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A look ahead to the 2023 Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival

Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival at Snape Maltings attracts thousands of people. Photo: Archives
Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival at Snape Maltings attracts thousands of people. Photo: Archives

Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival is a glorious harvest of everything the county produces, promising two delicious days of family fun, produce to try and buy, and much more.

Just when you thought a busy summer, packed with things to do all over Suffolk, was drawing quietly to a close, along comes the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival.

And what could be better in September than a celebration of our bountiful food and drink scene? It harkens back to the finest tradition of harvest festivals and suppers; as summer gives way to autumn, we give thanks for a successful growing season, before hunkering down for the winter.

Great British Life: Snape Maltings are the setting for the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival. Photo: RICs/Snape MaltingsSnape Maltings are the setting for the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival. Photo: RICs/Snape Maltings

Growing is a year-round thing now, of course, and our busy lives are less in time with the rhythm of the agricultural calendar. We take it for granted the supermarket shelves will be stocked, even in the depths of winter. So, food festivals – as well as local farmers markets and farm shops – are a reminder of what it takes to get food onto our tables; a chance to appreciate and understand how and where our food is produced, and the people who produce it.

Growing and producing our food locally, eating it in season when it's fresh and at its most nutritious, is essential to our health and wellbeing. It's also vital that we continuously support our local producers. Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival – as well as promising a fantastic day out – passionately promotes these fundamentals. You wouldn't want to miss it.

For 2023, we are promised a festival that's better than ever. After the ravages of Covid, big events went quiet, then struggled to restart and regain momentum; Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival was no different. But it's back, refined, refreshed and refocused over two days, September 23 and 24 at Snape Maltings, its established home beside the River Alde at Snape.

Great British Life: Bella Scarr, Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival director, at Snape Maltings. Photo: Denise BradleyBella Scarr, Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival director, at Snape Maltings. Photo: Denise Bradley

Incredibly, the festival is now in its 18th year and Bella Scarr, who came on board as executive producer in 2021, promises a 'stellar line-up of chefs and Suffolk food and drink producers', plus a host of exciting new features. The emphasis, she says, is on 'festival'; a true celebration of the county's culinary scene, with plenty of street food, music, DJ decks (including Olive the Ambulance) to help create that vibe.

At the same time, the festival is staying true to its roots in honouring the county’s culinary and agricultural heritage. As a not-for-profit organisation 'dedicated to supporting and promoting the local community and businesses within it', Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival's aim has always been to give Suffolk producers and businesses a way to gain recognition and awareness from chefs, restaurants and business people all over the country. It's worth noting, too, that the festival supports Suffolk Community Foundation's food and drink fund to help alleviate food poverty.

It is, says Bella, about balance; celebration and enjoyment, along with some serious stuff. 'It's about the raw ingredients grown in Suffolk,' she says, 'promoting farms, orchards, organic growers and producers. We see this as a much bigger part of what the festival does. The aim and objective is to be more than a weekend; to help growers and producers year-round.' And there are projects in the pipeline, she says. A 'buyers' event' to showcase Suffolk food and drink businesses is planned and awaiting funding. Work is underway on a food hub system, using Open Food Network technology, to make it easier for growers and producers to sell and distribute their raw ingredients direct to markets and customers, something quite a few producers began independently during the Covid pandemic.

Great British Life: The festival is a showcase for Suffolk producers. Photo: Charlotte BondThe festival is a showcase for Suffolk producers. Photo: Charlotte Bond

The festival itself, says Bella, also has an increased focus on education. Throughout both days there will be cookery classes for young people from Grow Cook Eat, fish masterclasses with the Fish Boss chef CJ Jackson, and a chocolate chip cookie masterclass with Pump Street from Orford, as well as 'grow your own' and composting workshops, all with the aim of developing children's knowledge and skills, as well as their understanding of food provenance.

To this end, long-time festival supporter and honorary patron Thomasina Miers, chef, restaurateur and a trustee of the charity Chefs in Schools, will be on hand, demonstrating how you can feed a family well on a small budget. Also, Jenny Jefferies, wife of a Cambridgeshire arable farmer, author of For the Love of the Sea and For the Love of the Land, and a campaigner for agriculture and fishing, food education and food security, will be compering the main stage on day two.

As a parent herself, Bella is particularly keen to get young people excited about where their food comes from. A producer and project manager, she came to the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival after working with not-for-profit organisations in the arts and culture sector. She first became involved in the festival when she produced five short films on the Future of Food, which in turn fed her interest in food education.

Great British Life: The festival features familiar Suffolk brands as well as newcomers. Photo: Charlotte BondThe festival features familiar Suffolk brands as well as newcomers. Photo: Charlotte Bond

Aldeburgh is not Suffolk's only food and drink festival, of course. Our strong agricultural heritage and well established reputation for the quality and range of what is produced here ensures there's a calendar of foodie events throughout the year such as at Beccles, Bury St Edmunds and Long Melford (Taste of Sudbury), as well as excellent farmers' markets, such as those run by Suffolk Market Events, and charity fundraisers like Walk with a Fork at Helmingham.

But, arguably, it's the scale of Aldeburgh that marks it out as different because of what it can achieve. Given its size and reach, if nothing else it's a golden opportunity to help as many producers and consumers as possible get to know and appreciate each other better.

Great British Life: There is plenty of produce to buy and try. Photo: Charlotte BondThere is plenty of produce to buy and try. Photo: Charlotte Bond

About Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival

Date/time: September 23 and 24. Saturday 9.30am - 5pm; Sunday 9.3am - 4pm

Venue: Snape Maltings, Snape, Suffolk IP17 1SP

Tickets: Earlybird £10 per adult, otherwise £12. Under 16s enter for free. aldeburghfoodanddrink.co.uk

Parking: free

Dogs: welcome on short leads, but not allowed inside any shops or marquees. Dogs must not be left in vehicles.

What to see and do

The are two festival stages with food demonstrations throughout the two days. Food demonstrations and talks on both stages will be more informal than before. They will be every hour, on the hour, free to all visitors and no booking is required.

Browse, try and buy at more than 140 stalls, including established Suffolk producers and rising stars of the local food and drink industry. Everything on offer from fresh, organic vegetables, locally-produced honey, award winning drinks from a range of east coast breweries and distilleries, handcrafted chocolates, celebrated Suffolk cheeses and bread, grass fed beef, Suffolk grown pulses and cereals, plus much more.

Talks and tastings: Award-winning Suffolk chocolatiers Pump Street Chocolate will be taking over the Hoffman Building, with talks and chocolate tastings. The small-batch, bean-to-bar chocolate maker will give visitors an insight to chocolate-making and a chance to sample their celebrated chocolate bars, hot drinking chocolate and soft-serve chocolate ice-cream.

Family Area: busier than ever, with kids’ cookery classes from Grow Cook Eat, fish classes from chef CJ Jackson, aka Fish Boss, and demonstrations from Suffolk New College. Tuckwells will be providing tractors and agricultural equipment to explore. There's a new free Festival Workbook for under 16s featuring recipes, a producer trail and more.

Seafood: Aldeburgh’s prestigious restaurant The Suffolk will be hosting a seafood barbecue in a new area on the quay.

Street Food: some returning favourites and a few newcomers, including a new cocktail bar from Suffolk cocktail company Niche.

Newcomers: traders who haven’t been to the festival before and a start-up business section, for businesses trading for 12 months or less.

Great British Life: Mike Warner, owner of A Passion for Seafood. Photo: Charlotte BondMike Warner, owner of A Passion for Seafood. Photo: Charlotte Bond

On stage

The Festival Main Stage attracts some of the biggest names in the UK food scene.

This year's line-up includes:

Thomasina Miers – co-founder of Wahaca restaurants, food pioneer, chef, writer, and honorary festival patron.

Pierre Koffman - French chef awarded three Michelin stars at his restaurant, La Tante Claire, in London.

Jeremy Lee - British chef and chef proprietor at Quo Vadis, London, previously head chef at the Blueprint Café, and a regular on TV cookery shows.

Cyrus Todiwala OBE of acclaimed Indian restaurant Café Spice Namasté.

Dave Wall – chef patron at The Unruly Pig, Bromeswell, near Woodbridge, multi award-winner including best gastropub in the UK in the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs 2022.

George Pell – director of The Suffolk in Aldebugh and L’Escargot in London.

Nicola Hordern – award-winning head chef at Southwold’s The Canteen.

Passion For Seafood Stage - showcasing Suffolk’s thriving industry of seafood caught, prepared and sold on the east coast. The stage is a celebration of Suffolk’s many sustainable seafood businesses and will include live cooking demos, talks and seafood street food.

Masterclasses

(separate booking and payment)

Adnams cocktail class; kimchi-making with Jeong-un Creagh of Korean Kitchen; Two Magpies Bakery co-founder Rebecca Bishop on sticky-bun making; Pump Street Chocolate cookies; Fish Boss chef CJ Jackson; TV chef Cyrus Todiwala OBE of acclaimed Indian restaurant Café Spice Namasté.

For more information about all aspects of the festival: aldeburghfoodanddrink.co.uk



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