Food Festivals are now an old friend, featuring a produce market, street food and demonstrations by local or celebrity chefs. In this format they have become a modern alternative to the country show. Of local interest but ubiquitous. York’s Food Festival was one of the first in 1997, and has always been one of the largest and best. Every year over 3 to 400,000 people spend at least some time at this free 10-day event in the city centre. They enjoy not just the event but the historic city already blessed with great restaurant and bars, and innovative street food both in the Shambles Market and now the nearby York Spark.

Spark, the collection of vibrantly painted shipping containers that has sprung up to re-energise one of York’s dowdiest streets radically extends the Festival’s Street Food offer. Spark will also play host to some of the Taste Workshops that feature at this year’s Festival. The innovation associated with this year’s Festival centres on new ways to taste, but more importantly learn how to make, great food.

Taking a lead from the “Slow Food” movement the “Taste Workshops” are an opportunity to learn more about local produce from producers and experts. Visitors can match Yorkshire Apple and Ciders with local produce, be guided through the production of single variety Chocolates at York’s new Cocoa Works. Other workshops allow the visitor to taste and understand more about locally roasted coffee, beers brewed in the city, bread, cheeses and oysters. Alternatively, local charity YUMI is working with Syrian refugees to showcase their national cuisine at the Festival.

The most substantial hands on learning opportunity at the Festival is the new Food Factory. A family ticket for nearly two hours of entertainment is £15. Participants learn to make bread, butter, pasta and ice-cream, preserve fish and make cheese, if that’s not enough the visit is rounded off with a trip to the Cocoa Works, to see chocolate manufactory in action.

The Food Factory is situated on St Sampson’s square alongside the demonstration area, and a new pop-up bar and street food area, “The Star Inn the Square”, run by regional celebrity chef Andrew Pern. This area, which the Festival has labelled the “Food Hub” features small producer stands at both weekends, Michael Hjort, a leading local chef and the Festival director said “It’s difficult for small producers to attend for 10 days, so we give them the opportunity to take a break or to just attend at one of the weekends. In addition, there is extra capacity in Fossgate on both Saturdays of the Festival. So overall there is a massive opportunity to buy regional and other gourmet foods. This is something we are very proud of too, many Festival’s nowadays are dominated by the Beer tent and Street Food”.

Of course, the Festival has a Beer Tent; but again, it’s a little different as York Food Festival extends into the evening with the main tent, which features live music, and the Star Inn the Square. In addition, the Festival promotes special evenings in hotels and restaurants, dinners, and wine tasting across the city. These include a rare chance to compare wines from supermarkets and independent suppliers against each other at the Festival Wine Fair, arranged by critic Christine Austin.

York Food Festival is a run by an independent organisation that aims to make a long-term difference to the city. The Festival runs school’s events mid-week with hundreds of local school children gaining cookery lessons. This year the Festival coincides with a new series of Hospitality Awards rewarding the best within York’s large and growing Tourism sector. Local hero Tommy Banks, the celebrity chef from the Black Swan at Oldstead, will be presenting the prizes. He is also the lead judge for the Festival’s Junior Chefs competition, a live cookery event at which Tommy is a previous winner. Will this year’s champion end up on Great British Menu? Visitors can see Tommy in the demonstration area, alongside fellow Great British Menu contestant Andrew Pern, and Andrew’s fellow Michelin star winner James Mackenzie. For lovers of York’s innovative Skosh restaurant, Chef Neil Bentinck is also demonstrating.

Michael Hjort added “The Festival is not just in York but is about York.” To this end visitors, can enjoy a Taste Trail that allows you to relish a series of little samples in a wide variety of food retailers around the city. Buy a booklet (£8 for 2) and spend the day exploring. For kids, Little Vikings have organised a recipe trial. For adults there are also Gin, Fizz and Ale Trails as an introduction to York’s many great bars. Ale lovers may wish to come on the first weekend of the Festival as it coincides with the CAMRA Beer and Cider festival on York Knavesmire.

All in all, the York Food Festival is the Food Festival that provides innovation, and keeps great food at the centre of its programme. Michael added a final comment, “If you’re in York, even if all you want is a coffee, come to the Food Hub, it’s the week of MacMillan’s Coffee morning so at our coffee and cake stand 25% of our sales to them”

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