*My event tickets were provided FOC, however, all opinions are my own as always
It feels like ages ago now but this time last week, I was at the 14th annual Bolton Food and Drink Festival enjoying the sunshine with thousands of fellow foodies (400,000 to be precise). This four-day event is always firmly noted in my diary months in advance and boasts cookery demos from popular national and regional chefs.
The festival is also home to food and drink stalls selling every type of cuisine imaginable, music stages, craft stalls, street entertainers and, this year, hosted a fabulous Family Zone. It’s free to attend, apart from certain ticketed events in the main marquee, and really does have something for everyone.
Just after breakfast, I sat down with the Hairy Bikers – aka Simon King and David Myers – for a chat as they got ready to make an appearance at the Bolton Food and Drink Festival for the first time in eight years. Fun fact: I once bumped into Dave and Si in the lift at Quay House, Media City and blurted out: ‘Oh! I love your lemon drizzle cake recipe!’, without so much as an introduction so I’m happy to say that this time, I managed to behave a bit more like an actual grown-up.
Given that they’ve been cooking together for more than twenty years now, I asked them if they each had a particular favourite cuisine that they enjoyed making. Si explained that, given the incredible opportunities that they’ve had whilst travelling the world and experiencing cuisines at the original source, it’s impossible to choose just one. Case in point; they’ve been to cookery schools in Vietnam and learnt traditional cooking techniques in India so it’s understandable that they can’t narrow it down.
For the pilot of ‘The Hairy Bikers’ Cookbook‘ TV series, Si and Dave tried to plan everything out in advance by reading up about the country in question (Portugal) but once they’d arrived, they had to tear it all up and start again after experiencing the cuisine and culture firsthand. Dave did say said that finding super fresh seafood is like striking gold and makes for a fantastic dish, regardless of whichever country they may be in at the time.
After our natter, it was time for me and Adam to watch the lads cook up a storm. Well, soy-glazed salmon with garlic bok choy, a parma ham, peach and goats cheese tart and chocolate chilli cookies.
We were also treated to a ploughman’s lunch and beer tasting throughout the demo. Adam smashed through his Carr’s sausage roll, commenting on how tasty it was whilst I happily tucked into the beautiful variety of cheese and beers provided by Aldi. What we didn’t know until afterwards is that the sausage rolls were actually entirely vegan (and far superior to any other brand that I’ve tried in the past).
Inside the main marquee was a rather incredible cake by Rosie Dummer aka Rosie Cake Diva, who never fails to amaze me with her designs. This years masterpiece was a replica of Bolton Town Hall and the Le Mans Cresent arches and it was hard to comprehend that the entire thing was edible.
After lunch, I took Adam over to Bolton Museum; a place that will always be close to my heart and one that he’d never visited before. My beloved late grandma was born and raised in Bolton and when I was younger, we’d spend many an afternoon together marvelling at the fish in the aquarium downstairs. Adam particularly enjoyed the Egyptian bit and if you’re ever in the area, I’d highly recommend that you pop by.
We swung by the Family Zone for a quick mooch and found pinball machines, a digital photo booth, gaming areas for visitors of all ages, fresh food, another spectacular showstopper cake by Bolton-based baker, Kay Gajra, and we even got photobombed by a pirate. On the way back to the car, I stopped to buy a batch of fresh brownies and a few Carrs pasties for the drive home.
Sunday was another scorcher and I headed to the festival tent to chat with the one and only Gregg Wallace. He’s a big household name these days thanks to MasterChef, Eat Well for Less, Saturday Kitchen and Inside the Factory, amongst many other ventures.
We talked about tattoos and travelling and he cracked a few of his legendary jokes before we delved into the topic of budget cooking. More specifically, student cooking. With my eldest girl going off to university soon, I took the opportunity to ask Gregg if he had any advice for her.
He said: “Stock up on tinned tomatoes. And rice. And pasta, plenty of pasta. You really have to just give it a go when you’re learning to cook and don’t be scared of getting things wrong. Use recipe books as a starting point and find one or two staples that you enjoy.
“Batch cook things like chilli or spaghetti bolognese from scratch and stick a few extra portions in the freezer. Learn how to make decent soups which are cheap to put together and will help to get plenty of fresh veggies into your diet – they’re also really filling too.”
It was Greggs very first time at Bolton Food and Drink Festival so I watched him take the stage with fellow chef and former MasterChef winner, Simon Wood – who is a regular at the festival – to deliver a fine-dining masterclass. They shared jokes as they cooked together and Gregg talked about his career and family life. He also happily answered questions from the audience about his impressive weight loss, his stint on Strictly Come Dancing and his biggest cookery cock-up. Hopefully, we’ll see him back at Bolton Food and Drink Festival again soon.
Adam and I explored more of the festival and whilst wandering around the stalls, I picked up a slow cooker book for a fiver from The Book People, ate lovey fresh ice-cream from The Milk Maids, listened to sets from local musicians and drank coffee from a street barista. We watched various street entertainers, Adam scoffed a lamb Yorkshire pudding wrap and we soaked up the atmosphere of the bustling town.
A special thank you to Salma, Joel and the whole team, along with the sponsors and partners, who work so very hard to make this fantastic event what it is. See you in 2020!