With world-class food and drink producers on our doorstep, Elise Brewerton looks at how Emsworth Food Fortnight aims to showcase them.
It’s a warm autumn afternoon and Alistair Gibson (pictured above) is in the window seat of The Bluebell Inn, surrounded by mobile phones pinging and ringing, notepads, pieces of paper, lists. And more lists.
The quayside local has become the unofficial headquarters of Emsworth Food Fortnight, the ambitious celebration of the jewel in Emsworth’s crown – its rich food heritage.
It’s a grand claim but Alistair, who readers will know as The News’ wine expert (see page six), says he believes the former fishing village is the foodie capital of the south, on a par with Padstow in Cornwall.
‘In my head,’ muses Alistair, ‘Emsworth is a mini Padstow. I’ve been there several times and we’re very similar. It’s on the coast, it’s very pretty, it has a rich history and some very interesting people.’
And Alistair should know. He grew up in The Brookfield Hotel in Havant Road and went on to own it when his parents retired.
Although it has now been sold on, it was where his passion for food, drink and Emsworth itself began.
Taking the reins on behalf of Emsworth Business Association, Alistair has put together a programme for Emsworth Food Fortnight that residents and traders can be proud of.
Many will remember the Emsworth Food Festival (pictured above right) of the noughties, which put Emsworth on the map but, ultimately, got so big it became a victim of its own success.
While many lamented its demise in 2007 – and made attempts at bringing it back – there were those who were glad to see the back of it and the disruption it brought to the town.
Alistair stresses Emsworth Food Fortnight, which piggy backs on to British Food Fortnight, is a very different fish.
‘It was three intense days. If you like, these are the best bits of the food festival spread over two weeks so people can take it slowly. It allows the businesses around here to do two weeks’ worth of events and promotions.
‘The restaurants and pubs are doing wine and gin tastings. That sort of thing didn’t fit in with the food festival.’
Food Fortnight begins today with the monthly Hampshire Farmers’ Market and, over the next two weeks, puts the spotlight firmly on the very best produce the area has to offer.
And there is almost an embarrassment of riches.
Alistair says: ‘The reason Emsworth has a food culture is its once-thriving oyster industry, which was one of the biggest in the UK until we unfortunately killed off the Bishop of Winchester (he died of typhoid from an infected Emsworth oyster in 1902).
‘It’s lucky that it managed to maintain its independent traders.
‘The shops can’t survive without the support of the local community.
‘And the local community would not be the same if the local shops were not there.
‘They are interwoven into the fabric of the community. ‘
He adds: ‘How many others have a family butchers trading for 90 years like Treagust in High Street?
‘Success brings success. We have a long history of good quality restaurants in Emsworth.’
Opposite The Bluebell, owned by Emsworth Business Association chairman Giles Babb (left), chef and News columnist Lawrence Murphy (see page seven) can be seen unloading ingredients – including a bottle of gin – for that night’s guests at his restaurant Fat Olives. And he is busy planning an organic lunch using produce from Tuppenny Barn educational centre, in Southbourne, as their joint contribution to the food fortnight.
And just a few yards away is the Michelin-starred 36 On The Quay, where foodies are invited to a winemakers’ dinner with the award-winning Hambledon Vineyard.
So far, so delicious. But Alistair and the rest of the committee are keenly aware that for some people, quaffing sparkling English wine in a fancy restaurant is just a dream.
What sets Emsworth Food Fortnight apart is the emphasis on those who struggle to afford a basic meal each day.
Starting today, donations are being taken for The Beacon food bank in Havant.
The Food Fortnight culminates on October 5 with an interdenominational harvest festival in The Square where a ‘mountain’ of food will be donated to the The Beacon for distribution across Havant.
Afterwards people from Emsworth and the surrounding areas who receive food parcels have been invited to a Boost of Kindness lunch prepared by chefs from the restaurants and pubs in the town and food supplied by Waitrose which is past its sell-by date but not its use-by date.
Alistair says his hands-on research into food banks, and helping out at a kitchen in Portsea that provides free evening meals to those who need them, has been an eye-opening experience.
‘Food is a language in itself,’ he says.
‘I wanted to make sure we touch as many areas as possible. This is a community event. Emsworth has food running through it and it’s been a real humbling voyage of discovery. There isn’t a food bank in Emsworth. But there are people who receive food parcels here.’
He adds, ‘We also want to raise awareness. The Food Fortnight is a great showcase, and while people are tasting sparkling English wine and artisan pork pies, we want them to be conscious that just a stone’s throw away there are people in need.’
Next Saturday is the Thought For Food showcase market. And that’s when Alistair gets really excited.
He says, ‘I love food and I love people. Most food or wine producers have a real passion for what they do.
‘And they have a story to tell that really interests me.’
More than 25 stalls selling everything from tea to pickles will be in South Street car park and The Square, and local band Heronshaw will entertain, Beatles-style, from the roof of The Bluebell.
The Leigh Park Community Singers will perform in North Street and food writer Rosemary Moon will lead a Market Safari – a guided tour around the market to meet the producers and hear their stories.
The lucky few who manage to get limited free places will be treated to some dishes prepared from the produce on the day.
Karen Berry will lead a Wild Food Walk from Tuppenny Barn to the shoreline explaining what is edible along the hedgerows and shore. And there is lots more.
With such a passion for food, Alistair is positively fizzing with ideas and wants to share that.
As he leaves The Bluebell to dash off to yet another Food Fortnight meeting, he adds: ‘I want people to think about where food comes from, who produced it and why.
‘And I would like to establish something that becomes an annual event that celebrates Emsworth and its food heritage for people to come and enjoy Emsworth, but at the same time not lose sight of the community we’re part of.’
What is British Food Fortnight?
It was founded in 2002 in response to the foot and mouth crisis and is now the biggest national celebration of British food.
Alistair Gibson says: ‘We asked ourselves, “what can we do to make this event touch more layers of the community?”’
‘We have three colleges with excellent catering departments – South Downs, Chichester and Highbury. Why not work with them to promote education?’
‘The students have put together a Great British Menu and will be working in a commercial environment where they devise, source and cook food which is served by house staff at The Brookfield Hotel. All sold out within days’.
English sparkling wine
The Hampshire Vineyards Pavilion at today’s Hampshire Farmers’ Market will feature wines from Hambledon Vineyard, Meonhill and Jenkyn Place.
Alistair jokes: ‘The most important thing about wine is actually tasting wine.
‘Don’t listen to what people write about it!
‘Taste it with the person who makes it.’
Entry is from 11am to 3pm and, for £3, visitors can try all of the wines.
At a glance: Emsworth Food Fortnight
- Emsworth Food Fortnight runs from today until October 5.
- For more information go to emsworth.org.uk or pop into The Bluebell Inn, Emsworth.
Food fortnight events programme
- Today from 10am to 3pm in South Street car park – Emsworth Market Day with Hampshire Farmers’ Market including Hampshire Vineyards Pavilion.
- Tomorrow, 7pm at The Bluebell Inn – Irving Brewery’s food and beer matching.
- September 23 at The Brookfield Hotel – The Great British Menu prepared by South Downs College. SOLD OUT
- September 25 at The Brookfield Hotel – The Great British Menu prepared by Chichester College. SOLD OUT
- September 24 at 36 on the Quay – winemakers’ dinner with Ian Kellett of Hambledon Vineyard.
- September 25 at The Brookfield Hotel – Launch of the Emsworth Oyster Film, by invitation only.
- September 27 from 10am to 3pm at South Street car park and The Square – A Thought for Food local showcase market. A market full of local producers with a story to tell. Entertainment, wild food walk and food safari.
- September 28, 11am at Warblington Church – Traditional Harvest Festival Matins
- September 28 at Fat Olives, South Street – The Big Barn Organic Sunday Lunch with organic producers Tuppenny Barn. SOLD OUT
- September 28 at The Bluebell Inn – gin tasting with local gin producers Twisted Nose and Chilgrove.
- September 29 at The Brookfield Hotel – Bringing home the harvest to business. An opportunity for producers to meet restaurants and food businesses. By invitation only.
- September 30 at The Brookfield Hotel – A Taste of Hampshire dinner showcasing the best of Hampshire produce presented by Hampshire Farmers’ Market and The Brookfield Hotel.
- October 1 at The Deck Cafe, Emsworth Yacht Harbour – A vintage cocktails and canapés evening.
- October 1 at The Brookfield Hotel – The Great British Menu prepared by Highbury College. SOLD OUT
- October 2 at Tuppenny Barn, Southbourne – Poetry and Pizzas to celebrate National Poetry Day
- October 5 from 11.30am to midday in The Square– A Boost of Kindness. A special community inter-denominational harvest festival service including the building of the Emsworth British Food Fortnight Food Mountain for the Beacon Food Bank.
- October 5 at Emsworth Community Centre – A Boost of Kindness Lunch. Invitation only.
- October 5 at The Bluebell Inn at 7pm – Field to Glass with Martin Bazeley, Suthwyk Ales.
- Until October 5 at Emsworth Museum – H H Treagust & Sons, Celebrating 90 years on the High Street, exhibition of the family business spanning five generations since 1924.