Tonbridge is hosting its first Food and Drink Festival later this month. Eileen Leahy spoke to its organiser about why now is the right time for the market town to showcase the many specialist producers it boasts, and previews the delicious delights visitors can sip and savour during the weekend of May 20 and 22
In a couple of weeks’ time Tonbridge will be transformed into a food lover’s paradise. Craft beer tents will be pitched and specialist stalls laid out with all manner of gourmet goodies in the grounds of the town’s historic 11th-century Castle.
Proceedings kick off on Friday night at 5pm with a fiesta-style opening which includes live music and plenty of pop-up bars and cafés to quench thirsts and satisfy any hunger pangs.
At 9am the following day the festival begins in earnest with a raft of independent producers showcasing their individual wares. Most are sourced from the local area, but there will be national and international offerings, too.
From this corner of the country visitors can expect to savour anything from Traditional Kent Hog Roast Pulled Pork to pear ciders and homemade chutneys.
But there will also be lots of other delicious bites from further afield, including slices of flaky Turkish baklava, piquant cured meats from Spain, indulgent American-style traybakes and fragrant Italian fruit liqueurs.
The event’s organiser, Paul Kennedy from Marketsquare Group, says he chose Tonbridge for a number of reasons.
“We ran a successful food market event in Sevenoaks and then one in The Pantiles and saw how great Kentish produce is,” says Paul who works all over the country.
“Tonbridge is also a good location and it’s up and coming. It also has a strong community who were keen to work with us.”
This was spearheaded by the collective known as Tonbridge Town Team. As soon as they heard Paul was eyeing up the market town as a possible venue they wanted to get on board – but on one condition.
“The stipulation was that a good variety of local producers had to be represented,” Paul explains.
“We have a number of people who tour with us around the UK to different locations, but the fact is we like to pick up on regional product wherever possible and Tonbridge seemed to have plenty of it.”
Since its regular Farmers’ Markets started five years ago, Tonbridge has definitely become more foodie orientated with a number of cool eateries, artisan coffee shops and bakeries opening up on the high street, as well as a host of both traditional traders and independent ones cropping up in the area.
This new home-grown gastro focus chimes perfectly with Paul’s food philosophy: “I always think it’s better to work at grass roots level.
“I’m more interested in what’s going on with the restaurant scene somewhere rather than drafting in a lot of celebrity chefs to help promote an event.
“As an events group we offer a few incentives for people to be there that will improve their business prospects. That could be a reduced stall price or helping out with additional equipment.
“For us it’s far preferable to help those who are rearing their own animals or farming organically than it is to aid someone who has bought all their items wholesale.
“You make independents feel wanted, give good prices and if you feel their product is worth having but they don’t have the experience or the resources we can support them. You certainly won’t see any burger vans or candy floss stalls at our markets.”
What you will see over the weekend of May 20 to 22 is over 50 stalls selling delicious indigenous Kentish food, beers and fresh seasonal goodies plus a variety of global inspired cuisine.
There will also be cooking demonstrations to enjoy, and to complete the fabulous foodie experience people will have the chance to browse stalls selling kitchen equipment and cool condiments, too.
So how many people are expected to visit Tonbridge’s inaugural Food and Drink Festival?
“Numbers are always weather dependent but we’re aiming for at least 5,000 people over the weekend,” confirms Paul.
He hopes the event will bring in people from across the district and even the capital.
“Tonbridge is within striking distance of London, so visitors should come along from there,” he says.
“There is an active element to Tonbridge,” Paul concludes. “Its people are good at getting involved, and coupled with the fact the area has some wonderful produce and the location for the market is in the perfect setting of an historical castle, we’ll put on a really good show and give visitors a great day out.”