Running now for the third year, this is the nearest festival to Ian and I and had to push ourselves to get there by early afternoon after a morning meeting. I have been constructively critical of this festival over the last couple of years, and one of my grumbles was lack of banners, but I was pleased to see that banners were out very early indeed, at least a month or more before the event. That was a great start. I’d like to see more banners out of course, the more visitors attending the better for everyone. I was also pleased that part of the town, around the Clock tower wasn’t closed this year, as those retailers didn’t take stands at the festival but kept their shops open instead. Great news that the organisers have knocked that one on the head as visitors into the town want to see all shops open, not sections of it closed. I spent so long chatting that I didn’t have time to walk through the town and see if shops have joined in the festival spirit, or if there was a competition for the best dressed festival window, but if not maybe those ideas that might work in the future.
More good news with last year’s previous two smaller marquees had been ditched in favour of one large one and this worked so much better. It created a much livelier atmosphere. I missed Alan from Welsh Brew tea and one of our good coffee guys because it is handy to have tea and coffee inside the marquee, especially for producers running stand on their own, regular drinks are vital for those of us that talk too much! The organisers had also sited the marquee to where I think was a better drained part of the field, because yet again this festival was blighted by rain on and off, with the week leading up to the Saturday virtually wet and windy every day. That was rotten as the previous week had been warm and sunny, but as one canny producer said to me, “it worked out for the best for us traders as it was too cold for people to head for the beach and once the rain started, people headed into the marquee for shelter and shopped!” I have to say that it’s only the second festival I’ve done this year when I couldn’t find a sulky or a grumpy producer in the food marquee – yippee!!!!
Some bad news though which was poor feedback from the producers outside in individual tents with food-to-go. They suffered dreadfully with the weather and had a disappointing day. I appreciate it’s an additional expense, but a 3-sided tent with some tables and chairs inside would I think given them a better chance. Standing out in the rain whilst your burger or whatever is cooking, is unpleasant. Adults, if pushed will walk around munching a burger, but if there are families with children or elderly parents, it really doesn’t work at all. Ideally it would be wonderful if a local sponsor could be found to give this idea a try. I understand that there are not that many medium/large companies in the area, but maybe some arm twisting is needed here!!!!
I always recommend inviting school children to provide some entertainment at a festival and the Emlyn organisers did a great job of doing just that. They’d planned plenty of family entertainment, much of it involving local school children, which meant a captive audience of mums, dads, grannies, granddads, aunts and uncles, no wonder so many producers were smiling. Another area where the organisers scored well was not having too many stands selling the same or similar products. Often at a festival you’ll get four cheeses producers, six jam/chutney makers, five beer companies etc, which is alright if you’ve literally thousands and thousands of people coming in. But if the festival can’t attract high attendance figures, and many can’t, then the organisers must be constantly aware that the producers who have paid to be there, must sell to make their money and they can’t achieve that with a low visitor turnout and lots of competitors selling the same products. We had lots of our Best Of Welsh & Borders producers in attendance and I know I can rely on them for accurate feedback, so I’m pleased to report a good event, despite the weather not really working with them in the week leading up to the big day.
The cookery demo kitchen was in action when I arrived and I was just in time to see the tail end of the demo by chef Gareth Johns from The Wynnstay, Machynlleth. Gareth is one of my favourite chefs, ok he’s not strictly local to Emlyn, but he’s not that far away either! He’s a leading light in the industry, one of our top Welsh chefs who is passionate about the ethos of good, clean and fair food. So much so he’s now a leading light for Slow Food in Wales. I’m was so pleased to hear Gareth say he was using meat from Glam Lamb, a producer at the event, and when I chatted to him later and I mentioned this and he explained his action plan. He said that when he’s invited to cook at any food festival he arrives early to make sure he can walk around the stands and select produce to cook. So I’m back on my soap box again as this is something I’ve been suggesting, but often failing to persuade festivals to do. Maybe I need to take this up officially with wag food to make it another ‘must-do criteria. Other chefs please note, it can be done and it should be done. Actually doing that on the day shows clearly the talent and ability of a chef that can think off the top of his/her head, support producers and then cook tasty dishes in front of an audience. Well done guys!
Chef Ian Williams from the Emlyn Arms, Newcastle Emlyn has to be congratulated for recommending Gareth and local chef Ludo to cook alongside him doing the demos. Chatting to Ian later he said how impressed he’d been with the quality of the food stands at the festival and he agrees with what some top chefs are saying, use the best quality produce and then you don’t really have to do much with it. So it was a thumbs up for the cookery demo area too, especially with their chefs promoting some of the producers. At the end of the day promoting producers, which means our super Welsh food too, is what a food festival is all about, and if it isn’t, then in my view it shouldn’t be running and certainly not being funded.
This festival was funded by wag; they’d asked for £5k but sadly only received £2,955 for reasons best known to wag. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall when that funding meeting took place and I could have heard for myself just why some festivals got what they wanted and others didn’t. Wag and I often have different views on what constitutes a successful festival, but of course I think I’m right as I visit more festivals than their team ever does! Add to that my Best Of Welsh producers to give me their honest views and I do think I’m in touch with what’s happening out there. Thankfully Carmarthenshire County Council helped out along with a few sponsors and there was no gate charge, so that was a huge help to encourage both locals and visitors into the festival.
I didn’t get a press release about this event which is disappointing, especially as wag has that listed on their ‘must-do’ criteria list. If my local paper can do pre-event coverage I assume they’d been sent a press release, but I’m still waiting for mine……
I heard a few grumbles that there weren’t any craft stands. This was not the fault of the festival but a further wag dictat. Another one, I hasten to say I’m not totally in agreement with. My view is that the more things there are to see and do, the longer people will stay, the longer they’ll stay and the higher the chance there is that they will spend more money with our food producers. I’m guessing the reason wag have pooh-poohed craft stands is because wag are putting money in to support food not craft, but surely a compromise could have been found. Couldn’t some craft fair groups have been allowed to ‘hire’ some field space and sort out their own marquee and stands? Just a thought…
As this is one of our local festivals, we do hear feedback from ‘Joe Public’. One comment heard was that the meat did not look fresh! Meat producers please do not go up in arms, I know your meat couldn’t be any fresher, but wanted to pass this on as food for thought. ‘Joe Public’ is sadly a regular supermarket shopper, fooled into the supermarket technique of seductive lighting over meat counters so meat looks bright glossy red. I feel sorry for ‘Joe Public’ because as an aside, I bought some beef from one of our Best Of Welsh producers at the festival. It had been hung and was almost black. Ok, I know most people don’t want it this well hung and it is certainly not what the supermarket meat shoppers want, they’d have been horrified. But the taste was wonderful and there was no shrinkage in the oven. There’s obviously an tough education job to do and I’d like to think HCC will take that on board, but I very much doubt it. But this comment that we heard is relevant to all meat producers and independent retailers. There are no quick answers I am afraid, but give me my well hung meat any day; it was a super Sunday lunch!
I’m so relieved Newcastle Emlyn made a success of their festival despite the weather trying to work against them. They made huge improvements over the last two years and long may they continue to do so.