A couple of weeks ago, I had the very real pleasure of being invited along to the Thame Food Festival 2018 and I was delighted to accept. A fair few of my Twitter chums have headed over in the past and I have always enjoyed living vicariously through them, but I decided that this was the year that I checked it out for myself.
Since its inception in 2008, the festival has been based in the small market town of Thame, about 13 miles east of Oxford, and, over the years, it has attracted the fantastic support of scores of celebrity and local chefs, who come to the festival to demonstrate for absolutely NOTHING simply because they love what they do and are happy to be part of this glorious celebration of local British produce.
Run as a non-profit by a small group of local people, this is a business with primarily social objectives whose profits are reinvested back into the festival or into the local community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners – and that community feel flows through every individual element of the festival, including their ‘Local Artisan Producer Bursary’ and the free space provided to local charities, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, Thomley and the WI at Denman College, enabling them to raise both money and awareness over the two days of the event.
When deciding which day of the two-day Festival I would head up for, I scoured the event programme, where I was captivated by the incredible line up of chefs and bakers who would be appearing on the Magimix Stage. The Saturday was to feature appearances from the youngest ever GBBO contestant and now successful author and Waitrose columnist, Martha Collison; 2016 MasterChef champion, Jane Devonshire; Raymond Blanc OBE; and Bake Off: The Professionals judge and Chef Patissier at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Benoit Blin and it certainly seemed like an event not to be missed. However, I have to say that my inner GBBO fanboy squealed when I saw who would be demonstrating on the Sunday!
With a line up set to include Suzy Pelta, Lotte Duncan and a whole host of former GBBOers, such as series one’s Miranda Gore Browne, series four’s Howard Middleton, series seven’s Jane Beedle and Candice Brown (who would be accompanied by her Dancing on Ice partner, Matt Evers) and series eight’s Steven Carter-Bailey, the decision was made for me and so, on Sunday, I headed off up the A34 on my first ever visit to Thame.
In spite of travelling solo, I was warmly welcomed on arrival by members of the festival’s ‘Foodie Force’, an army of friendly and enthusiastic volunteers who immediately made me feel at ease – even after I tripped over a fence navigating my way through the huge (and FREE!) carpark! They quickly gave me directions to the show’s main feature, the Magimix Stage, where I planned to set up camp to ensure that I would have a prime view of all of the day’s incredible demonstrations.
First up was a demo by food blogger, author and fellow member of team #creamfirst, Suzy Pelta who would be acting as our host throughout the day’s events and it was great to have the chance to talk to her in person after being twitter chums for a fair old while now. In fact, if you’d indulge me jumping ahead briefly, that was one of my favourite aspects of the entire day. Thanks to the wonderfully intimate nature of the festival, I was able to grab a few minutes with every single one of the special guests. Having been Twitter chums with many of them for some time, it was great to finally be able to have a proper chat.
But back to the action…
After Suzy’s quick and tasty S’mores Cookie Squares, we were joined by one of The Great British Bake Off’s inaugural bakers, Miranda Gore Browne who wowed us all with an essential guide to the perfect royal-iced biscuit. Having wanted to turn my hand to this art form for a long while now, I picked up a lot of top tips that I hope to be able to put to good use sometime soon.
Of course, I couldn’t come all this way without checking out some of the other incredible sights and smells on show, so I dashed out after Miranda’s demo to have a wander around the festival ground taking in the headline sponsors Magimix’s marquee and show favourites, the Pop-up Pub and the Botanical Gin Garden, conveniently located either side of the festival’s newest feature, the live Music Stage, which featured a fabulous programme of musicians throughout the weekend.
I managed to show some real restraint in Humble Country – a marquee full of tempting hand-picked and unique homeware – but sadly (or not in actual fact) my restraint didn’t last quite so long in the Artisan Market or the Street Food Zone, where I was tempted to indulge in the wonderful selection of fabulous local ingredients and some hot and tasty dishes and bakes.
After that, I headed back to the Magimix Stage to catch the end of Liam and Ryan Simpson-Trotman of Orwells’ fabulous cooking demonstration, before it was time for the biggest draw of the day, Dancing on Icing Sugar – with Candice Brown and Matt Evers, during which we howled with laughter. These was to become a theme for the rest of the day!
In fact, as I tweeted during the afternoon, my jaw actually hurt from laughing so much. The GBBO bakers really are an entertaining bunch!
Between Suzy, Candice, Matt, Steven, Howard and Jane, I would be hard-pressed to choose a favourite demonstration and that is without including some of the industry insider gossip shared by show director and patron, Lotte Duncan.
What repeatedly struck me, particularly as I stood back and watched the chefs and bakers engage with their fans, was how accessible they were. If you compare the Thame weekend with other, bigger events like last weekend’s The Cake and Bake Show (stay tuned for a special guest post all about that soon), you rarely have the chance to meet all of your baking heroes at such a big event, simply because they are so big. Yet, just one week earlier, many of the same faces were right there in Thame, happily chatting away, posing for photos and giving the public as much time as was needed to ensure that everyone got a look in – why are more of us not heading along to this incredible event?
And of course, in addition to the fantastic demonstrations, amazing local produce and dazzling array of cuisines on offer, the little ones are also well taken care of, with their very own Children’s Activity Area, with swings, rides and plenty of other activities to keep them busy. The festival is also ‘dog-friendly’, which means that even the smallest members of the family are welcome along – I loved meeting so many adorable bundles of fluff, including some of the pooches brought along by the Hearing Dogs for Deaf People charity, who were hosting a Fun Dog Show.
Add on to this the Vintage Tea Tent from Dottie about Cake and a fabulous demonstration schedule from members of The WI, courtesy of Denman College, WI HQ, there really was something new to see and do whichever way you turned!
In fact, the only thing missing from the whole weekend was a lil’ cake decorating demonstration from a humble little cake blogger – how’s about it, Lotte? 😉
In all seriousness, I had an absolutely fabulous time at the Thame Food Festival and I would heartily recommend it as a fun day out for anyone with a love of cooking, baking, eating or even just drinking (Make sure you bring a designated driver though people – safety first!). The fact that you can bring the dog, the kids and pretty much any of your friends (as there really was something for everyone) means that you are guaranteed a top day out, but don’t just take my word for it – The Thame Food Festival returns to the Thame Showground next year on 28-29 September 2019. Head on down and find out for yourself!
Thank you so much to Rachel and Lotte for having me along to the Thame Food Festival 2018 and for being such wonderful hosts both during the build up to the event and on the day. I will definitely be back for more next year!
Hopefully I’ll see you all there too!
To stay up to date with the latest news and information about the Thame Food Festival 2019, head to the official festival website here.