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Archive for July, 2011

Someone’s Been Reading & Acting On My Posts

29 Jul

Congratulations Cardigan River & Food Festival!!
This festival is taking place in early August and one of our team has just been into Newcastle Emlyn, Ceredigion and spotted two signs out for their festival already. Well done guys!!

 
 

Carmarthen Food Festival

28 Jul

Held yesterday this festival was not supported by Wag, instead it was sponsored by Carmarthen Journal. Well folks, my grumbles don’t change, no signage going into Carmarthen, no list of food traders on the website, no press release, no chef listing in the kitchen demo and no volume control on entertainment staged area. I had lots of sympathy with the stands alongside the staged area, although the singer I heard was good it was virtually impossible to talk to any trader without shouting – which is hardly ideal.

One company I talked too was furious they’d attended at all which I found rather puzzling until I was told that they had been pestered and pestered by Carmarthenshire Journal to attend and eventually bowed under their pressure and agreed to attend. But they were then told they had to pay for their stand and to pay for an advert in the newspaper too. When they said they didn’t want an advert they were told if they didn’t they couldn’t attend, the cost was £120.00 for the day. Now this was bad enough for this company who felt that they had been badgered and pressurised by the newspaper, but they then talked to other producers who the newspaper had also persuaded to attend but only charged them between £50 – £60.00 as they hadn’t filled all their spaces.

In a matter of weeks, this is the second time I feel I have to apologise for my ‘profession’ and the tactics of a sponsor literally bullying food producers to support their event and then forcing them to advertise otherwise they can’t attend. I despise media that stoop so low, or are so desperate for business that they have to use such despicable methods, it is something Welsh Country magazine would never, ever do. If this event runs again next year, I can only hope that many producers read this post and decide that if they wish to attend they’ll hold on and only book the week before and Carmarthen Journal will fail with their advertising targets on this feature.

If Carmarthen is promoting this event as a food celebration, then food should be the focus, music, kid’s entertainment although welcome attractions are not the objective. Has anyone in Carmarthen any idea the profit margins the food producers are working on? Outlaying £120.00 for a stand, plus diesel is an awful lot of money to re-coup even if the product makes itself, the van loads it, the stand displays itself and the traders don’t need to be paid for their time.

As I couldn’t find a list of producers on the web, I contacted the Carmarthenshire Press Office, an efficient, helpful team who sent me a listing and a map. Well I was pleased I had a map as the stands were spread out all over the main centre of the town which certainly lost a festival atmosphere. Going down one line of stands they had huge spaces between them and then were sited opposite ways – making you walk all around the run of stands – if you could be bothered to do so. Feedback from producers was, as always mixed. Those that paid £50.00 were obviously happier than those that were ‘persuaded’ to book early!! Some stalls were very proactive taking samples around on trays and directing people to their stands. There were plenty of people around but I didn’t see too many food bags. The general feeling was that Carmarthen Journal could have and should have done a better job, but having said that I’ve just had a call in from one producer who said he was still trading at 5.30pm, which is terrific to hear. The producer also said that their preference was stands all around the town and likened it to Abergavenny creating a good atmosphere, which is a fair comment. But my query is that Abergavenny has 300 plus stands and Carmarthen had approximately 30, which made Carmarthen more sporadic and spread out. Abergavenny also has good signage around the town, lots of maps for visitors and directional posts.

 
 

Lampeter Food Festival

28 Jul

The setting for this festival in the University grounds is excellent. You cannot miss the history of this group of magnificent buildings and the huge expanse of lawned areas gives the organisers a good head start on other festivals. However, at the risk of sounding like a stuck record in our food festival season, I shall repeat again where were the banners, where was the signage, I only saw one sign on my drive in and two signs when I’d got to the entrance!!! Nothing in the town, no window displays – it was just the same as it has been for years. Why I continue to beat this publicity drum, I’m seriously beginning to wonder, is anyone listening?

This is yet another festival supported by Wag this year to the tune of just over £9,500, that has failed to send me a press release and you have to ask why, when I’m working in the media and Welsh Country magazine is the flagship food magazine for Wales. So, with no press release, I try the web and get onto the Lampeter town website and print off the list of food producers attending. So was that a success? No. When I got there and Ian and I tried to work off our list, it could hardly have been called accurate. So before I hear the plaintive cries, yet again, that we are all volunteers, I accept, understand and appreciate that, but what I cannot and will not accept is the volunteer excuse when our food traders are attending events like these to make their living. They’re not attending for their pocket-money, they are there to make their living – pay their mortgages and feed their kids. I never volunteered for anything unless I was prepared to put a lot of work in – that’s how it goes. If you haven’t enough volunteers – use your local paper to find more, if volunteers aren’t any good- say goodbye to them and if you still need help ask Wag.

In case you think I’m just highlighting negatives at this festival, that’s not strictly true, my sole objective is to help our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, (BOW). There’s nothing worse for Ian and I to attend a festival or market, talk to our BOW and get nothing but constant tales of gloom because organisers are not working with them or for them. As for Lampeter, Welsh Country magazine has offered to help them for a number of years, but our offers have not been taken up. Of course that’s their choice, they might feel we can’t help, they might not even want our help, but they, like many other festivals still need guidance on how to get the basics right. Thank goodness Preseli Coffee where there to give me my mocha fixes during the day.

There were free bi-lingual catalogues on a table, but no-one giving them out, which didn’t make sense to me. Let’s face it, if they’ve been printed they might as well be given out they’re no use the following day are they? I watched a little of a cookery demo whilst tucking into a superb pasty from Little Welsh Deli washed down by delicious cider and perry from Ralph’s Cider – a great Welsh lunch. Back to beating my promotional drum again as I watched Dafydd Watkin from The Talbot Hotel Tregaron cook a super lobster dish. In the programme it stated the demo area was using the best local produce – great theme, but surely all chefs should use produce that is at the event. There wasn’t even a fish stall there. Isn’t one of the chef’s aims to stimulate interest in their dish so that visitors can then be inspired to cook it at home? So isn’t is better to use produce from the event, encourage visitors to buy the main ingredient and take it home? One of the chef’s team said I could use prawns instead of lobster, but then had to explain why I wanted the chefs to support the producers. She countered by saying that they didn’t know who was going to be in attendance, which I find hard to believe, but at the end of the day it’s down to lack of communication once again. Even I could have given her some suggestions as to which producers would be there and I’m sure the organisers could have helped there too. The fact is, it wasn’t a directive for the chef when they were booked to attend, so does the blame lie with the organisers or with Wag? I’m not sure anyone will actually accept the blame, which isn’t good enough but is fairly standard. BSE I call it – Blame Some Else. Both the organisers and Wag should be putting producers first!!!!!!!!!!!

I left about 4.00 and was impressed by the number of people there but disappointed not to see a huge amount of bags being taken home. I hope that people had eaten plenty whilst they were there as there was lots of covered seating which was brilliant, entertainment for the kids and local musicians too. The music as often happens didn’t have a volume control and it made life difficult for traders to talk to customers. Another instance of organisers not getting the message – it’s not a town fete these traders are there to sell and to do that they have to be heard, not deafened by some very good music.

 
 

Food Festival Report By Miller

26 Jul

This report was carried out over the last two years and is titled the ‘Monitoring and Evaluation of Food Festivals Supported by the Welsh Government’.

For those of you that have both the time and inclination to try and digest the 67 pages of content, the missive is available here.

http://wales.gov.uk/docs/drah/publications/110719millerresearchevaluationoffoodfestivalsen.pdf.

Sujmed up this is a typical government report. It’s certainly fulfills their ‘ticking boxes’ criteria, with some useful snippets, but also some incredible assumptions and calculations. Our welshfoodbites general conclusion is that the report resembles a string vest, lots of holes with some very tenuous links, many loose threads that need tidying, or threads that can be used to go off in other directions if the FFMDD see fit.

When the report was complied, it does give an insight into the thinking the FFMDD in that:
Events supported by the Food Festivals Grant Funding should be branded as True Taste festivals to convey the quality message, and

That events need to achieve certain standards in order to achieve this brand.

A meeting should be convened to discuss the creation of a formal network of food festivals

That online application and monitoring forms are introduced to standardise the keeping of records, with guidance to how to compile information to fit the needs of the system

That a joint action group should be set up to identify where activities, such as investment in the marketing and promotion can be leveraged by promoting food festivals as visitor attractions within the Food Tourism Action Plan.

As we have ploughed through the 67 pages, 32 areas have been identified and warrant further investigation and consideration. Maybe over the next few weeks we’ll come back to highlight them.

A huge concern is for festivals that fail to under Wag’s True Taste banner will have to look elsewhere for funding – sadly no ideas where given as to where these pots of money might be found………….

 
 

Update On The Royal Welsh

19 Jul

Like many of you, I had an early start on Monday to visit the RWAS. My first stop was the Press Office to get my badge etc. McDonalds was again sponsoring the Press Room and if they had read welshfoodbites last they sadly didn’t act on any of my suggestions. As far as I’m aware coffee was not supplied by a Welsh company and the tea was, as last year, PG Tips. This is despite the fact that I told their staff about Welsh Brew tea, and where they were in the Food Hall. This year that company had three stands in total around the show ground, but McDonalds could only support PG Tips. I’m seriously unimpressed when McDonalds say they support farmers, but ignore food producers. It’s an unfair situation and would not take a great deal of effort to change it. The fact that the vending machine seemed to be a on constant ‘clean cycle’, it made for a fairly ‘dry’ press room. But whilst we waited again for coffee, it did give me a chance to catch up with one of Welsh Country’s magazine friends, weatherman Derek Brockway who was broadcasting from the show all week. With still no drinks, in the end I gave up, walked across to the Food Hall and brought back two superb mocha coffees from Preseli Coffee – a sure winner against McDonalds!!!!! The Press Office was certainly not as busy as usual with the number of journalists and photographers well down, a sign of the tough times all media is experiencing and does not look to be changing. It was disappointing to find a lack of food press releases in the press office apart from a press pack form Fork2Fork. I am not at all pleased that this sector was not looked after by Wag – surely we had endless food stories that could have been out to the Welsh media………

I browsed through lots of press reports from RWAS and under ‘Projects Completed For the Show’ and under capital at the top of the list was New Food Hall – Fit Out. I have no idea what that means but considering the Food Hall was only opened 12 months ago – it didn’t make much sense to me, and still doesn’t.

Now if like me, you believe that Wag never listens, you will have been delighted to see the new layout in the Food Hall. This was proof, at least on this occasion, that Wag not only listened, but actually reacted in a positive manner. They took the time and trouble to ask for producers’ comments and suggestions, listened to what they said and then acted upon them. This is great news and a huge step forward. Sadly I have no proof that Wag read welshfoodbites’ post on last year’s Food Hall fiasco, but the important point is that Wag realised the layout was wrong and did something about it. Well done Wag.

It’s difficult and unfair to say at such an early stage how the new layout worked, but I’ll get feedback through on Friday I’m sure when the producers at last get home. I’m still not totally happy with Wag though as I wished they’d put some tables and seating in the centre area, which was empty apart from some pop-up banners. There was space also opposite the loos and some tables and chairs could have fitted in there. There were lots of visitors that were stood in groups chatting and I’m sure they would have appreciated a coffee, tea, cake and a sit-down and have a break. I find it odd that this new Food Hall was planned with no thought for a seating area, even just outside. There was such a fantastic array of Welsh produce on display, but impossible for people to be able to buy that food and eat it easily. But, having said that, I cannot believe that anyone wandering around the Food Hall would not be impressed with the wonderful array of food from the artisan producers. Well done guys.

I believe the gate was down by about 4,000 people but I do hope that doesn’t happen for the rest of the week and the food producers have a good week in the Food Hall.
I also made two visits down to the Farmers Market and congratulate Steve Shearman and Ralph’s Cider who between them got some smart tentage, this area certainly looked better and they had some great produce too. There were also some tables and benches with umbrellas which many people took advantage of.

 
 

Food Hall At Royal Welsh

12 Jul

I have just received a press release from the Welsh Government showing which food producers are going to be in Food Hall this year. Fifty producers are listed, but of these only 26 appear to be True Taste winners. True Taste winners is he Welsh Government’s top selection criteria, followed by products must be made in Wales and raw materials are primary agricultural produce.

The press release doesn’t say that the Welsh Government is disappointed that they’ve only attracted 26 True Taste winners, but I think if I was them I would be. True Taste (TT) is being pushed and promoted by Wag as their ‘brand’. They have invested or wasted, depending on your view of course, oodles and oodles of cash on their ‘brand’. But it’s puzzling as to why Wag can’t fill the Food Hall with TT winners, for what many view as the highlight of the Welsh year – The Royal Welsh Show.

Is the high cost of the RWAS that’s the main reason? Or is something else going on that I don’t know about? If you can shed any light on this please let me know.

 
 

Cardigan Bay Seafood Festival

12 Jul

There were plenty of top chefs there on Sunday showing off their talents as they cooked an incredible selection of seafood right before your very eyes. At sample pots costing just £2.50, it’s no surprise that the chefs sold out as their supplies quickly dwindled. Thankfully Mary Ann Gilchrist from Carlton Riverside, Llanwrtyd Wells, Welsh Country’s resident chef writer remembered our forward order and we enjoyed a lovely break with products fresh from the sea and a quick catch up with Mary Ann. There were about 20 stands selling their fish dishes and it was great to see the likes of Steve Terry from the Hardwicke, who I’d judged on Great British Menu a few years ago, cooking alongside Bryan Webb from Tyddyn Lan, Llandrillo, Dudley Newbery from S4C and the lovely Gareth Johns from The Wynnstay, Machynlleth – we were spoilt with clever chefs.

Alongside the hot food, there were about 20 food stands, including Ralph’s Cider, Penlon, Gill’s Plaice, Merlin Cheese, Celtic Crab, Welsh Mustard and Tefi Cheese to name just a few. Opening hours we officially only 11.30 – 4.00 and amidst huge crowds at times most traders were having a good show which was such a relief to hear.

It was interesting hearing comments from visitors and to learn that basics festival mistakes are still not sorted, people were saying there was still a lack of signage and banners and although locals knew where it was it was a struggle for some visitors. There were grumbles too about the crowds and how difficult it was to see the chefs cooking and hard to push buggies and wheelchairs because of the limited space. I saw one guy on crutches and he was lucky to keep his balance. One local lady said the event should be moved to the grassed area in the Square, but said to me that would never happen as it was The Harbourmaster’s show after all! I understand this, with sea food and the linked attraction to the harbour area, but the event is a victim of their own success and I can really see that lady’s point. With all this lovely food to sample there was hardly any seating to be had and balancing drinks, food, and keeping hold of children and elderly relatives, needed skills that not many seemed to have. It really spoiled what should have been a great, relaxing, fun experience.

I got taken to task by a young lady as I passed a small display area for fork2fork, she saw my badge, assumed I was fork2fork and wasn’t at all pleased when I couldn’t tell her where the staff for fork 2fork where!!!

It was great to see two areas for musical and dance entertainment but I felt sorry for the traders by The Hive – the singer there had no volume control and they couldn’t hear themselves speak or listen easily to their potential customers. Surely officials should be keeping an eye on things like that and being aware that traders do not need these distractions when they are trying to sell – it really is not fair on them.

There was also a distinct lack of bins and a basic like this should surely be covered. I’m not sure if any Wag official attended to check out this event, but as Wag had given £9,429.00 funding I would have expected someone there. Maybe I just missed them or maybe they just missed me.

But it was good to see some happy traders for a change.

 
 

Papers, Politicians, Police,

08 Jul

And the demise of the News Of The World – As a journalist there are many occasions when I am very proud of my profession. When wrongs have been highlighted, successful campaigns organised and action like MP’s expenses was a revelation, these are examples of journalism at its best.
But catching up on the News of the World debacle has made me furious. Not just from a journalistic point of view, but from a humane point – have these ordinary people who are victims not been through enough? The stories about alleged back-handers to the police, the illegal action of phone–tapping, the list goes on and on and the behaviour of some individuals and the media machine that is News International can only be politely described as appalling.

It was sad to see the final edition yesterday of the NOTW as Rupert Murdoch decided to pull the plug on our most successful Sunday paper. If reports are correct, this paper is drawing in advertising revenue of £38.6 million per annum. Ok dream on Kath. But the NOTW has been propping up its sister titles of The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times.

I have no sympathy for all those involved in phone-tapping, your actions were illegal and no editor or publisher should have believed that their title is outside the law. I want those responsible to be held to account, I want them to face the victims’ family and explain just what promoted them to do such despicable acts. Let those families ask the questions that must have been driving them insane over the last few months and years.

Now about 200 journalists have lost their jobs, despite the fact that most of them weren’t there when this hacking fiasco took place. Media has not escaped the recession, how could it? But these professional people are now on the scrap-heap unless Mr Murdoch finds them jobs elsewhere in his huge organisation. Many of them might not wish to work again for this man who has other matters on his mind than these poor guys who have just been made redundant, but many with mortgages and families might feel they simply haven’t a choice if any work is offered. What a mess….. the inquiries cannot come quickly enough or skimp in their thoroughness to leave no stone unturned in the search for the truth.

So why am I posting NOTW on welshfoodbites? A story, which has headed all newspaper front pages, websites and radio and TV bulletins, but is certainly not food related? Well one worry is that all journalists might be tarred with the same brush, which would be totally unfair, as there are rotten apples in all barrels, business, politics, sport, no sector is immune. I hope that all journalists, which of course includes me, always work in a professional manner, which goes without saying, but journalists should not forget that part of their job is to expose injustice and abuse…………………….which is what I shall, in my small way, keep doing too.

 
 

Food At The Royal Welsh

06 Jul

Wales’ agricultural show is nearly upon us and hopefully the weather will be kinder than it has been over the last few years. Welsh Country’s focus of course will be mainly on food with two areas for us to cover, the Food Hall, which is run through the Welsh Government and the Farmers Market In Wales area, under the direction of Steve Shearman.

The producers that are in the Food Hall will be counting on lots of people through obviously, but also that the layout that will allow visitors the chance to browse and purchase at their leisure. Last year’s layout simply didn’t work and the crowds were so huge that is was verging on dangerous as people in wheelchairs and those with buggies were literally carried along with the flow, but struggled to even see the stands properly,let alone purchase. I hope lessons have been learnt by the organisers and that they realise how important this event is to our producers. Stand prices are very expensive in the Food Hall and a producer told me at the weekend that after paying in full, they’d be pestered for additional payments for electric, so unsure what had gone wrong there. But what I did find disappointing is that traders are charged £48.00 per night to park their caravans. It’s some time since I was in a caravan doing a tradestand, but usually we got it free or at the most a minimal charge. I haven’t a clue what today’s standard rate is for a caravan pitch but around £6.00 – £10.00 per night was the norm. In some ways I can understand private accommodation providers trying to make the most money possible during the RAWS week, but what I find upsetting is that this is caravan charge is being made by the RWAS. If RWAS are able to charge visitors £48.00 a night, fair enough, I understand that they have to make money. But what I don’t like is it feels like RWAS attitude is if you want to be here that’s what you must pay, take it our leave it. But I do think it would be a great gesture if RWAS would look again at traders’ caravan charges and make them more reasonable. The trader I was speaking to is paying out over £1,000 for a stand in the Food Hall, excluding samples, so I can only hope that this year the Food Hall does work well and the producers have a busy and profitable show – they certainly need it.

Head for Stand A42 to find the Farmers’ Markets in Wales Catering Concession, I’m really looking forward to seeing how this area looks and works. The market always has a great vibe about it. There’s nothing better than seeing families declining the vast array of fast-food that’s always on offer and enjoying good local food and drink with lots of taste and flavour – coming literally from Welsh forks in the ground to the fork on your plate at the Royal Welsh Show. It will be the ultimate fork to fork experience.

 
 

Pembrokeshire Fish Week

04 Jul

I was in Saundersfoot on Saturday about lunchtime. As I headed down to the harbour I heard an excellent jazz band alongside two stands, one selling BBQ fish and one for Lifeboats, plus a mobile ice-cream van. I then saw five people stood together chatting, all wearing bright blue t-shirts and holding papers/ clipboards. I walked past them twice in about the 20 minutes I spent there, but was not approached by anyone. I did though notice the t-shirts were promoting Fish Week.

As I bought a Welsh ice-cream, two blue t-shirts were chatting behind me saying that they were not keen to interrupt people having a good time, just so they could fill in a Fish Week survey. Wake up please, allow me to introduce you to the real world, if you’re being paid to get surveys completed, simply get on with the job, instead of having a laid-back, easy day in the sunshine at Saundersfoot – the people can always say no can’t they?
Of course, I then had to help out and volunteer to complete this survey. 1st question ‘did I know it was Fish Week?’ No, I’d forgotten it was Fish Week, until I read her t-shirt. I was then told, ‘well it was launched last week in Milford Haven and now Pembrokeshire Council wanted feedback’ – I guess to tick more boxes and get their funding. Then was I from Pembrokeshire?’ I said no Ceredigion, but for some reason that was classed as local. Next ‘what did I think of Fish Week here?’ when I asked what else was here apart from 2 stands and a band – I was told nothing!

Perhaps my blue t-shirted young lady should have visited Pembrokeshire’s website before doing her survey, as I have just done but then found out what else was going on that blue t-shirt knew nothing about. I found: Saundersfoot Seaside BBQ and foraging safari- at Saundersfoot Harbour. Bring the family to Saundersfoot village and enjoy a variety of freshly caught barbecued fish straight off the harbour served between 11.00 – 15.00. Listen to jazz from the Celtic Saints band, Also, come and join Craig Evans on a foraging safari, discover sea potatoes, razorfish and life in the rockpools. Why not have a go at kayaking or hire a pedalo – visit the ‘hire hut’ (behind The Old Chemist beer garden) and show your Fish Week brochure for a 10% discount. Meet at 12.30 at the flagpole. A free event where everyone is welcome. Barbecue situated under the flagpole opposite The Mermaid Restaurant, weather permitting.

I completed the rest of the questions and then asked how much it cost to put Fish Week on, whereupon we were joined by another blue t-shirt who said it was impossible to say as they got funding wherever they could. If I wanted that information she told me to ask a question through Freedom of Information. Not helpful and I didn’t try the, don’t you know who I am? I really couldn’t be bothered, but I do have more questions to ask!!

But back to the variety of freshly caught barbecued fish straight off the harbour.
Well that was an education or a con, as the stand was serving haddock. When asked where the haddock came from, the sea at Saundersfoot was indicated, and only when the questioning continued did the man standing the stall say’ that it was bought in from a wholesaler. He did then say that the stand was raising money for Saundersfoot town, and not promoting Welsh Food. Now this is very enterprising from the town’s point of view, but rather puzzling from mine as a visitor and not what I understood from blue t-shirt lady.
Pembrokeshire Fish Week states that its objective is to celebrate the Welsh county’s first-class seafood, spectacular coastline, wonderful clean beaches, and fascinating maritime heritage. Again very worthy, but can Pembrokeshire clarify how much haddock is caught in Pembrokeshire waters or in Welsh waters? Why does Pembrokeshire Fish Week allow this to happen? Why can’t Saundersfoot Town raise money from crab, mackerel or scallops to name just three Welsh beautiful seafoods?