Warwickshire food and drink hidden gems put on the foodie map

Warwickshire’s small and emerging food and drink producers delighted members of the public and industry suppliers with their tempting array of produce at the Warwickshire Food and Drink Showcase which took place at Warwick racecourse earlier this week.

Despite torrential rain, the successful event hosted by Warwickshire County Council, not only saw mouth-watering products sampled, but more importantly deals done and valuable connections made.

One local food producer, Auntie’s Sauces, secured its first trade deal at the event. Shireen Dhaliwal, co-founder of Auntie’s Sauces says: “Events like the Warwickshire Food & Drink Showcase really help businesses like ours in a myriad of ways. Firstly, it puts us out in front of trades people who we wouldn’t normally come across and local business people who are looking for slightly different food and drink, that they can’t get from a regular wholesaler. Secondly, it’s an excellent networking opportunity and provides great potential for collaboration with other local businesses.”

Warwickshire-based Michelin-starred chef Adam Bennett of The Cross, Kenilworth, was one of the stars of the show and entertained the audience with cookery demos, useful tips and anecdotes alongside Lawrence Jeffries, the executive chef for Warwick and Cheltenham racecourses.

Adam says: “’It was a pleasure to attend the showcase and great to be able to connect with local suppliers and buyers in a relaxed atmosphere. There are so many great food and drink businesses in Warwickshire, but many of them don’t have the opportunity to link up and share ideas as well potentially do business. The showcase is a great way to kick-start this kind of peer to peer support and I hope will be the start of something unique and positive for Warwickshire.”

A lively Q and A allowed food and drink producers to gain insights into recipes for success from Adam Bennett and Tara Mei, Co-founder of Bread & Jam, an organisation which supports emerging businesses in the food industry. The discussion was compered by Neil Phillips, aka The Wine Tipster – professional wine and horseracing expert.

Tara spoke passionately about the importance of embracing consumers’ appetite for local produce, and the need to focus on specific target markets rather than trying to appeal to everyone. Adam Bennett emphasised the competitive edge that using local producers can give a business as it creates a story to share with customers, as he has found at The Cross.

Adam said: “We like to use local suppliers in our restaurant. We had a lady come into the restaurant one day saying that she grows salad just down the road. She had learnt horticulture as a child but then had got out of it and worked the majority of her career in an office. She had only picked it up again about six – eight months before coming into the restaurant. I gave her a list of items I thought she’d be able to grow at her allotment and she leapt at the opportunity. For the past two years she has been growing some of the best fruit and veg I’ve had in 30 years working as a chef. The dish we have is called Millpeace Salad as her plot of land is called Millpeace and everything on that plate is gown there, fifteen minutes down the road and picked that morning. This gives us great a story to tell our customers – they love that it’s from just down the road and it gets them talking about the restaurant. It’s something we’d like to do more of, from all around the county.”

Cllr Heather Timms, the County Council’s portfolio holder for environment and heritage & culture, said: “This has been a great event with lots of positive outcomes for many of our small local food and drink producers. It was our first showcase open both to the public, and buyers from the food and drink sector. We’re hoping it will be the first of many similar showcases the County Council hosts at different venues across Warwickshire. As a region we have an excellent range of suppliers of food and drink, including some real hidden gems and we want to bring them out into the open and make sure everyone is aware of them. We should be eating local, buying local and growing local!”