Lewes Octoberfeast

The following article was first published in the September 2016 edition of Viva Lewes magazine:

Sometimes it seems that every other shop in Lewes wants to sell you a cappuccino… yet we’re also a town with food banks as well as farmers’ markets. In the middle of this complexity sits Lewes Octoberfeast, a celebration of food in September and October that focuses on enjoyment and education – from home cooking to watching professional chefs in action.

Capturing the essence of Octoberfeast in a single event is the free Feast & Food School, which takes place in Harvey’s brewery yard on Saturday 17th September. One of the special guests is Brighton’s Kate Henry, who appeared as a competitor on BBC TV’s The Great British Bake Off in 2014. I ask her what’s planned. “Oooh – I’ll be making something sweet and scrumptious”, she reveals. “Probably a chocolate cake, but it will have little or no sugar in it.” She describes sugar as “the greatest threat to human health, bar none” and has turned to what she describes as “new age sweeteners”, such as plant-derived stevia. “I’ve had to unlearn all that I thought I knew about sweet baking and start again.” Kate’s love for cooking has transformed her life after Bake Off: “I’m a full-time food person! I work with brands, consulting and developing low sugar recipes for their ranges; I am also working with a couple of beverage companies to pair their drinks with my food. I try to host a few supper clubs and pop-ups, too – and I demo when I can.”

There’s a different kind of demonstration on offer at The Butcher, The Farmer & The Cook, which takes place on Wednesday 28th September at The Riverside. Food writer and cook Hattie Ellis joins forces with fifth-generation butcher Danny Lidgate and farmers Maxine and Ivan May (of May’s Farm Cart) to explain how to get the best from a local butcher. “Danny will demonstrate his craft”, Hattie tells me, “he’s astonishing to watch, like a tailor with a beautiful piece of cloth. And I’ll be talking to Maxine and Ivan about local meat, food supply and nose-to-tail butchery. How you can use the cheaper but really delicious cuts, and how to cook bigger pieces of meat.”

Hattie’s books go beyond recipes to investigate where food comes from and to learn about the people who produce it. “In countries such as Italy and France, it’s not considered ‘foody’ to be into food. It’s just normal. Celebrating food doesn’t have to make it elitist. The more you know about food, the more you appreciate it – and the more an everyday necessity becomes something you share and enjoy.” It’s a sentiment that’s also at the heart of Lewes Octoberfeast, whether that’s expert demonstrations or pop-up restaurants. Bon appétit.

Octoberfeast 2016 starts 16th September. Full details are in the Octoberfeast booklet (available from venues across town) or online at lewesoctoberfeast.com