Foodspiration At The Source Trade Show
Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson
Photography by Sofy Robertson
I wasn’t sure if I had died and gone to heaven as I stood in Wespoint Arena, breathing in layer upon layer of tantalising food aromas.
As the South West’s biggest show of its kind, I had high expectations and a growling stomach, neither of which were disappointed.
This show prides itself on having everything a food or hospitality business could want, from state-of-the art till systems to the best food and drink produce, and all under one roof. Running over two days, the event aims to cater to all of those involved in the ever-changing food and drink industry.
As media partners, we had our very own Grow stand, complete with comfy armchairs and a photo shoot set up, but I was itching to explore the avenues of food, drink and all things related to the industry.
I soon realised that our stand seemed to be situated on what we later nicknamed ‘the drink run’; from taps with Hop House and Thatchers to frosted bottles of British Cassis from White Heron and more gin under one roof than I have ever seen in my life, I deeply regretted driving to the event. It was also ten in the morning, but, somewhere in the world, it was surely gin o’clock.
I decided to extend my browsing outside of ‘the drink run’ and my camera was immediately drawn to the Quicke’s stand. Based in Newton St Cyres, I pass their farm shop every day on my commute to work and know the standard of their produce. Their stand more than did their brand justice; giant wheels of cheese that looked to be about half of my body weight were stacked in a trio in the refrigerated counter.
Fanning out from the counter were wooden and cardboard crates overflowing with a range of fruits and vegetables; from the arguably ordinary likes of cherry tomatoes and purple sprouting to the equally vibrant, but decidedly unusual, turnips with hot pink centres and spiny Romanesco broccoli. This stand was making fruit and veg look decidedly sexy.
I passed butchery stands where the meat was displayed as an artistic tableau and tables overflowing with rolls, baguettes and loaves.
As I continued to wander along the avenues of stands, an announcement over the tannoy heralded a cooking demonstration from the South West Apprentice Chef of the Year, Sophie Kennard. As well as attending Exeter College, Sophie works at The Swan in Bampton, an AA Four Star Gold English country inn. Sophie began cooking up the celeriac and apple dish that won her South West Apprentice Chef of the Year, explaining that she had used produce that was seasonal at the time of the competition (October). She also won an award for sourcing local produce, an ethos that both she and The Swan are dedicated to.
After watching the demonstration, it felt like a more acceptable time of day to sample a tipple; but which one to choose? I found myself drawn to The Old Curiosity Distillery’s stand. Adorned with dried rose petals and sprigs of lavender, the colours of the stand, and more importantly of the gin, had taken my fancy.
In an age of pink gins, flavoured gins and generally everything trendy with a G, I was intrigued by the purple, blue and golden liquids. Deborah Hawkins, sales manager at The Old Curiosity which hails from Edinburgh, explained that there are no artificial additives in their gin. So these beautiful hues of blue, purple and gold were derived from their natural ingredients all of which are grown on their estate.
Now of course, appearance is just part of the package; the proof comes in the drinking. Purely for the purposes of journalism, I sampled all three flavours. First, the Camomile and Cornflower which contained subtle botanicals and, surprisingly as I was drinking it neat, barely any burn. Deborah explained that this was due to their special method of distilling which involves triple distillation. Next, Apothecary Rose. I felt a little nervous about this one, not being a huge fan of the scent or flavour of rose and my trepidation was heightened further as Deborah described its taste as akin to Turkish Delight. I was very pleasantly surprised; the rose flavour was pleasant and not overpowering and it didn’t have the synthetic sweetness of Turkish delight. If I had to pick, I would say it was my favourite of the three. Finally, the Lavender and Echinacea. Deborah demonstrated the colour change that occurs when adding tonic (Fever Tree is the recommended choice for this gin) and I can only imagine how stunning this drink must look in a proper gin glass. Again, I opted to taste it neat to fully appreciate the flavour and was again impressed by the subtlety of the flavouring and the smoothness of the drinking.
As a relatively new company at eighteen months old, the same age as Grow coincidentally, The Old Curiosity have found homes for their gin in large retailers such as Harvey Nicholls and John Lewis and they are hoping to expand their reach further in the South West, with their gins available at Darts Farm and Greendale Farm Shop. Deborah explained:
“The South West is such a natural, green and beautiful place; its ethos fits perfectly with our gin.”
Feeling that characteristically warm gin glow, I felt it was probably best to sample some food. At the Chunk of Devon stand, I enjoyed a new addition to their range; The Spicy Jack containing jack fruit and a warming blend of spices, a perfect winter pasty. I also couldn’t help sampling a chunk of sausage roll; well-seasoned sausage meat encased in buttery, flaky pastry.
Next, I found myself involved in a chat about jam and cream politics at the Boddington’s Berries stand. As a Cornish brand, I would have expected jam first but the platter I snapped had been laid out in true Devon fashion. A second platter was being prepared the Cornish way however to “please everyone”. I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth, but as these were only bite-sized portions I felt it would be rude not to try. The scones, picked up this morning from a bakery near Boddington’s Berries, were beautifully light and put many of the previous stodgy scones I have sampled to shame. Strawberry would usually be my last pick of jam, but with 80g of fruit per 100g of strawberry conserve, I found myself a strawberry jam convert. Thank you Boddington’s!
My next stop happened to be the ladies’ toilets after discovering that I had dropped jam all down my shirt as well as my exhibitor and press passes; a job well done.
Back on the food trail, I was attracted to Nature Kitchen by the aroma of spices. Based in Fowey, Nature Kitchen sell whole and ground spices and blends as “Variety is the spice of life, and spices come in so many varieties”. Ally Watkins, owner of Nature Kitchen, explained that she sells her spices and blends to businesses and individuals through her online shop. Ally is most definitely Grow Green as she explained that all of her spice pots are recyclable and reusable. She expanded, saying:
“We used to have a plastic seal which wasn’t recyclable but now we wrap everything in recyclable chip paper.”
Ally had a range of her products mixed with mayonnaise for visitors to try; I particularly enjoyed the Bonfire Spice and Mexican blends as both contained a slowly building spice kick. Ally explained that her blends are gluten free and can be mixed with mayonnaise, yogurt or vegan alternatives and form dips and marinades; they even work with tofu!
As I passed the Mr Filbert’s stand, I couldn’t resist having a nibble of their rosemary almonds, made on their SALSA food accredited site in Somerset. As someone who loves snacking, it is always refreshing to discover a snack that is both healthy and tasty, two boxes that Mr Filbert’s ticks with their hot air-roasted nuts and seeds made with 100% natural ingredients, sourced as locally as possible.
One of my final stops of the day was at a stand that I had read about in the Source brochure and had been immediately intrigued by. CaribSwede Vegan Bakery is a fusion of Caribbean and Swedish food, founded by husband and wife team, Oliver and Anna. Oliver, who is half French Dominican and half Jamaican, explained that his Swedish wife Anna is a vegan and that her grandfather was a known baker in the South of Sweden. After the birth of their son, Noah, Oliver and Anna began to blend the flavours of Sweden and the Caribbean to create CaribSwede, with Oliver converting to veganism for health reasons. I was intrigued by the colours of their creations and Oliver explained that it is all derived from the natural ingredients, like beetroot and turmeric. As well as baking, CaribSwede have a range of sauces with flavour combinations that stem from the couple’s Swedish and Caribbean heritage.
After a long hard day of eating, drinking and telling everyone about Grow, it was definitely caffeine o’clock. I got chatting to the guys at SUNDAY about their eye-catchingly trendy stand as they made me a cuppa. An arrangement of wooden crates made up a shelving area where their coffee and products were displayed, as well as a funky lightbox with their logo. Aligned with the Rainforest Alliance, SUNDAY supply coffee to a number of local businesses, including Meat59 in Torquay, the River Exe Café in Exmouth and The Welcome Café on Exeter’s quayside, all of which had given glowing testimonials that were displayed on the wall. I certainly felt the love as I sipped the smooth, strong coffee complete with a frothy white heart in its centre created by some rather artistic milk pouring.
What a day; I knew I would be glad to sit down and couldn’t quite believe that all the exhibitors had another busy day at the Trade Show ahead of them! As I was getting read to leave, Shyamal Mavani from London-based organic food and drink company Pip offered me a smoothie and fruity water for the journey home; a refreshing end to a fantastic day.
I’m not sure I have ever seen Westpoint Arena so full; not only were there more exhibitor stands than last year, the first day was well-attended and I hope that today will be equally successful. The South West has a vast amount to offer in terms of food and drink, a point which is highlighted by the amount of accolades Taste of the West, who are partners of the event, are able to give out every year. Being part of an event that brings together passion for the food and drink industry and champions local producers and independent businesses ticks all of our Grow boxes and demonstrates the power of positivity.