By PAUL RIDDELL
SHETLAND’S first food festival and the quality of island food generally won ringing endorsements from popular TV chef Jean Christophe Novelli, who spent the weekend demonstrating his culinary skills and visiting producers.
He even viewed a house in Skeld on Saturday night and talked to organisers about the possibility of setting up a branch of his Novelli Academy Cookery School, based near his home in Luton, in the isles.
“He was truly blown away by what he saw here. He has fallen in love with the place. He is extremely enthusiastic about developing his links with Shetland,” one organiser said. “He said he was the sort of guy who when he decides to do something acts quickly. He would certainly be made very welcome here.”
Michelin-star holder Novelli, regularly voted the world’s sexiest chef in polls, said he always knew that produce from Britain’s most northerly island was good because chefs in five-star hotels in London spoke about it with great reverence. But he was taken aback by the exceptional quality.
Appearing at the 10-day event, designed to showcase the best of island food, he said: “If I could wake every morning and get produce of this quality it would be amazing. Price is not an issue – it is all about quality.
“For a long time Shetland produce has been a well-kept secret but I think it is important to promote the quality of the produce to those who may not be aware of just how great the food is.”
He was particularly impressed with the quality of the mussels and local lamb available.
Novelli visited the Blueshell Mussel farm near Brae and several other local producers during his visit, even cooking the mussels he harvested for the workers in the messroom.
The festival began last Friday evening with a launch event attended by Novelli and the former Masterchefs of Great Britain chairman George McIvor. They gave demonstrations and kept their audience entertained.
There were more demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday, several featuring local cooks. A busy producers’ market occupied the main hall at Clickimin and there were tastings of local food organised by Slow Food Edinburgh member Trevor Laffin. Elsewhere, there were talks, courses on food-related topics, music, storytelling and much else. Many local eateries had put on special menus to help celebrate Shetland food.
Alastair Hamilton of the council’s economic development unit paid tribute to visitors Simon Parkes of BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme and Guardian food writer Matthew Fort, noting that they had both been very generous in sharing what he described as their “encyclopaedic” knowledge of food.
Mr Hamilton added that they had made many constructive suggestions for raising Shetland’s profile, improving the quality of what we offer, suggesting useful contacts and identifying possible new outlets for the best Shetland products, not only in the field of food.
Councillor Josie Simpson, chairman of the development committee, said: “I’m really pleased that the first Shetland Food Festival has got off to such a good start. Once it’s over, we’ll sit down and distil as many lessons from it as we can. We’ll also pursue the leads that we’ve been given and work out how best to build on what looks like a good foundation.”
The food festival continues until Sunday. Today, Lerwick events include a course on beekeeping and a talk by Ronnie Eunson on “Local Breeds and Local Food”. There will be food with storytelling at both the Sumburgh Hotel and the Spiggie Hotel. Tomorrow there is a farmers’ market at Tingwall, a bannock-making workshop in Scalloway and a showing of the Shetland-made film Bastinado Salsa in Lerwick. The festival concludes on Sunday with a special lunch in the Vidlin Hall and a food-and-film event featuring Ratatouille in the Shetland Museum and Archives. Full details are available in the published programme and on the event website at www.shetlandfoodfestival.com