Eat to the beat: Exeter Food Festival preview

“This year is expected to be spectacular, with a whole host of entertainment running over the three days: live demos in the Cookery Theatre, including some from Michael Caines”

There’s music, meals, demos, dancing and – most importantly! – hundreds of tasters to snaffle at the 14th Exeter Festival of South West Food & Drink…


Brace yourself, Exonians, for your city is about to be invaded by an army of chefs, producers, farmers, musicians, entertainers and food fanatics, and – having moved the date to the May bank holiday, running 28 April to 1 May – organisers are expecting stampedes bigger than ever before.

The date may have moved, but the amazing location is still the same – Exeter Castle and adjacent Northernhay Gardens – where more than 100 artisan food and drink producers from the region will be setting up stalls and tempting you with their delicious wares.

With food festivals popping up all over the country (Jamie Oliver, and even Tom Kerridge, now have their own), the game’s been upped, but Exeter has long been known for hosting the biggest knees-up around, at least when it comes to celebrating the South West’s top produce.

This year is expected to be spectacular, with a whole host of entertainment running over the three days: live demos in the Cookery Theatre, including those from Michael Caines (more from him in a mo), Mark Dodson and Simon Hulstone; a ton of other hands-on workshops (sausage- making, anyone?); plus, lots of brilliant activities for the little people.

The legendary Festival After Dark parties will run on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights too, where you can grab yourself some hot food (not that you need warming up – the weather’s going to be balmy, we’re assured), a local beer, wine or cocktail, and bob along to the bands: The Locked Horns, Leigh Coleman Band, Bill Ding & The Skyscrapers, plus many, many more.

Anyway, we could spend the rest of the mag bringing you the highlights of what’s set to be Devon’s biggest food

extravaganza ever. But there are plenty
of people out there who know more, including co-founder (and all-round Devon hero) Michael Caines, so it’s over to him…

Hi, Michael! So, you’re the man with the plan. Can you give us an idea of how much work you’ve been putting into the Festival this year?
Planning for each year’s Festival starts immediately after the previous year’s Festival. There’s a wash-up meeting the day after, when the entire board and committee come together to discuss all of the various factors. We look at the numbers, and go through what worked and what didn’t. Then we start to plan how we might do things differently the following year. We work on the Festival plan constantly, and discuss our progress in committee meetings. One of the key things that came out of last year was that the inclement weather held us back from hitting the record numbers of Festival- goers we received during the bank holiday when the royals got married. So we decided to move the Festival to a later date, over the three-day bank holiday, so that we’d get more trading days – plus three nights of Festival After Dark. We’ve optimised it!

Where will we find you over the three days of the Festival, then?
I’ll be running the chef demonstration area in Northernhay Gardens, popping into the VIP area, and generally running about! I’m looking forward to the Festival After Dark nights – we’ve some great acts lined up.

What is it you enjoy the most about organising the Festival?
We get a lot out of the whole experience, and love being able to give back to the local food community. We take pride in being able to put on an amazing event for both Devon people and visitors to enjoy, as they share our passion of regional food, tourism, and celebrating the produce of the South West. Ultimately, I’m a foodie – and this is the ultimate foodie celebration. I’ve always said the South West is one of the best larders in Europe.

What have you changed for this year?
Obviously, holding it over a bank holiday is the key change. We’re working more closely than ever with our existing food producers to make the event even better in other ways, though. And, as always, we have a good line-up of chefs for the Cookery Theatre.

Tell us three personal highlights?
Definitely the launch event, and the first Festival After Dark party, which takes place on Friday. And it’s always such a pleasure to open the Festival itself with my first demonstration. Seeing so many food producers and foodies in the same place is great, and, for the first time, we’ll have Gloucester boy Tom Kerridge joining us on stage, too.

What makes this food festival stand out?
It’s not just a question of standing out, really, as we’re not competing against other events. It’s more about celebrating together, and – though we’re now just one of many food festivals that celebrate local food, farming and tourism – the fact that we’ve been going 14 years is testament to the quality of our event. It’s well organised, and enjoys the outstanding location of Northernhay Gardens and Exeter Castle. And the music is fantastic! It’s interesting to note that Tom Kerridge now has his own food and music festival, as does Jamie Oliver. But we’ve been going for over a decade now, and hope that our ongoing success is something that’s inspired others to do their own in a similar vein. We’re all about celebrating local talent, which includes the acts we have on stage.

Is the sun going to shine?
We’ve ordered the weather, and I’ve been doing my sun dance, so with a bit of luck it’ll be good!

Anything else you want to tell us about?
We’re not-for-profit, and all the proceeds go back into the event. We’re always looking for new sponsors to get involved too, so we can ensure that the Festival will continue to be a success for many years to come. And we couldn’t do it without our sponsors – working with Exeter City Council, and the free support of our directors. Finally, there’re all the visitors – so, to all you Crumbs Devon readers, we hope to see you there!

Fancy getting among the action? Well, you’re in luck, ’cause Crumbs is giving away tickets to the festival! Just click here to find out how to enter our ace competition. 


Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink runs Friday, 28 April to Monday, 1 May. For the latest festival information, and to book tickets, visit the website; alternatively, follow on Twitter