I’m often asked why the Brighton & Hove Food and Drink Festival has such a focus on international chefs and cuisine. Surely a local food festival should be all about local food and drink?
Well, of course, the food and drink industry of Sussex and the hospitality industry of Brighton & Hove are firmly at the very heart of what we do. But whilst once championing ‘local’ in a public arena was new and exciting, we came to the conclusion a few years ago that we were preaching that message in Brighton to the already converted.
15 years ago when the festival organisation was founded, local food wasn’t on the menus of restaurants in the city in the same way that we see it today. Some independent chefs were using local produce but on the whole it wasn’t something that consumers searched out or expected. Outside of traditional farming, craft production in Sussex was also in its infancy compared to today. The Sussex wine industry had yet to boom, and craft brewing, cheese making, spirit distillation and so many other Sussex food and drink products that are now every day fayre in the city’s restaurants, cafés and pubs were yet to hit the popular consciousness. Basically, local food wasn’t sexy, or at least certainly not to the masses.
So we did our part in putting Brighton and surrounding Sussex on the map through major food events and public relations activity both in our region but also nationally. Its something we still do but also something every other UK region with a major food festival organisation does too. You could say we’re in an informal battle to see who can create the biggest headlines and establish our own region as the number one artisan food producer in the UK, whether that is a fact or a somewhat embellished fiction.
Around four years ago, my colleague Andrew Kay invited a young chef from Maastricht to Brighton to prepare a Dutch themed dinner at Drakes. This then saw the then head chef from Drakes head to Hotel Beaumont in Limburg a few months later. International Chef Exchange was born, and from that tentative event a whole new energy came to the festival.
We thought, why not focus some of our energies in promoting Brighton and Sussex to an international audience? Since the recession of 2008, gastronomic tourism has grown exponentially in all key in-bound visitor demographics attracting cash-rich, premium consumers to destinations around the globe to experience unique experiences around food and drink.
Through International Chef Exchange we’ve worked across Europe and as far afield as the Caribbean and Canada. We’ve been on national TV and radio, on the front pages of newspapers, and at times taken over the Twittersphere of our host country. All the time promoting Brighton as a food tourism destination, and Sussex as a quality food producing region and all the export opportunities that delivers.
And it hasn’t stopped there. We’ve also partnered with like-minded food festivals from Vancouver to Catania to promote our region to their consumers and allow them to access our audience here in the UK. It means we’ve had Sicilian granita making on Hove Lawns, Swedish caviar at Curry Leaf Café, and acclaimed Canadian wines at Terre à Terre. And that gives you – our local market – something unique and authentic to try, that otherwise would only be accessible by travelling abroad.
In the forthcoming food festival in August, we’ve two chef exchanges to experience and I can vouch that both are going to be superb. On Thursday 24 August, chef Craig Jones from Cap Maison in St Lucia showcases a modern take on French creole cuisine in partnership with Michael Bremner of 64 Degrees. Sponsored by Vranken Pommery, the dinner will be hosted in the Dome Room of Brighton’s Hotel du Vin and guests can expect a true taste of the Caribbean. We also welcome a very talented young chef from the Netherlands for a partnership with Steven Edwards at Etch on Wednesday 30 August. Mark van Bemmel hails from Restaurant Publique in Den Haag and will be creating a fusion tasting menu championing the best of contemporary Dutch cuisine.