Food festival aims to be better than inaugural event last year

Folk who savoured the mouth­watering offerings at last year’s first Shetland Food Festival will be looking forward to seeing what’s on offer for 2009. Running from Friday October 2nd to Sunday October 11th, and taking in a whole range of culinary treats and activities, the festival is seeking to build on its initial success and become established as an annual fixture in the Shetland calendar.

“Last year we were finding our feet, but people enjoyed themselves,” said Nicola Halcrow, event co-ordinator. “It went very well,” agreed SIC’s principal marketing officer Neil Henderson. “It ticked the boxes in terms of what we wanted to achieve.”

Now it is a question of con­solidating those achievements, the most significant of which, in ec­onomic terms, was to raise the profile of Shetland food and produce and make people aware of the ways they can be used.

“It was important to remind everyone what we have here, to let them know we are on the map,” said Mr Henderson, who believes that the sight of celebrity chef Jean-Christophe Novelli raving about Shetland’s scallops, monkfish, sal­mon and langoustines at last year’s festival was just the sort of thing to make people sit up and take notice.

He cited as an example the fact that Hat Trick Productions is planning to feature recipes from Cookery for Northern Wives on one of their programmes. “This interest has arisen directly as a result of having a food festival,” said Mr Henderson, who went on to explain how that kind of publicity has a knock-on effect which reaches far beyond just food, and helps to promote all aspects of Shetland. “The return on the money we spent on PR was in excess of two million pounds,” he said.

Various things have been learnt from last year’s festival, which will result in certain differences in the 2009 event. Perhaps the most significant of these is the fine tuning of the producers’ market, which will take place at Clickimin over its first weekend. Whereas last year the market included stalls run by various organisations highlighting health-related food issues, this time the emphasis is much more on produce. The layout might be changed too, in order to make the event more compact, with the demonstration studio possibly being contained within the producers’ market, and talks taking place in tandem with cookery demonstrations. “We’ll be able to inform people about the whole production process from farm to plate,” said Ms Halcrow.

Another big innovation is Ready Steady Shetland, based on the popular TV programme. “It’s fun with a serious intention,” said Mr Henderson. “Somebody who loves the idea of eating local produce, but doesn’t always know what to do with it, can bring along an unusual ingredient and see how a chef uses it.” The organisers also think that Ready Steady Shetland is a good way of getting the public along. “People will turn out to see someone they know,” said Ms Hal­crow.

Last year’s food courses were popular and well attended, so the only change there will be to make them more widely accessible. And certain restaurants will again be offering special menus featuring Shetland produce. So far the same number of restaurants as last year have registered to take part, and the organisers would like to see involvement increase.

“If you don’t have participation you don’t have a festival,” said Mr Henderson. “But it doesn’t happen overnight.” A long-term events strategy means planners are looking to the future, and deciding how the various events that take place in Shetland through­out the year can complement one another.

“There’s a lot of beavering away,” said Mr Henderson. “The Shetland Food Festival has got mileage.

We need to take it forward. Our pro­ducers are proud people and they want to show what they’ve got.”

by Cathy Feeny


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