Sunday, 7 June 2015

Slow Food South East Wales launches at St Fagans

The new Slow Food group for South East Wales (Slow Food Y De-Ddwyrain) launched in style at St Fagans yesterday (6 June), as the wider movement celebrated Slow Food Week (1-7 June).

Mark Richards, Director of Operations at National Museum Wales, welcomed everyone to the Slow Food marquee at St Fagans National History Museum (Cardiff). He noted the Museum’s research in preserving the memory of traditional Welsh food culture, exemplified by Minwel Tibbott’s role in collecting information about food from across Wales in the 1970s; the maintenance of rare animal breeds and heritage varieties (e.g. Welsh Mountain Sheep and Carlin peas) on the Museum’s farm; and how the new £26 million expansion of St Fagans will provide exhibition space for raising awareness about traditional Welsh food culture.

Slow Food South East Wales Chairperson Mark Adams spoke about the objectives of Slow Food, which include the Ark of Taste directory in support of disappearing regional foods, the promotion of small producers of foods traditional to their areas, and educating people about food production and cooking. Mark noted that the new Slow Food group was already starting activities to further a number of key Slow Food objectives.

Mark introduced Jane Hutt AM (below), the Assembly Member for the Vale of Glamorgan and Minister for Finance in the National Assembly government. She welcomed the launch of the fifth Welsh Slow Food group, saying it now gives people throughout Wales the opportunity to participate in a grassroots movement that promotes local and sustainable food production and provides a means of reaching politicians regarding local food issues. She noted several areas of Welsh Government policy that particularly coincide with the principles of Slow Food, such as the free breakfast schemes for schoolchildren (e.g. no extra sugar allowed), the Sustainable Food City initiative for Cardiff, the Well-being of Future Generations Act, and the Food Tourism Strategy Action Plan (Food Tourism being defined by the Welsh Assembly as “any activity that promotes a high-quality, distinctive, local and sustainable food experience…”). Jane Hutt concluded by commenting that, given the convergence of objectives, Wales should aim to become a Slow Food nation.

Geoff Andrews (below), author of ‘The Slow Food Story: Politics and Pleasure’ (Pluto Press, 2008), talked about the origins and history of the Slow Food movement and how its once marginal ideas have become mainstream. Members of the Cardiff, Vale & Valleys Beekeepers talked us through some basic beekeeping, while Joanne Tarling of Love Food Hate Waste gave some useful tips about reducing food waste (e.g. using left-overs and getting portion sizes right), and how this can save you money (up to £60 a month). Liz Torbin of ViVino wines of Hirwaun talked about how the company imports wine from small Spanish producers who do not use pesticides or additives in wine production.

Carol Adams, Secretary of Slow Food South East Wales, gave an introduction to the Ark of Taste. This was followed by a presented on South Wales Mountain Sheep (also called Nelson South Wales Mountain Sheep) by Glyn Davies, Secretary for this livestock breed's association. One of the first projects of the new Slow Food group is to work to get the South Wales Mountain Sheep aboard the Slow Food Ark of Taste. Although ewes of this breed are popular as cross-breeding animals, only about 25 to 30 people are involved in keeping the breed pure. Financial support for this heritage breed was recently lost from a European scheme. Ark of Taste status could help in finding alternative means of support, so the breed can continue to be traditionally farmed in its area of origin.

Around 15 local small-scale food and drink producers from South East Wales, who embrace Slow Food principles, supported the launch, and their products helped to illustrate what the Slow Food movement is all about.

Penrhiw Farm is a family-run business that produces and sells organic Welsh meat, including lambs from South Wales Mountain Sheep and the pedigree Welsh Pig that is already included in the Ark of Taste.

Another Welsh Ark of Taste product, artisan Caerphilly Cheese could be found on the Penylan Pantry stall, alongside other cheeses produced by small-scale producers in the South East Wales area. Alongside them, the Boragouiner Bakery (Canton, Cardiff) had soda bread and sourdough loaves, made using Welsh heritage wheat varieties, as well as Halen Môn Welsh sea salt.

The Llantwit Major micro-brewery of Rolant Tomos and Rob Lilford (Tomos a Lilford) was representative of small-scale local beer production in the area. Coaltown coffee roasters import beans from small farms around the world. Dan Reed of Chilli of the Valley currently grows 88 varieties of chilli in a greenhouse near Merthyr Tydfil and produces a wide range of chilli sauces from them. To cool the tongue after sampling those, there was ice cream from Mari (Melin Iâ) of Penarth with innovative flavours, such as sweet fennel fudge. There were homemade jams, curds and chutneys made by Clare Williams of Penylan Preserves, and Hangfire had a range of BBQ sauces. Gluten-free pies could be snapped up from GP Uprising, raw chocolate products were available from Coco-Caravan, while Lia’s Kitchen was selling pies made using herbs from the Riverside Market Garden, an organisation that was promoting its vegetable box scheme at the event.

Nicola Lewis explained the 'reach4food directory', an initiative of the rural development programme in Bridgend, which is primarily aimed at cafes and the hospitality industry and lists local food producers and details about their produce.

With Children’s Activities, plus loud artillery bangs from the civil war re-enactment in the next field, and a wonderful atmosphere throughout the day, this was a very successful launch for Slow Food South East Wales. I’ll keep you posted as we plan our first projects, activities and other events.

Previous posts on Slow Food:
Welsh products in the Ark of Taste

Starting Slow Food South East Wales

 See also:
The pork at St Fagans

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Let’s Eat Insects: The Pestaurant visits Cardiff

This week (Wedn 3 June), the pop-up ‘Pestaurant’ arrived in Cardiff for the first time. Many insects were eaten by the curious shoppers on Queen Street, who learnt a bit about the benefits of entomophagy.

In a previous post (link below), I summarised some information on the widespread consumption of insects around the world, such as the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation data that shows over 2 billion people worldwide supplementing their diet with insects. It is only a novelty to eat insects in countries like the UK.

There are many benefits to consuming insects as a source of cheap protein (e.g. high protein content, low calorie food), particularly in terms of environmental impacts. For example, cattle require twelve times more feed to produce the same amount of protein as crickets, and they need way more water: 150g of beef needs 3,250 litre compared to about a pint for that amount of insect protein.

The pop-up Pestuarant is an initiative of Rentokil (“The Experts in Pest Control”). Their first Pestuarant sprang up in August 2013 in London, serving pigeon burgers as well as edible insects, such as curried crickets. They have popped-up in many places since. Cardiff’s Pestuarant was part of Rentokil’s ‘Global Pestaurant Day 2015', with around a dozen Pestuarants popping-up across the world.

Special guest at the Cardiff Pestaurant was Andrew Holcroft, founder and head chef of Grub Kitchen (“Eat insects – feed the world”). He is on a mission to promote insects as a sustainable foodstuff and to put insects on the menu in the UK. The Grub Kitchen will be opening later this year, just outside St David’s in Pembrokeshire, where it will be offering a full menu of insect dishes.

On Queen Street, Andrew served up ‘Cumin toasted crickets with wild garlic hummus’ canapes, which once you got past the initial hesitation were very good. I went back for more (photo below).

His other speciality on the day was ‘Cricket, Nutella and peanut butter cookies’. This protein-enriched cookie (5-10g protein) is made by replacing a proportion of the flour in the mix with ground cricket powder. The photo above is of Andrew serving up his cookies.

In the Grub Kitchen, Andrew is experimenting, and coming up with new edible insect dishes. So far, his signature dishes include Bug Burgers, Sago Worm Pad Thai Curry, and Cricket Kofta Kebabs. He says he is even thinking of doing a bit of insect molecular gastronomy. You never know, it could become a top foodie destination!

Andrew has to source human food grade insects from abroad, but he says he will be looking to get the proper certification to rear his own insects for the Grub Kitchen. His kitchen operates on ‘Dr Beynon's Bug Farm’, a science education and insect research centre.

Rentokil supplied a range of home-made snacks and novelty edible insect products sourced from the USA. ‘Salt & vinegar crickets’ were one of the better offerings, as the flavour enhanced a slight ‘prawny’ aftertaste (reminding you that this is not that far removed from eating crustaceans). The locusts and crickets worked reasonably well with Mexican spice and curry flavours, though I didn't rate the mealworms in any combination. Some of this would make great novelty party snack food. The plain roasted locusts and crickets were a bit bland.

Chocolate-dipped bugs, and scorpion lollipops and brittle, were at the far end of the insect as novelty food market, and were given away with Rentokil “I survived the Pestaurant challenge” badges. A little at odds with the Grub Kitchen’s promotion of edible insects as a serious food option, but it meant there was something here for everybody. Nearly everyone I saw had no problem tucking into the edible insects. I think that is a big change from the reaction such a stall would have received even a decade ago.

Introduction to eating insects:

Rentokil Pestaurant page:

Dr Benyon’s Bug Farm:

Grub Kitchen – coming soon!


Saturday, 30 May 2015

Slow Food South East Wales official launch on Sat 6 June at St Fagans

The new Slow Food group, Slow Food South East Wales (Slow Food Y De-Ddwyrain), will be holding its official launch event on Saturday 6 June at St Fagans National History Museum, from 11am to 4pm. The event will take place in The Marquee near the Abernodwydd Farmhouse at the Museum, which is located four miles west of Cardiff City Centre (just off the A4232: CF5 6XB).

The event is free and everyone is welcome to come and find out more about the Slow Food movement, and how this new local Slow Food group is championing local food producers and the traditional foods of the area. A fun day has been planned, with Slow Food and Drink producers from the area, food talks, children’s activities and more.

Slow Food is a global, grassroots organisation with supporters in over 150 countries around the world that promotes good, clean and fair food for everyone. That is, good food that is fresh, flavoursome, seasonal and part of the local culture; that is produced in a way that is not harmful to the environment, animal welfare or human health; and that is produced through fair conditions and pay for producers and accessible prices for consumers.

Local Slow Food groups work to raise people’s awareness about the food they eat and where it comes from, by supporting and promoting local food and drink producers and eateries, safeguarding endangered local foods (e.g. rare breeds and heritage vegetable varieties) and cooking traditions, and teaching the pleasure of good, clean and fair food.

At the event at St Fagans there will be a Slow Bar, stocking bottles from local producers, including craft beers from Tomos a Lilford (Llantwit Major) and wine from Spanish wine importers ViVino wines (Aberdare).

There will be around 15 food stalls, promoting a range of distinct local products and flavours. These will include a Hangfire BBQ sauce stall, the Welsh Coffee company, the Baragouiner bakery, Penylan Pantry (cheese), Trealy Farm, Penrhiw Farm (organic meat), Lia's Kitchen (pies), the Riverside Market Garden, homemade ice cream, gluten-free savoury goods, and the Cardiff beekeeping society.

A series of interesting talks throughout the event will include Geoff Andrews on his book 'The Slow Food Story', Liz Torbin on Slow Wine, Rhodri Powell on bees, Glyn Davies and Carol Adams on proposing a new Welsh product for the Slow Food Ark of Taste, and Joanne Tarling on the activities of Love Food Hate Waste.

Jane Hutt AM will be there to help open proceedings and to officially launch the new Slow Food group.

For further information on the event, contact:

St Fagans is open 10am-5pm daily. For further information, visit the website:
Previous posts on Slow Food:


Saturday, 16 May 2015

Let’s Eat Insects: Introduction

In addition to writing about Slow Food this year, I am here starting a new series of posts on edible insects.

According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), there are more than 1,900 insect species consumed as food worldwide. These edible insects are mainly beetles (order Coleoptera); butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera); bees, wasps and ants (Hymenoptera); grasshoppers and crickets (Orthoptera); termites (Isoptera); true bugs (Hemiptera); and cicadas (Homoptera). At least 250 insect species are consumed in Africa, 549 in Mexico, 180 in China, and 160 in the Mekong area. In addition, a number of insect species are eaten in Japan, especially wasps, and a few in Australia.

The FAO estimate that around 2 billion people around the world eat insects as part of their normal diet. Yde Jongema, a taxonomist of the Laboratory of Entomology of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, has compiled a comprehensive list of edible insects (see link below).

The first international conference on insects for food was held in Wageningen in May 2014, with participants from over 45 countries attending. This conference highlighted the great potential of insects for human food and animal feed. Insects have a good nutritional quality and they can provide a much cheaper source of protein, with a much lower environmental impact, than many current farming practices.

In Europe, there is much less of a tradition for eating insects (entomophagy) than in Mexico or Asia. The big challenges are raising awareness and changing perceptions, and establishing high-tech mass-rearing facilities, mainly for livestock feed and aquaculture but also to supply the increasing demand for insect protein in the human diet.

Here in Wales, we are getting out first taste of edible insects this year, through a Mexican dish that has been served in Wahaca in Cardiff, and via Grub Kitchen in Pembrokeshire.

Wahaca was founded by Thomasina Miers with the goal of bringing a more street-food orientated Mexican cuisine to the UK. Insects, sustainably farmed in Mexico and specially imported, were first served in Wahaca’s flagship Covent Garden (London) restaurant. Wahaca opened in Wales for the first time in St David’s in Cardiff city centre late last year, and one of the street food specials available earlier this year was ‘Chapulines Fundido’ - a dish made using crickets.  The crickets are fried with onions and chillies to create a brown tapenade-style paste, which is smothered with melted cheese; the dish was accompanied by corn tortillas. The crickets give this dish a nutty/smoky flavour. Its novelty value made it a popular choice, but it also helped shift perceptions about what eating insects is all about. There was no obvious insect parts on the plate, just a nutritious, flavoursome and sustainably produced protein ingredient.

There are 13 edible insect products in the Slow Food ‘Ark of Taste’. We will look at them all in another blog post. Of the 5 from Mexico, one is the Chapulines described above, and another is Chicatana flying ants. These were featured in a recent BBC Radio 4 ‘The Food Programme’ spot on Ark of Taste products. In this programme, Thomasina Miers described how the ants were collected, prepared and used in traditional Mexican dishes. There is a link to the programme below.

Grub Kitchen, near St David's in Pembrokeshire, meanwhile, is planning to serve a whole menu based on insects in its restaurant. Owner and Head Chef Andrew Holcroft is adapting and devising dishes for the British market, including bug burgers, cricket kofta kebabs, bug burritos, Mexican red Chapuline grasshoppers, and even bamboo worm fudge ice cream. Andrew is a keen advocate of insects as a sustainable source of protein, and hopes they can be mainstreamed into the British diet within 10 to 15 years. Grub Kitchen, the first UK insect restaurant, is the first step to achieving this goal.

Grub Kitchen is associated with ‘Dr Beynon's Bug Farm’, a science attraction run by entomologist Dr Sarah Beynon where edible insect dishes can be sampled. Bug Kitchen are taking their educational show on the road to festivals and schools this summer. They are also looking to ‘pop up’ to serve you a selection of edible insect dishes - I'll report on that in my next ‘Let’s Eat Insects’ posting!

Links and references:

FAO data on edible insects:

List of insects eaten worldwide compiled by Wageningen University (the pdf list can be downloaded here; but beware before printing - it runs to 79 pages):

BBC Radio 4 ‘The Food Programme: The Ark of Taste’: Dan Saldino talks to Thomasina Meirs about Chicatana flying ants:

Andrew Holcroft of Grub Kitchen talks to BigHospitality:

SlowFood posts:

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Welsh products in The Ark of Taste

The Ark of Taste is SlowFood’s catalogue of disappearing local food culture. On board The Ark are breeds of domesticated animal, cultivated plants, and artisan food products and techniques, all in need of recognition and protection to prevent them from disappearing.

Many local products and traditional production methods have suffered due to competition with cheaper, mass-produced, year-round-imported food items, such as those mainly sold in supermarkets. Farmers, producers and restaurant owners are fighting back by promoting local food systems based on heritage breeds and varieties, sustainable and seasonal production, local food sourcing and regional cuisine.

The Ark of Taste brings together small-scale, quality food production from diverse cultures and traditions worldwide. It draws attention to the existence of an extraordinary heritage of animal breeds, fruit and vegetable varieties, fish and seafood resources, cheeses, breads, and numerous artisan products, all of which are at risk of extinction within generations given present trends. Administered by the SlowFood Foundation for Biodiversity, it invites everyone to take action to help protect the items in The Ark. This can involve buying and consuming artisan products, supporting their producers, or taking part in various campaigning initiatives.

The Ark of Taste currently (25 April 2015) has 2431 products on board from all around the world (see

For a taster of these, ‘The Food Programme’ on BBC Radio 4 is currently featuring stories of some Ark of Taste products (e.g.

On board The Ark are 83 products from the UK.  These are mainly rare animal breeds (21); artisan cheeses from specific localities (10); localised fish and shellfish (10); fresh fruit and dried fruit products, including nuts (11); and vegetables (9). Also included are cured meat products, cereals and flour, baked products, spirits, pulses, seaweed (dulse) and honey. Further details of these 83 products are given on the SlowFood UK website (

There are currently 5 Welsh products (6%) among the 83 UK products in The Ark of Taste: a cheese, two animal breeds, a rare apple variety, and a seafood. The following information on these products is mainly gleaned from the SlowFood UK website:

1. Artisan Caerphilly Cheese
Traditional Caerphilly is a hard, crumbly white cheese, with a short maturation period, made using unpasteurised milk. It has long been produced by hand, on small family-run farms, as a means of using and preserving surplus milk. When sold in local markets, it was typically in the form of 5 or 10 lb truckles. From the 1830’s onwards, it became associated with Caerphilly because of its popularity among the town’s mining community.

Today, it is in competition with a very different young cheese product, also called Caerphilly, which is mass-produced using pasteurised milk and sold more cheaply in supermarkets. Traditional Caerphilly cheese is now produced by only a limited number of creameries in South Wales, such as Caws Cenarth. A small quantity of aged Caerphilly is also available from artisan producers.

2. Badger Face Welsh Mountain Sheep
The Badger Face Welsh Mountain Sheep is a low-maintenance Welsh mountain breed. It has two sub-types, both being relatively small and hardy: the Torddu (black belly) and Torwen (white belly). This breed produces milk, wool and high-quality meat having an excellent flavour. Although a very old breed, it was first officially recognised in 1976, when a small group of farmers in mid Wales, who were breeding the sheep, formed the Badger Face Welsh Mountain Sheep Society.

Pedigree flocks are relatively small and mostly kept by smallholders for their unique characteristics. They are slow to mature. Small-scale producers, such as Hebsnbadgers and Llwyn-on, are promoting it as a Slow Meat product.

3. Bardsey Island Apple
A medium-sized, sweet and juicy, pink eating apple with a unique lemon aroma, the Bardsey Island Apple is a very rare variety. The mother tree grows by a house built by Lord Newborough in the 1870’s on Bardsey Island, where it is continually ‘pruned’ by salt-laden gales.  The trees produced by grafting from it are resilient and disease-resistant, requiring no chemical spraying.

The SlowFood UK website relates how, in 1998, ornithologist Andy Clarke brought several apples from the tree to local fruit grower Ian Sturrock for identification. He, in turn, took them to the National Fruit Collection in Brogdale, where the Bardsey Island Apple was declared a new variety. The variety is grown by Ian Sturrock & Sons of Bangor and other small-scale producers in North Wales, where it has spearheaded a resurgence of interest in old and almost extinct Welsh Varieties.

4. Pedigree Welsh Pig
The Welsh Pig was first referenced in the 1870’s, and the Welsh Pig Society (formed 1922) played an important role in increasing numbers and developing its commercial characteristics. The pig is white with lop ears, a curly tail, and a long body. It is hardy and thrives in both indoor and outdoor conditions. The breed has a traditional pork flavour, and produces high-quality, well-developed hams, with a desirable ratio of meat (70%) to fat (30%). Although it has characteristics that could be of valuable to the modern pig industry, numbers have continued to decline due to competition with commercial breeds. Small producers, such as Kilvrough Welsh Pigs on the Gower, rear Pedigree Welsh Pig non-intensively.

5. Penclawdd Cockles
Penclawdd Cockles are removed from the low-tide sands of the Burry Estuary, near Swansea, by pulling a flat cart (once by donkey, now a tractor) with a metal scrape to expose them for hand-picking. A government decree in 1965 only permits licensed gatherers to take cockles, within limited quotas.  They are sold at local markets, either boiled and peeled or untreated. The cockle industry in Penclawdd has suffered due to water pollution and mismanagement of stocks, though there has been a recovery in recent years.

Many of the traditional products in The Ark of Taste have helped shape local cuisine. Protecting these products helps preserve the recipes, knowledge and history surrounding them, which may also be at risk of being lost.  This is certainly true of Penclawdd Cockles. ‘Welsh breakfast’ is a traditional local breakfast that includes cockles fried in bacon fat, laverbread and fried eggs, for instance, while the Swansea Cockle Festival is celebrated every September.

In ‘The Taste of Britain’ (2006, HarperPress), Laura Mason and Catherine Brown explored the traditional foods of Britain. The section on Wales includes further information on Caerphilly Cheese, Welsh Mountain Sheep, Penclawdd Cockles and other traditional foods closely identified with parts of Wales, including Glamorgan Sausage, Laverbread, Sewin (sea trout), Welsh Black Cattle, Aberffraw Cake, Welsh Cakes and Teisen Lap (fruit cake).

By this point, you will have realised that there is room in The Ark of Taste for many more products of the type described above, from countries all around the world, which would benefit from inclusion.

One of the many aims of the newly-established SlowFood South East Wales group (see links below) is to research and identify further Welsh products for potential inclusion in The Ark of Taste.

Previous posts on Slow Food in South East Wales:

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Slow Food South East Wales launches

New Slow Food® group launches - Slow Food South East Wales / y De-ddwyrain
A new Slow Food UK group has started in Wales: Slow Food South East Wales / y De-ddwyrain. This is the fifth group to open in Wales, with the others being in Llangollen, Dyfi Valley, Carmarthenshire and Anglesey (Dros-y-Fenai). People in South East Wales will now have an opportunity to participate in a wide range of Slow Food activities, such as meetings with guest speakers, campaigns on specific issues, awareness-raising programmes, and diverse events.

Slow Food is about helping people think differently about food. In the UK, Slow Food works to reconnect people with where their food comes from, so they can better understand the implications of the choices they make about what they put on their plates. The aim is to encourage people to choose nutritious food from sustainable and local sources, which tastes great. Slow Food is a non-profit organization, supported by members and donations.  

Mark Adams, Group Leader of Slow Food South East Wales said: “I am very happy that we have been able to form a Slow Food group in the area. These days the food market is dominated by multi-national corporations offering highly processed, multi-ingredient products as opposed to simple wholesome food. Add to this the lack of food education and we are seeing the loss of traditional cooking skills along with some of our unique native breeds.”

He adds: “Our aim in forming the group is to help people understand the impact that their choices in food can have on them, their families and the environment. We want to promote the importance of ‘local’ and help protect our culinary traditions and regional food products. Ultimately we want everyone to have access to good, clean and fair food.”

Carol Adams, founding member and Secretary of the group says: “We are a young group but have a strong committee comprising of local food and drink producers, business owners, chefs and those with an interest in good food. We are actively seeking new members to help us achieve our goals."

"We have a strong focus on food education to help individuals and communities make informed choices about their food and its production,” she explains. “Our aim is to help preserve forgotten Welsh foods and cooking traditions, alongside supporting artisan producers and farmers of sustainable and biodiverse food, which in turn helps protect the land for future generations. Our locality has an abundance of great producers and produce, and we shall be hosting a number of activities and events throughout the region.”

Slow Food South East Wales y De-ddwyrain covers an area roughly from Bridgend to the English border, sweeping up through Merthyr Tydfil and the Valleys to Monmouthshire.

The newly formed Slow Food South East Wales committee members are as follows:

Mark Adams (Group Leader/Chair), Barnaby Hibbert (Vice Chair), Rolant Tomos (Treasurer), Carol Adams (Secretary), Grady Atkins, John Thomas, Melissa Boothman, Richard Crowe, Rob Lilford, Stephen Nottingham.

For more information about the group email:
Committee members
Back row from left to right: Grady Atkins, Rob Lilford, Melissa Boothman, Stephen Nottingham, Richard Crowe, Carol Adams, Rolant Tomos, and John Thomas

Front  Row: Mark Adams and Barnaby Hibbert

About Committee Members:

Mark Adams: Group Leader, Aberdare-based, Professional Trainer, Food Blogger, Food Adventure Ltd
Barnaby Hibbert: Vice Chair, Chef and Patron The Gallery Restaurant in Barry, Vale of Glamorgan
Carol Adams: Secretary, Aberdare-based, Director Food Adventure Ltd
Rolant Tomos: Micro Brewer Tomos a Lilford, Vale of Glamorgan
Rob Lilford: Micro Brewer Tomos a Lilford, Vale of Glamorgan
Grady Atkins: Chef and Consultant, Cardiff
Richard Crowe: Cardiff, avid consumer of good food and drink, a keen home cook and Welsh translator
John Thomas: Merthyr Tydfil, livestock farmer based at Penrhiw farm Trelewis. John is the fourth generation of the Thomas family to farm at Penrhiw
Stephen Nottingham: Vale of Glamorgan, freelance writer and journalist, specialising in European nature conservation, environment, climate change and food-related issues
Melissa Boothman: Cardiff, Deli Owner, The Penylan Pantry

For further information contact Carol Adams


Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Slow Food in Cardiff

Slow Food stands in opposition to fast food. Instead of production lines of industrially-produced year-round products, Slow Food champions locally-sourced and traditional products and regional, seasonal cuisine. A revival of traditional food culture, it encourages the farming of plants and livestock characteristic of local ecosystems.

Slow Food was founded by Carlo Petrini and fellow activists in Italy, three years after a pivotal 1986 campaign against the opening of a McDonalds near Rome’s Spanish Steps. It was conceived as part of a broader ‘Slow Movement’ (see footnote). Slow Food is today a non-profit organisation operating in 150 countries worldwide. Its mission is to celebrate and protect traditional foods and cooking traditions, and to support grassroots producers of artisan and sustainable food and drink products. One of its main achievements has been the Ark of Taste, an online catalogue that gathers information about disappearing local food products (e.g. fruit and vegetable varieties, rare animal breeds, cured meat and cheeses). Anyone can send a nomination for a food product to the Ark, which this week had 2,312 products on board. 

Members within national Slow Food organisations are associated with local groups. Local groups have opened all around the UK (Slow Food UK), with Slow Food Cymru having branches in north and west Wales.

The inaugural Slow Food South East Wales meeting was held in The Cwtch at Chapter Arts Centre on Monday 23 Feb 2015. The meeting was organised by Carol Adams, Director of Food Adventure Ltd, a company much in line with the Slow Food agenda in that it takes groups on tours of local food and drink producers. I joined a diverse group of food producers, chefs, food activists and food writers/bloggers to hear three guest speakers explain what Slow Food means to them.

Margaret Rees is the Slow Food Board representative for Wales, was a founder committee member of Slow Food UK and set up the first Slow Food group in Wales, in Carmarthenshire in 2002. She described the development of Slow Food Cymru, where active branches are also centred on Anglesey and Machynlleth. She pointed out that the UK was late to join Slow Food, yet is one of the member nations where the loss of food culture is most acute. The role played by the Chef Alliance within Slow Food Cymru was noted; for example, Slow Food Cymru leader Gareth Jones is a chef and top Welsh chefs, such as Shaun Hill, are actively involved. Margaret also noted the Welsh pig and sheep breeds in the Ark of Taste. A recent development is a possible link with a Slow Food group in Patagonia.

James Swift of Trealy Farm Charcuterie in Monmouthshire spoke of how inspiring it was to attend Terra Madre. This is the International Slow Food event (organised by the international Terra Madre network of food communities), held every two years, at which small food producers, farmers and chefs from all the Slow Food nations meet and exchange experiences. It was held in Turin last year, where a 30-strong delegation from Slow Food UK attended (7 from Wales). James contrasted the UK ‘dining club’ approach unfavourably with the more dynamic contributions from other countries, which were more inclusive and political (with a small p) with campaigning being a more typical mode of operation. He noted the sense of injustice driving many Slow Food groups worldwide.  James concluded by stressing the need for better networks to link small food producers in the UK. 

The final speaker was Shane Holland, Chair of Slow Food UK, the Slow Food Board representative for England and group leader for Slow Food London. Slow Food London is an actively campaigning group that takes on an educational role in schools and crowd-funds cookery demonstrations for those with limited cooking skills. Shane believes that Slow Food UK groups should interact with the wider community, which makes them more inclusive and increases membership. A survey conducted by Slow Food London showed that events did not drive membership, but specific campaigns can, for example, on sustainable fishing, rare breeds, heritage crops, and seed saving and swapping. He noted that ‘terroir’ can be used in a wider sense, for heritage crops and animal breeds cultivated and reared in their traditional areas, and that the landscapes we value look the way they do because of food production. Therefore, the way to maintain both food culture and the environment is to support traditional, artisanal and quality food and drink production.

The speakers reiterated the Slow Food view of consumers as ‘co-producers’. Consumers through purchasing decisions can support local food products, and by taking an interest in how food is produced can also help producers by campaigning to overcome the problems they face.

Mark Adams, of Food Adventure, summed up proceedings. The interest expressed from a cross-section of people interested in local food (both producers and ‘co-producers’) suggested that a South East Wales Slow Food group could make a valuable contribution to supporting local food culture.

Slow Food (International):

Slow Food UK:

Slow Food’s European campaigning (pages 10-11):

Food Adventure Ltd:

The wider Slow Movement offers a step-back from many of the accelerating or unsustainable practices of modern living (e.g. Slow Cities, Slow Finance, Slow Living, Slow Design, Slow Travel, Slow Cinema, Slow Sex…). A key text for this wider movement is Carl Honoré’s 2004 book ‘In Praise of Slow’. Slow Food has emerged as the most successful manifestation of the Slow Movement.

Friday, 23 January 2015

FeD, Cardiff

FeD (Food Exploration Destination) launched in style last night. It is Cardiff’s latest ‘world cuisine’ buffet, and can be found in Mary Ann Street around the corner from Cineworld and opposite the Motorpoint Arena.

Sachi and Shailesh Bajpai, both formerly on the management team of the Red Hot World Buffet chain, have opened FeD to feed the Welsh capital’s insatiable demand for diverse buffet under one roof. FeD can seat around 300 diners and offers hundreds of dishes at its themed zones: Salad and Sushi, Tex Mex, Indian, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Grill, and Ice cream and Desserts.

At last night’s VIP launch event, Sachi Bajpai in his short welcoming speech explained the restaurant’s philosophy and the innovations that distinguish it from other world cuisine buffet destinations in Cardiff. The main emphasis at FeD is on the nine live kitchens, where chefs cook food to order. Different crockery complements each cuisine, such as the little dishes designed for sushi. The small plates handed over with your food choices by the chefs mean there are fewer people wandering around with bizarre food combinations than would otherwise be the case. Dishes that take a little longer to cook, like the steak I order from the Grill (which came with a mushroom and well-fried onion) are delivered to table (so remember your table number).

The dish I enjoyed most was a seafood pasta dish, followed by a very tasty lamb curry. The interaction with the chefs is a key part of this food destination experience.

Food prices at FeD range from midday lunch for £8.99 to weekend evening dining for £14.99. Kids under 10 eat for half price, though I thought this was a more adult-oriented take on the world buffet model than previously seen in Cardiff.

All food was provided free by FeD at VIP event night.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

James Sommerin, Penarth

If you’re self-employed you don’t get invited to office parties, so we do an annual dinner-for-two instead. This year we chose Restaurant James Sommerin in Penarth, which opened on the seafront last summer. We went along on the day this family-run restaurant reopened for business in the New Year.

The philosophy at James Sommerin is to marry three or four distinct flavours in innovative ways. Therefore, the menu just lists these main components for each dish. The waiters do the extra work of describing how the components have been prepared. The menus change seasonally. We went for the seven-course taster menu, the Clogwyn (cliff), which was preceded by some extra starters (£70). There are also five course (grey mullet, guinea fowl) and ten course tasting options menus, the latter is a surprise selection that currently includes such Sommerin specialities as bubblegum panna cotta.

A row of three amuse-bouche comprised a delicate pyramidal gougère made from choux pastry and parmesan cheese, a small truffle arancini on a stick, and a sweetcorn panna cotta topped with smoked haddock. All great, though the crispy outside and melting interior of the arancini was the best of the three for me. The panna cotta was served in a little glass bottle (giving me, the probably unintended, resonance of feeding babies!). An addition amuse-bouche arrived next, with baked potato and Caerphilly cheese but not in a form you would expect.

Wholemeal and white bread rolls were accompanied by two types of butter, one with laver (Welsh seaweed). The butter was served on a large pebble, apparently collected from the beach outside.

Pea, Parmesan, Sage, Serrano Ham
Pea ravioli is a James Sommerin signature dish from his days at The Crown at Whitebrook (Monmouthshire), where he was Head Chef from 2003 to 2013. He won a Michelin star there in 2007. The dish comprises a large ravioli (raviolo?) with an intensely-flavoured pea stuffing and deep-fried crispy sage leaf and Serrano ham. The whole is topped with creamy parmesan foam.

Those concerned that they might be in for a gimmicky molecular gastronomy workout need not worry. This is a single and well-used incidence of foam, and there are no i-pods in sight (listen carefully though and you might hear the actual sea). When James Sommerin was name-checked by Jay Raynor, as one of the Observer’s chefs to look out for in 2008, the chef said in the accompanying interview that he was interested in the new wave of cooking as long it was not “out of control”.

Jerusalem artichoke, Egg, Truffle
Regular readers will know I follow developments in the world of Jerusalem artichoke fairly closely (having co-authored the only English-language book ever written about this vegetable). I can safely say that this is the best Jerusalem artichoke dish I have ever been served in a restaurant. The tuber is best enjoyed in moderation (for reasons we won’t go into here), so lends itself to small plate cooking. Here the Jerusalem artichoke comes as a purée and as small slow-roasted pieces. A runny egg bursts to ensure creamy mouthfuls, and the dish is topped with black truffle shaved at the table.

Duck, Swede, Maple, Soy Sauce
The different courses came on different styles of china crockery. This cultural melange of crispy duck with balls of swede holding sticky maple and soya sauce arrived as a concise arrangement on a typically pretty but understated plate.

Turbot, Carrot, Cockles, Ginger
The fish course was a chunky piece of turbot served with sweet roast carrot and a sauce containing the cockle and ginger. James Sommerin once said, in a food industry magazine interview, that spices play a huge part in his cooking; subtle and unusual spicing is certainly a key component in the tasting menus’ success.

Welsh Venison, Beetroot, Savoy Cabbage, Port
The main course was venison, served as round loin medallions that melt in the mouth. Port in the jus provided a Christmassy touch. The winter root vegetable theme concluded here with sweet beetroot, including a bold red swirl across the plate. Caerleon-born James Sommerin likes using local ingredients, as noted here with the venison. However, I am one of those people who like to read about where food is sourced, and the minimal menu and website offer few clues.

Apple, Cinnamon, White Chocolate
We passed on the optional British cheeseboard and went straight into the two dessert courses. The apple here is in the form of a terrine. The cinnamon ice cream was wonderful, actually one of the highlights of the whole meal. The dish was completed with dainty white chocolate biscuit.

Prune, Vanilla, Blood Orange
The perfect course to finish: a James Sommerin soufflé. This rose out of a cup and looking good. Do be careful – the orange sauce at the bottom is hot! The cinnamon ice cream set the bar too high for the prune ice cream, which was still a pleasure and served here alongside vanilla egg custard and slices of seasonal blood orange.

There was optional coffee served with a selection of petit four, which we passed on.

Diners should not be fooled by the word ‘taster’ on the menu. This is a four-hour feast, so book for an earlier time and don’t snack beforehand!

Saturday, 27 December 2014

We ate the reindeer on Christmas Day

We ate the reindeer on Christmas Day. Well, we ate the reindeer pâté I had bought back from Sweden. Still, the kids were shocked that we could eat Sven - Rudolph’s temporary replacement as ‘most lovable reindeer’ (Note to those without children under 12: he is the reindeer in ‘Frozen’). It was a very gamey venison pâté (that worked well alongside a milder and sweeter Ardennes pâté).

There is a reindeer farm in Wales, at Poundffald Farm on the Gower (see links below). However, they are not eaten; they earn their keep as a visitor attraction and by being hired out, for instance, to the annual Swansea Winter Wonderland. Robert Owen, the farmer, started the herd in 2006 to accompany his Christmas tree business (Gower Fresh Christmas Trees). The herd is now 19 strong and includes 12 breeding cows. In a recent Wales Online story, he describes how, in addition to grazing, he feeds them on specially-formulated food pellets and reindeer moss (the lichen Cladonia rangiferina) imported from Sweden.

In northern Sweden reindeer are herded by Sami communities, while there is also a large elk farm. Reindeer and elk are commonly eaten in Scandinavia. You can buy reindeer and elk burgers in the UK from the touring ‘Exotic Burgers’ business. This often puts down in Cardiff during the ‘Cardiff International Food Festival’. However, I encountered it last outside Tate Modern in London earlier this month. The vendor does not eat meat himself, and says he tells the burgers apart because they all look a little different when cooked (possibly due to different fat contents etc.). Here’s a photo of their Christmas menu:

The menu was a bit lighter on the deer and antelope than compared to last summer in Cardiff (when I had the springbok). I had an elk burger to see me along the wintery South Bank, where I saw ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ again on the big screen at the BFI (the film starts with our ancestors killing antelope).

There are over 100 types of deer worldwide. Many of these are semi-domesticated in parts of their range and their meat (venison) is eaten: different deer are eaten in different countries. There are six deer species in the UK and venison in the UK could potentially come from five of these: Red deer, Fallow deer, Roe deer, Sika deer and Muntjac (you are unlikely to be eating Chinese Water Deer). Most farmed deer meat comes from the native Red deer, the largest of the UK species, with Fallow deer being the only other species farmed commercially. Consumption of venison in the UK is on the increase. In the 12 months prior to June 2014, one survey found that retail sales of venison were up over 400%.

Wales’ only reindeer herd:

We are eating more deer: