delight he takes in watching cocky competitors reduced to tears. ‘Really I’m a pretty cruel person,’ he said in complete deadpan, proudly indicating the bulbous scotch bonnet he keeps to hand especially for hecklers. Clearly the man for the job.
As one trader admitted to me, the food events calendar is pretty over-saturated in Sussex; we’re not short of specialist food fairs and street food markets. Foodies offered a nice day out but not really anything new. Free tasting opportunities were also a bit thin on the ground for my liking considering the £13 ticket price.
I asked the vendor of The Spanish Hamper how he thought the Brighton Foodies Festival compared to other similar events he’d exhibited at in the UK and Europe. ‘I think maybe here people are looking more for something to drink,’ he replied. It looks like there could be a gap in the market for a Boozy Brighton Foodies Festival then.