Aylsham festival promotes local food

Youngsters cooked up a ghoulish treat as they helped Aylsham show off its love of good local food over the weekend.About 50 children made Halloween pizzas and horrifying cakes at John of Gaunt School on Saturday as part of the town's third annual food festival.

Organisers of this year's Aylsham Food Festival have hailed the event as another resounding success.

The annual Festival, now in its third year, is the creation of Slow Food Aylsham, part of an international body which sets its sights on providing an alternative to the modern fast food culture.

Leader of the local group, Liz Jones, said of the Festival, “We've set out to celebrate local food and those who grow it. The tremendous help we have received from local businesses, local chefs and Aylsham High School has again resulted in a wonderful event, something which has involved the whole community.”

The three day Festival comprises a whole range of 'foodie' events, opening with a lavish five-course dinner at Aylsham High School featuring a menu which had been devised, prepared, cooked and served by a group of some 50 students. Under the guidance of Jill Willis, head of the Food and Catering faculty at the school, 90 guests were treated to a spread made almost entirely from local produce.

Also on hand was Steven Norgate, head chef at the Beechwood Hotel in North Walsham, who had nothing but praise for the youngsters. “They did amazingly well,” he said, “especially when you consider that they had to fit all their preparation and training in around normal lessons.”

After the dinner, held on Friday evening, guests were treated to entertainment from local singer Barry Lee, followed by the up-and-coming local group “Attention to Detail”. Both Barry and members of the group are former students at the High School.

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Saturday h opened with Aylsham Farmers' Market, recent winner of an EDP Award, while the Town Hall hosted a free Cooking Theatre where five top local chefs demonstrated some of their favourite dishes.

Kevin Gardiner from the King's Head in Coltishall opened the proceedings and he was followed by Derroll Waller, an Aylsham resident who specialises in contract catering.

A French flavour was added by Laurent Joerger, head chef at the Olive Branch in Tunstead while John Kenny, winner of ITV's Britain's Best Dish programme again demonstrated, with the help of his 13-year-old son Joseph, the wonders of local pork. Rounding off the 5 hour session was Steven Norgate who brought along some of the budding chefs from the night before, helping them to demonstrate three dishes from the dinner at the High School.

While all this was going on, some 24 children of primary school age were at John of Gaunt school, getting an introduction to the joys of cooking and good food in a series of Kids Cooking Workshops.

The 2008 Aylsham Food Festival concluded on Sunday with the renowned “Big Slow Breakfast” in the Town Hall. More than 120 people, young and old, sat down to a traditional English breakfast, cooked by a group of volunteers led by Liz Jones and Mo Anderson-Dungar. This was an opportunity for getting together with old friends and making new ones, all in a friendly family atmosphere. Commenting on the weekend, Liz Jones said, “When given an EDP Food Award in September, Aylsham was described as a 'foodie town' and I think this year's Food Festival has reinforced that status. The Festival is all the work of volunteers and I am delighted that this year has seen another truly successful event. Now we've got to start planning for 2009!”