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Features / Top chef wowed by ‘amazing’ local produce

Jim Macmillan's butchery stall at this year's food festival. Photo: Mark Berry.

FROM seafood to sausages and salt, with vegetables and vegan treats in between, this year’s food fair offered a superb selection of what the Shetland food scene has to offer, writes Louise Thomason.

Now in its third year, the event was recently rebranded as the Taste of Shetland Festival, and saw over a thousand visitors attend the Clickimin by 3pm yesterday.

The 27 exhibitors, situated across two halls, ranged from established and well-known proprietors such as Scoop Wholefoods, Anderson Butchers and Shetland Farm Dairies, to newer enterprises, like Viking Mead.

Mead is the oldest known alcoholic drink, and brewed from honey. Viking Mead has been developed by Scalloway couple Deb and Alistair Morgan. The venture, which began as a hobby, came about after Deb studied archaeology and the pair began playing with ingredients which were found in Viking excavations. They are experimenting with honeys and botanicals, and their current brew – “Skald” – is refreshing and mildly sweet.

The V Bird is another brand new enterprise, from cook Paula Nightingale. The range is entirely vegan, and features homemade sweet and savoury treats, from mayo, a chilli, orange and rosemary dip and herby chickpea dip to “notella” – a chocolate and nut spread – and chutneys.

As well as displays of food and drinks, in the bowls hall’s “heritage area” you could learn about the history of growing food in Shetland, with pictures, talks and demos on food production in days gone by.

In-keeping with the festival’s grow your own theme, there was a wealth of information on food production available from Grow Your Own volunteers, and a new 3×3 metre prototype polycrub from Nortenergy, the trading arm of the Northmavine Community Development Company, was on display.

Tempting goodies could be found at stalls lining the main hall, and the pride in the produce on display was obvious, and quite right too – from the likes of Frankie’s Fish and Chips, who were selling freshly cooked fish kebabs, mussels and salad boxes, to the Island Larder who had donuts, hot chocolate and freshly cooked crepes alongside more healthy options such as fruit salad, colourful smoothie bowls with granola and delicious looking beetroot and chocolate protein balls, there was a huge range of excellent products available.

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The live demonstrations were also top quality, with several running throughout the afternoon. The first of these saw James Morton of BBC Bake Off fame offering his tips on baking the perfect loaf, a version which included no kneading, no faff, and keeping the process as simple as possible.

He was followed by cook Susie Jacobs and meat producer Jakob Eunson, and a slot featuring dishes cooked with meat from Uradale Farm, before visiting chef Michelle Lepherd took to the stage.

Lepherd, who began her cheffing career at The River Cafe before becoming sous chef at Michelin-starred restaurant St James, cooked three dishes using only fresh Shetland produce: a simple fish stew using fennel, monkfish, tusk, mussels and squid; lamb kidneys with rainbow chard and capers served with Shetland black tatties; and steak cooked in a simple szechuan pepper and Chinese five spice rub.

Her demonstration fitted well with the event’s overall theme for home grown produce. For her, cooking is all about using the best ingredients possible and cooking them simply. She spoke extremely highly of the quality of Shetland produce, from the seafood – well known to her and others in the London food scene – to the polycrub grown vegetables and native beef and lamb, and said her time in Shetland had been a “real foodie’s tour”.

She said: “In London I have to really dig for very fresh seafood and to come here and get it, it’s amazing; and the lamb and then the beef – I’m not so aware of the beef but coming here this time I’ve seen the amazing [quality of] the native beef, and it’s been really great.

“[Even] the fennel I used today, it was so fragrant and lovely and it’s right at the end of the season so you’d expect it not to be so good, so things have really surprised me.

“For me in London it’s the mussels, salmon and monkfish that’s from Shetland, occasionally you get lamb –  it’s hard to get but we know when we get it it’s good quality so that’s fine. But now I’m going to look out more for the beef and other bits and pieces.”

The festival did a great job of showcasing the great quality ingredients available locally, and, given how much passion and effort is clearly put in by producers, it would be brilliant to see more of these products and that top quality carried through in the local restaurant and cafe scene.

With more planned for Sunday, including the live final of Shetland’s Cooking Challenge,  food related storytelling, and lots more fresh produce on offer, the organisers can be proud of having put on a super weekend for Shetland’s food lovers.

Louise Thomason

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