The Foodies Festival founder Sue Hitchen talks to Gary Rose about why, when it comes to enjoying food, Brightonians are ahead of their peers
Limp cod, half a dozen mini donuts and one of those luminous candy fry-ups: that image of Brighton cuisine has long been consigned to the compost heap. We’re foodies now. And we demand our own festival. Actually, we’re gluttons; we want two.
And so two we have. There’s the oh-so-local Brighton and Hove Food and Drink Festival (Brighton Food Festival for short), which organises events throughout the year. And the annual Foodies Festival, which kicks off Brighton’s festival season with a sizzle in the last weekend of April. Don’t get the two mixed up Ã¢â‚¬â€ they hate that.
The latter is a nationwide event, originally linked to the Edinburgh Festival, as Foodies’ founder Sue Hitchen tells us.
“We started 11 years ago in Edinburgh,” she says. “Because we saw there was a gap in the market for a festival championing Scottish food.”
“Having launched that, we realised the model could be taken to other areas, so I approached Brighton Fringe and suggested running a Brighton-based festival, encouraging top chefs and Brighton producers to take part.”
“So now we have ten events around the country. In every case it’s the same model, in that we don’t focus on TV chefs; we talk to local Michelin star chefs and encourage them to get involved. And we always have award-winning local artisan producers. So although we have the Foodies Festival infrastructure, we’re always pushing the local story and local produce.”
This year’s stars include Great British Menu winner Matt Gillan, local zero-waste pioneer Douglas McMaster and MasterChef 2014 winner Ping Coombes. But what else can punters expect for their £14 entry fee? And for those who have been before, what’s new this year?
“We’re expanding the chilli eating competition,” says Sue. “Every day on the main stage we have people tasting different levels of chilli. Last year’s winner will be challenging people from around the country. We’re also launching a new competition called Crunching in the Jungle, working with a Vietnamese street food company and bringing along jungle insects and spices. I haven’t tried the insects yet, but I’ll be tasting them next week to make sure they’re palatable.”
“There’s also a new vintage tea tent, with people dressed in vintage style, old music and proper afternoon cream teas. And there will be a blindfold whisky challenge in the drinks theatre.”
So how does she think Brighton ranks as a food city in the UK? There’s a considered pause… “Well… it’s come on in leaps and bounds since we first launched there eight years ago,” is the diplomatic, but fair response.
“There are so many exciting food movements and innovative start-ups in Brighton. They really appreciate the whole foodie experience. From our perspective, the Brighton [Foodies] festival is the most fun and it’s a great start to our year. Brighton people want to explore, challenge their taste buds, and they want to have fun. The Brighton audience is always the first to get up and dance.”
Sounds about right.