Henley on Food: Festival Review
It is not unfair to say that Brits are obsessed with Bank Holidays. Three-day weekends offer city-slickers the chance to escape from the bustle for a whole extra day, fooling us that summer has in fact already begun. But this year, there was a new addition to the May Day celebrations that permeate throughout Oxfordshire, from May Pole and Morris Dancing, through to barmy university traditions. With Henley Royal Regatta tents already popping up along the banks of the Thames, it is time for locals and visitors alike to start to think about their Regatta picnic and summertime BBQ ideas. And what better way to be inspired that visiting a local food festival?
In its inaugural year, Henley on Food made an outstanding impression as the UK’s first Food Literary Festival. Hosted at Shiplake College, the festival offered a diverse selection of talks, demonstrations, supper clubs and tastings, as well as a host of activities to keep all ages entertained for the day. I attended on the second day of the festival, diving straight into The Marketplace to sample and speak to food and culinary wares producers; all of which were selling beautiful and highly tempting Italian cheeses, Indian chutneys, Welsh brownies, Japanese knives, every Magimix product under the sun, beautiful oak boards and stunning handmade pottery.
From there we made our way down to the River Lawn (Shiplake College is based on one of the most beautiful reaches of the Thames), where we grabbed a quick coffee from the Horsebox Coffee Co. (fantastic coffee) and lounged in bright red deckchairs, embracing the year’s first rays of sun. We had booked attend a cookery demonstration of Spanish cuisine the brilliant José Pizarro, author of Basque, co-hosted by Marcus Bean.
Held in the Great Hall, their deliverance was light-hearted, educational (both from a culinary and cultural perspective), but more than anything, mouth-watering. Everything was made with love, passion and a heck of a lot of olive oil! Dabbing the corners of our mouths we made our way back to the Dining Street, which was filled with a selection of artisan vendors selling hotdogs, through to vegetarian Thai street food, souvlaki and all-natural lollipops. Having been tempted by the sights and smells of Basque cuisine, I had to have a chorizo crêpe; the paprika-infused oil seeping through the crisp pancake shell.
Onwards to see some free talks back at the River Lawn. First, an extraordinarily educational talk from The Olive Shop. Wow, John sure knows and loves his olive oil! Never again will I be buying cheap olive oil in a clear, plastic bottle.
- Buy the best olive oil you can afford (The Olive Shop sources all of their produce from the best regions of Greece)
- Buy Extra Virgin Olive Oil ALWAYS (you can use it for cooking or even as a moisturiser…). Plain Olive Oil is not meant to be fit for human consumption!
- Buy it in a coloured bottle/tin (this prevents UV reacting with the oil).
- Try to reduce the amount of air that is in the bottle with the product (e.g. shift it to a smaller container if the bottle is a third empty. Air reacts with and changes your olive oil).
- Stay away from plastic bottles – they are carcinogenic.
I think that is it… (John give me a shout out if I am missing any others).
And then secondly, a wonderfully effusive talk from Kate, Founder of Gower Cottage Brownies. You will have to try them to believe me, but honestly, some of the best brownies I have ever tasted. (I think they would get John Torode’s Masterchef approval).
Kate and John’s stories were both incredibly inspiring for budding foodie entrepreneurs. In short, if the product is great and you are passionate, anyone can achieve what they have. Witty, factual and thought-provoking, it was refreshing to go to a food festival where people are able to really share their knowledge of their product with you, rather than hiding behind a vending stall. An absolute thumbs-up and congratulations to all of the festival organisers, vendors and presenters. I cannot wait to return to Henley on Food again in 2017!