The Welsh Menu Live

The inaugural food festival of The Welsh Menu took place over the August Bank Holiday weekend this year. With great local producers, an array of fabulous street food and a range of demonstrations from guest celebrity chefs, The Welsh Menu Live in Swansea certainly was a weekend to remember. Sali Earls looks back at the weekend.

As Colin Pressdee said in his foreword to the festival programme, “Swansea is in a superb location within easy reach of a hugely diverse food larder from the land and sea. Throughout history since Roman times to the present the area has been a provider of wonderful produce. In its time this has taken in oysters from Swansea Bay, cockles and laverbread from Penclawdd, vegetables from Gower, salt marsh lamb from Llanrhidian plus other meat and dairy produce from the mixed farming of the region. The rich seas of the Bristol Channel still yield a rich combination of fine fish and shellfish.” and indeed, The Welsh Menu Live showcased this diversity in the producer pavilion where local artisan producers could sell their wares to the public.

The festival was launched with a celebration dinner at The Dragon Hotel on Friday 24 August, and the chef had worked tirelessly to produce a menu befitting the festival and the local produce. Ingredients were sourced locally, from producers such as Swansea Fish and Gower Salt Marsh Lamb, and supported with additional local groceries from Swansea Market. Mumbles Fine Wines had provided specific wines chosen to bring out the best in each dish. The highlight of the meal was the main course of Medley of Salt Marsh Lamb, a dish which left guests at my table practically speechless, such was the quality of the meat and the expertise of the cooking. BBC broadcaster Jamie Owen acted as master of ceremonies for this launch event, and talked the guests through each course of the menu, pausing to interview the attending producers and special guests.

The festival opened on Saturday 25 August with a pro-celebrity cooking challenge, taking place in Swansea Market. Actor and writer Keiron Self had bravely agreed to take on this challenge and teamed up with professional chef Anthony Evans to cook a range of dishes with ingredients found exclusively within Swansea Market.

In The Welsh Menu Food Theatre at the Dragon Hotel, Fiona Faulkner cooked delicious child friendly dishes from her book “25 Foods Kids Eat and How To Get Them Eating 24”; acclaimed cook and food writer Sophie Grigson demonstrated a three course meal showcasing clever spicing; and local chef Anthony Evans brought us his delicious Chateaubriand of Welsh Beef.

In The Welsh Menu Pavilion, food writer Laura Rowe demonstrated pasta making as part of the Chefs Unplugged sessions; and Toloja Orchards showcased cider making and food matching with mustard.

Sunday 26 August saw Jo Wheatley, winner of the BBC’s 2011 series of The Great British Bake Off demonstrate three dishes in The Welsh Menu Food Theatre – Chocolate Mud Cake, Macaroons and Stromboli; the UK’s youngest head chef, 18 year old Luke Thomas also took to the stage to showcase his take on Welsh lamb.

Mumbles Fine Wines offered a wine matching masterclass in The Welsh Menu Pavilion, and younger guests were able to get hands on with cupcake decorating with The Happy Cupcake Kitchen.

Monday 27 August saw the greatest activity in The Welsh Menu Food Theatre with demonstrations from Machynlleth based Gareth Johns; bona fide Welsh celebrity chef Bryn Williams; and acclaimed Cardiff based Indian chef Anand George. Susy Atkins offered an excellent wine masterclass focussing exclusively on Welsh wines; and Christos Kyriakidis of Cardiff’s Park House Club gave an exciting and inventive session on Penderyn Whisky cocktails.

The Welsh Menu Pavilion saw talks and demonstrations from Swansea based Dilly’s Kitchen covering pastry making; while the Ethical Chef demonstrated sushi rolling and Tomos Hopkin from Gwrhyd Mountain Meats showcased his award winning butchery skills.

Throughout the festival, local artisan producers had the opportunity to sell to the public and also meet with and chat to many of the professional chefs who took part. Producers included Cwm Deri Vineyard; Gower Salt Marsh Lamb; Gwrhyd Mountain Meats; The Preservation Society; The Happy Cupcake Kitchen; Cowpots; and Toloja Orchards. Swansea’s Castle Square was the location for the festival’s Street Feast which offered visitors to the city some great Welsh Street Food including gourmet Welsh beef burgers from the eyecatching Got Beef bus; traditional Welsh Breed pig roast from Glamorgan Vale and authentic Persian platters from Kamran and team at Taste of Persia.

Junior Foodies were treated to some food fun on both Saturday and Monday courtesy of local manufacturer Lewis Pie & Pasty Co., who encouraged younger visitors to get hands on creating a cupcake farmyard scene whilst older children were challenged to create the ultimate Welsh pasty using an array of local ingredients. There was also a competition to see who could nibble a welshcake into a shape best resembling the country of Wales. Some found the welshcakes just a bit too tempting and reduced Wales to nothing more than a small plate of crumbs!

The Welsh Menu Live was the first festival of its’ kind. It ran without public sector funding, but with tremendous support and good will from The City & County of Swansea; Swansea City Centre; Swansea Market and Sainsbury’s.

To paraphrase the end credits of a certain spy movie franchise, The Welsh Menu Live will return.