Malton’s growing reputation as the “food capital of Yorkshire” was enhanced on Saturday and Sunday when an estimated 20,000 people defied the rain to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the town’s sixth annual Food Lovers Festival.
And for organiser Tom Naylor-Leyland, the weekend went a long way to justifying his long term ambitions of making the market town synonymous with quality food and local produce.
Bigger and better than ever - the festival boasted celebrity chefs including Jean-Christophe Novelli, the Incredible Spice Men and The Chiappa Sisters, alongside some of the region’s best known chefs, and 160 food and drink producers.
The festival menu included interviews and book signings, Tutored Tastings, a Live Cookery Theatre, and a chance to pick up tips from the experts in the Malton Cookery School.
The weekend was only marred by a number of rain showers, but in the end that did little to deter the thousands of visitors.
“With the rainy weather, I expected lesser crowds but it has been absolutely incredible,” said Mr Naylor-Leyland. “We have seen thousands and thousands of people enjoying what Malton has got to offer and having a terrific day out.”
The Incredible Spice Men - Tony Singh and Cyrus Todiwala - proved to be one of the more popular attractions of the weekend, posing for photographs with visitors, and providing witty banter as they took to the stage in the Live Cookery Theatre at the Milton Rooms, and in the Malton Cookery School, on Saville Street.
They even dared to give a spicy twist to that great British staple - the Yorkshire pudding - during one raucous outing at the Live Cookery Theatre early on Saturday afternoon.
Cyrus said: “It is one to tick off the list - making Yorkshire Pudding in Yorkshire and not getting done in!”
“Not getting done in YET,” joked Tony.
Festival regular James Mackenzie, of the Michelin-starred Pipe and Glass Inn, Beverley, told the audience about his experiences of the event.
“It seems to grow every year, gets better and better and also attracts really good crowds,” he said. “I always tell people it is one of the best food festivals around.”
James, who was joined by his young son Toby, also spoke about how he could not walk a step across the Market Place without bumping into a food producer who he knew.
“It shows the relationship we have between myself, the chef, and the supplier. It’s great to shout about the produce we have in Yorkshire and ultimately bring people back to the Pipe and Glass.”
For Stuart Smith, who is co-owner of Ryedale Vineyard, it was the first Food Lovers Festival to which he had brought a stall. The award-winning wine producer also gave a Tutored Tasting on both Saturday and Sunday.
“The festival is a brilliant event and a wonderful thing to develop in Malton,” he said. “It’s a chance to celebrate a fantastic area of food and drink which people may not have known about.”
On offer was a mixture of eight still and four sparking wines, including new wines from last year’s bumper crop including Shepherd’s Delight and Strickland Estates as well as the award winner, Taste of Paradise.
“We’ve had a mixture of people who we know and those people who have never tasted our wines before,” he said. “It all helps our business.”
The weekend also welcomed civic dignitaries, including Joan Lawrence, the Mayor of Malton.
She said: “It has been brilliant as has the feedback. People have been saying to me, ‘can’t we have it every week?’ The rain really hasn’t deterred anyone.”
Ryedale Cllr Di Keal added: “It always is an excellent event. It brings people into town and has a wonderful knock-on effect for local businesses.”
Each year, the team at We Love Malton add something new and this time around it was the Malton Cookery School - another piece of the jigsaw which Tom Naylor-Leyland hopes will make the town a year-round destination for foodies.
During the weekend, it was a hive of activity as it hosted The Incredible Spice Men, Andrew Pern, of The Star Inn, Harome, and BBC’s Steph Moon, among others.
But now, the purpose-built school will be turned over to chef Gilly Robinson who will lead regular classes for visitors that want to learn more about cooking and catering for others.
Tom said: “I do think there are not that many towns across the North of England which can boast a cookery school as stylish as the one we have.
We have been able to attract Jean-Christophe Novelli, the Incredible Spice Men and the Chiappa Sisters - and it shows that the eyes of the north are on Malton and that it is a place you can come to for your holidays.”
He added: “We want to encourage people to come and spend a couple of days here - that’s the idea.
“They can come and take part in a half-day or full day course at the Malton Cookery School and then come and visit the Made in Malton producers, such as Brass Castle Brewery, in the Talbot Yard.
“The next big part of what we are trying to do here is to say to all these producers, who are well known in their own right: ‘relocate to Malton, come and produce your food or drink in Malton.’”
Once the dust has settled on this year’s festival, the next venture for We Love Malton will be Food Fridays which is due to start in June. The “al fresco” dining experience will see part of the Market Place turned over to an outside dining experience.
Running every Friday between 5pm and 10pm, restaurants will offer quality food, beer and music.
Added to that is a focus on the Monthly Food Market, the idea of which is to create a “mini festival” atmosphere at the Milton Rooms.
The long term aim is to make it fortnightly, added Tom.