The idea behind Experience Leeds 2 was to take a good hard look at the way we do food here in Leeds – especially at how the local food and drink could help make the city more distinctive – could Leeds become the kitchen of Yorkshire?
On the drive into Leeds I listened to a programme on Radio 4 about Northern orchards http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00v6dqx and wondered how easy it would be to find these wonderful fruit in Leeds….
As usual, Experience Leeds would not have been possible without the generosity and help of David Kanarens the General Manger of the fabulous Queens Hotel – thanks David for letting us use your iconic hotel for our event!
Some 25 food fans turned out, with people from the supply side, artisan producers, chefs, and some of the instigators behind some of the more adventurous edible delights of the city.
The evening began with a short presentation from Andrew Critchett about the concept of Slow Food, a wonderful idea that began as a response to fast food, but now has a membership of over 100,000 people in 150 countries. Andrew’s point was that the aims and aspirations of Slow Food would make a good set of guidelines for the kinds of food and drink that Leeds could celebrate – and thus become all the more distinctive. You can find out more here http://slowfood.org.uk/Cms/Page/home
My little presentation reiterated some of the points that Andrew made, mainly that Leeds is incredibly well-placed in terms of geography, proximity to some of the finest producers, growers, farmers, and boasting some of the finest restaurants in the North. Leeds has a thriving market, great transport and some of the best food in the UK on our doorstep… so what’s stopping us?
The discussion that followed was both informative and passionate. Topics included the difficulty for local suppliers to sell directly to larger organisations who have centralised purchasing teams and where economy of scale is part of the equation.
Other conversations covered the difficulty for consumers to access the information they might need to eat and buy local food and drink – although Deliciouslyorkshire was recognised as a useful site for some purposes, and an active participant in fairs and shows, but not ideal if you are searching for an outlet. It was also noted that the cost to join was prohibitive and the criteria less than rigorous. We discussed schemes like their Deliciouslyorkshirebreakfast accreditation which costs £50, requires receipts and seems to provide no more than a window sticker.
We also talked about how few local food and drink outlets were in Leeds – compared to Huddersfield or out in the countryside.
It was agreed that if food was to be part of the experience in Leeds, it has to be underpinned by local support and involvement – people talked of their favourite shops, some hidden away, some better known, in general it was agreed that more flexible opening may help – as we all work long hours and ‘normal’ shopping hours’ are not always possible… the supermarkets do it, so perhaps a late-night shopping day might work?
Overall it was agreed that it would certainly help if there was some kind single web site or similar that could point people to locally made and farmed foods available in Leeds, in retail or restaurant. Some made the point that is was often hard to include local information as an independent directory – that whatever was done would need strong leadership and some considerable impetus, which may be difficult to maintain if it was entirely free and voluntary?
We agreed that this was a good start, and that it would be useful to stay in touch and build on this small network…
The rest of the evening was taken up with more generalised networking – once more it was good to see people making connections and sharing contacts.
All in all, another great meeting, many thanks to everyone who contributed – there were no clear answers, but perhaps the question became clearer.
The next Experience Leeds will be in November….