Stratford upon Avon Food Festival

Stratford upon Avon has held a food market in various guises for a number of years with varying degrees of success. This year, Groupe Geraud took over the reins, working in conjunction with Stratforward, Stratford upon Avon’s BID, to re-launch the town’s food festival.

Working closely with their regular traders from around the country including from Liverpool and Brixton, some of the town’s retailers, Stratford’s own market traders, International representation from Groupe Geraud Sweden and regular food fair retailers ,coupled with a celebrity chef theatre, all made for a varied food shopping experience.

To further entice shoppers to engage, the trading area was spread over a large section of the Riverside, with the cookery theatre marquee in the centre and the green stalls spanning their arms from either side. An outside bar was set up selling beer from the barrel as well as the usual range of wines and spirits and local musicians performed at one end of the shopping area, drawing quite a crowd.

As expected, the celebrity chefs, James Martin, whose demonstrations took place on Saturday and Simon Rimmer, who cooked on Sunday, were a big pull. On Friday, the cookery theatre was used to showcase the talents of chefs who had restaurants in the town and included interactive workshops.

I was there from before the market opened, until around four o’clock, where some traders had already packed up as they had sold out of stock and the atmosphere and response from shoppers and traders was a positive one, even though they had anticipated Friday being the quietest of the three trading days. The good weather would certainly have helped to play a part in this and the fact that Stratford upon Avon is very much a tourist destination and so footfall was almost certainly guaranteed. I revisited some of the traders that I had spoken to on visits to Liverpool and Brixton Village as well as those from the town and further afield and overall, they were pleased with that day’s trading levels.

Stratford Food Fest 4Street Food
Street food is certainly on the up and it is now a competitive sector of the business with traders often having to have something different to guarantee their entry, particularly at food fairs and festivals where competition is fierce. It was therefore refreshing to see We Want Good Grub Ltd, who had fully embraced this. Ben Williams set up the stall selling Middle Eastern style lamb and chicken flatbreads in January and is finding his feet having done everything from village fetes to festivals with 20,000 Stratford Food Fest 2attendants. He attended the town’s river festival earlier in the year and was approached by Stratforward to attend. When I wandered round later in the day, they had a good queue of customers and were pleased with their first day’s trading.

The best dressed street food stall had to be Ross and Ross from Chipping Norton who went for a very rural feel and had what looked like a real cow’s head adorning their stand! From Chipping Norton, they have been specialising in outside country events and pop up restaurants, mostly in the Cotswolds, for the last three years. There were constant customers for their slowcooked lamb rolls.

If slowcooked pork is your preference then you would have had to have joined the queue for the hog roast from Woodhouse Farm from Elmesthorpe, Leicestershire and for the sausage roll enthusiasts you had to be quick off the mark as Pig in the Middle’s artisan sausage rolls and scotch eggs were flying off the stand. I was lucky to get one with bacon and black pudding but some of their even more interesting ones like Marmite, the best seller with caramelised onion and cheese and their latest addition of scorpion chilli and smoked garlic quickly sold out. There were also a selection of delicious looking tagines on offer from the Moroccan food stall and paelles from Iranian run retailer Homa.

Groupe Geraud on tour
Simon Wong from Jason Jamie’s Oriental Charcoal Grill, whom I had met recently in Liverpool, had the biggest queue and I was pleased to see that the concept works in different locations. Simon puts it down to the waft of the chargrilled meat which draws people in, Again I wasn’t fortunate enough to get round to tasting his food simply due to the size of the market – next time Simon!

Also from Liverpool was Satarnino Rubrica’s Noodle Bar Express and La creperier. Sophian has been selling crepes for over ten years from Christmas markets to food festivals and continental markets but has found that farmers markets aren’t his target audience. Despite selling savoury pancakes, he thought that around 90% of his sales were sweet and judging by the row of jars of chocolate hazelnut spread, I would suggest that this was the most popular.On tour from Brixton, Brazilian restaurants Casa Marita and Carioca join forces at the Stratford food festival

The team from Casa Morita that I met at Brixton Village were full of enthusiasm and their stall was brightly decorated with the staff all in matching t shirts. Brazilian food is not something that you find often out of the major cities but the owner was pleased with how things had gone for the first day. Equally as enthusiastic was Ifatunde from Oracle’s Organic Juice Bar who had also travelled from Brixton and his brightly coloured juices certainly stood out.

Groupe Geraud Sweden
Also ‘on tour’ were representatives from Groupe Geraud’s International Street Market which is held in 26 cities across Sweden. Homa, who I mentioned earlier, started as a wholesaler of olives and nuts 13 years ago by Amir and started selling hot food in 2009. He was also selling Persian style pastry delicacies which included baklava. His was probably the biggest stall on the market, closely followed by the stall selling French produce, which included artichokes, huge beef tomatoes and several varieties of garlic. Confusingly, Made in Britain, is a German owned company that trades mostly in the Scandinavian markets. Their vast array of brightly coloured, sweet smelling fudge is made near Manchester and was a joy to behold. I enjoyed the samples they gave me but the Homer Simpson Donut flavour was just one colour and sugar sprinkle too many for my normally savoury palate! Also representing Geraud Scandinavia Ltd was a French stall selling artisan table coverings, and his neighbour who sold cured meats and a range of speciality dried sausages (including donkey!)

Speciality Food and Drink
Peter Gott has 43 years experience selling his rare breed meat productsAs you would expect from a good food festival, there was a vast array of independent retailers selling specialist produce with little overlap although there were two or three that sold different types of cured and dried sausages but were from different countries. One of these was Lithuanian imported, Wild Game Meat Ltd who can be found at fourteen regular markets and car boot sales around the UK. For the more familiar UK sausage, there were a couple of independent farm producers to choose from. Silfield Farm, based in Kendal, have been farming, slaughtering, butchering and producing their cooked and raw wild boar and rare breed pig products for 43 years. This experience showed in the way Peter Gott presented his goods and he is clearly very passionate about his award winning meat and the care of his animals. He has been trading four forty three years, seventeen of which at Borough market, where he is an active landlord and tenant. I sampled a number of his products, including a Cumberland sausage ring and wild boar pie, which I shared with foodie friends and they all commented on the high quality. Similarly, Woodhouse Farm, who also had the hog roast, has over forty years’ experience of rare breed farming and offer Hereford Beef products as well as pork. The family run business is conscious of the need to change with the times and has introduced a gluten free range of sausages as well as having card payment facilities. They attend weekly farmer’s markets as well as food festivals and game fares and were contacted by Geraud through one of their farmer’s markets. Alan Shields who was managing the stall was pleased with the event. Various alcoholic beverages also featured and Nuneaton based Tunnel Brewery had a selection of real ales and lagers to tempt you. He produces a beer for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Society which he had displayed along with some handmade goblets to appeal specifically to tourists. He has sold at farmers markets recently but has found these to be less profitable of late. Chris Salt, the owner of Hay Wines was busy handing out samples of his more unusual range of alcoholic drinks. These included elderflower, raspberry and ginger liqueurs and a chocolate dessert wine which really wasn’t as awful as it sounds. He sold out of his honey and sloe infused whisky within an hour and was pleased with the footfall at Stratford as this was his first time here and is looking to expand this side of the business. His shop in Ledbury has over 140 whiskeys, 40 gins and 900 wines, to name a few and he offers an online service in addition to the events and exhibitions.

Coffee Stratford Food FestFor the coffee connoisseur, Newcastle based Coffee and Curve were on hand, with their distinctive yellow unit selling premium Illy coffee, hot drinks and a few baked goods. The warm weather meant that slush sales might remain for a little longer and these have been a real money spinner for them, particularly vodka laced versions sold at festivals. Michael Manders and his wife Linda have been trading for fifteen years and are established faces at many Groupe Geraud markets. They are very proud of their high quality product and retail outlet and display their five star food hygiene certificate and NCASS membership for all to see.

There were two different cheese producers represented. Croome Cuisine, from Whittington near Worcester has been making cheese for twenty five years. Nick Hodgetts and his wife Anita set up the company five years ago and use ingredients local to their farm where possible. Their Hereford Hop is an award winning cheese and they have built a smoker to produce their oak smoked cheese. Anita was very happy with the trade that day and her enthusiasm for her produce showed.

The Great British Cheese Company also offered some unusual and award winning cheeses including Sticky Toffee Tastic and their colourful exterior waxing made for a bright and enticing stall, with many visitors enjoying the samples. No great cheese would be complete without a chutney and West Country based The Cherry Tree has a vast selection of award winning chutneys and preserves. I’m particularly fond of their caramelised onion chutney and they have some more unusual flavours, like garlic and chilli and carrot chutneys, hedgerow jam and pina colada curd!

Pan Galore from this happy market traderThere were a number of stalls selling cookware and related products, often with demonstrations. These included professional knives, non-stick pans, whisks and mandolins. Online business attracted many visitors who were drawn to the retro style bakeware and in particular, the enamel dishes. There seemed to be constant coos of ‘I used to have one of these..!’ Rob, who is based in Nuneaton does a lot of food shows and country fares and also retails at the town’s Sunday market. Neil Jones of The Kitchen Garden Plant Centre, based in Newent, Gloucestershire, heard about the show through searching the internet and commented, ‘It’s been excellent, well worth it.’ As well as common herbs, there were some more unusual and old fashioned varieties as well as a number of fruit trees which have all been grown without chemicals on his three acre site. Neil has a horticultural degree and is passionate about his plants and will give both care advice and culinary tips to his customers.

Local Businesses
Many of the town’s local businesses bought in to the food festival and used the opportunity to showcase their products to locals and visitors alike. Several restaurants and cafes had stands offering a sample of their goods. These included The Falcon Hotel who were selling bags of homemade marshmallow and cinder toffee, Thai food from The Giggling Squid, barbecued burgers, beef ribs and sausages from The One Elm Gastro pub, all things funghi from Carluccio’s, pizza from Cafe Vineria and tea and cakes from Hathaway Tearooms. Wine Merchants Olivia and James Richards of Vin Neuf have a shop in town and usually sell wholesale to the local pubs and restaurants although they have retailed at a local festival in Alcester. They had a selection of wines and beverages available by the glass or bottle. Local food producers were also supporting the market.

Barry the Butcher was selling hot dogs and packs of sausages and the team back at the shop were frantically trying to keep up with demand. Likewise, Craig Blackman’s artisan breads, which he usually sells wholesale to businesses in the town, were selling quicker than he could refill his baskets. Ash, owner of The Warwickshire Chilli Tree and The Warwickshire Fruit Tree, makes his chilli sauces and preserves in Stratford upon Avon and sells locally. His Naga Chilli sauce drew a lot of attention, usually by males in a ‘man verses food’ type way and he was really pleased with trade being new to Geraud markets. All in all, it’s fair to say that both customers and traders seemed happy with the efforts that Groupe Geraud and StratForward had made to bring this new Stratford Food Festival together.

So many varieties of fudge from Groupe Geraud International MarketsTaking in to account that I was there early, on opening day, any teething problems were quickly addressed and representatives from both sides were in abundance, constantly interacting with traders and getting feedback. Judging by pictures I have seen and comments from the remaining days, it was a busy and well supported festival, although at the time of going to press I wasn’t able to gain visitor numbers, but suffice to say, it was clearly a success and a great starting block from which to build.
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