The Universal Cookery and Food Festival – now in its fifth and arguably most high-profile year – is the Craft Guild of Chefs’ love letter to food, farming and the harvest. The recipe seems simple but the final result is so unlike any other foodservice event in the calendar; take a bunch of innovative suppliers, throw in a band of leading chefs, add growers, foragers, farmers, beekeepers, bands, beer, about two-and-a-half tons of hay and cover with a corrugated tin roof until done.

This year’s chapter of the ‘Glastonbury for chefs’ chose to pitch up at the equally unique Laverstoke Park Farm – a 2,500 acre bio-dynamic smallholding in the Hampshire countryside, run by ex-Formula One World Champion, Jody Scheckter. And, with a line-up including the big man himself plus Daniel Clifford, Angela Hartnett, Bruno Loubet, Eric Chavot, Clare Clark and Graham Hornigold, the one-day event is a stark reminder, if one were needed, of the wealth of talent and incredible produce that this country is capable of creating.

Innovative cookery demos were twinned with insightful panel sessions and debates, held together imperiously by compere for the day, Nigel Barden. Alongside this, visitors could tour the farm via a tractor and trailer, forage for berries in the hedgerows and experience a live game demo which, from shoot, through to skinning and butchery, left no stone unturned in the process of how our food ends up at the table.

Three of our wonderful clients, Coup de pates, Essential Cuisine and Vegetarian Express, were an integral part of the great taste market, alongside Jellybean friends, The Culinary Ability Awards, who took part in a fascinating panel discussion on ‘culinary disadvantage’. The not-for-profit social enterprise, run by Chris Sandford and Mona Leone, champions disability in hospitality and the pair were on hand to talk about the Awards becoming part of European project, the “Culinary Ability Food Preparation Award”.

Accredited by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, Chris and Mona explained how they are now seeking funding to run a pilot project of the European standard with 15 trainees to refine their service as training providers. The pair were joined on the stage by Midsummer House Head Chef, Daniel Clifford, who revealed that he has struggled with severe dyslexia since childhood, with cooking providing a much needed tonic.

As is now traditional, the event culminated with the three B’s – beer, barbecue and a live band, which took proceedings on long after sunset.

Congratulations to chefs John Feeney, Lee Maycock and Ian Nottage who, alongside the brilliant McCullough Moore, have really made this event something very special indeed. Each passing year seems bigger and better than the last. And, with Padstow in the sites for 2017, who would bet against it growing further still against the backdrop of a Cornish parish that can call upon Ainsworth and Stein as adopted sons.

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