Our intrepid food columnist Jan Fullwood explores the delights of Ware Food Festival and our fab local independent food businesses
I love visiting food festivals. The chance to mooch round, taking in the sights and aromas, seeking out lunch and goodies to take home, knowing there will be something a bit special and different to try. I love chatting to the stall holders to find out their stories and test their treats.
So I was pleased to see that Ware was holding its 7th Annual Food Festival on a scorcher of a Sunday in June. I popped over – tasting spoon at the ready – and though small, it was perfectly formed: music, entertainment and food stalls on every side of Tudor Square. Queues were stretching across the square for Mediterranean delights from Smokengreek BBQ to be followed by massive slices of cookie from Jimmys Cookie Cakes, or ice creams from Mauds Ice Creams.
Proto Artisan’s success story
Tempting though these were, my first stop was at the Proto-Artisan Bakery stall. As a fan of real, homemade bread, I was intrigued to find out more about this family-run bakery whose products I’d seen popping up around the area. Turns out James is one of the success stories of Lockdown. Along with wife Jo-Anne and son Josh, they have made a successful business out of a passion when Covid threw us all a curveball.
Whilst many were dabbling with mastering sourdough, this former taxi driver took it to another level. A keen amateur, he converted his garage to a bakery, honed his art and took the plunge to make and supply artisan baked goods. Asking how he manages to churn out such consistent product, the reply was “practice makes perfect”; not surprising when you’re making 500 loaves a day. You’ve got to love an early start to survive this business, James had been up since 2.30am, and already most of the products had sold, flying off the stall literally like the hot cakes they were.
I’d missed the sourdough focaccia, but tested the poppy seed loaf and Portuguese custard tarts, pastel de nata (with puff pastry lovingly made from scratch no less) and a suitably swirly cinnamon bun. Their reputation for ‘real bread’ is growing, and they are turning mass orders down, preferring not to compromise on quality, but to keep their regular small independents happy.
As for the next stage in their journey, the great news is that they have found new premises in Amwell End, near Ware station, where they plan to have an open kitchen to show off their enviable skills and serve coffee to the lucky Ware residents. Proto Artisan Bakery is currently hiring staff – head to our jobs board to find out more. You can also have Proto Artisan’s products delivered to you via our Happeninginherts Shop Local Online Store.
Healy’s Kitchen and Taco Libre…
Another person who has turned his lockdown fortunes around is James Healy. I met him at the Taco Libre stall where he was serving hungry festival goers the mouth-watering choice between lamb barbacoa, jerk chicken or red miso butternut, piled into tortillas made with locally milled Redbournbury flour.
James learnt his trade by starting in the ‘wash pit’ at The Foragers in St Albans, but worked his way up to sous chef through persistence and enthusiasm. More recently he moved to Mr Tanaka’s Japanese-inspired restaurant in Hertford, but the first Lockdown meant furlough, so like many other young chefs he reinvented himself.
He set up Healy’s Kitchen catering and his taco business, running a pop-up on Sundays 4-9pm from Cafe 77, an old shipping container that has been converted to a cafe in the small village of Codicote, keeping the locals well fed. They also sell a range of seasonal hot sauces including a spicy-sounding cherry and habanero and sweet chilli.
French & Day in Ware
You’ll find these stocked at the new deli in Ware, French & Day, along with the Proto Artisan goodies. A welcome new addition to the town, the deli opened its doors in December 2020. The owners, Tom French and Thomas Day, have turned their passion for good food into a business showcasing quality local products. Pop in to try their mouth-watering array of cheeses and meats, or try their suggestions by ordering their tasting menu.
Double Truffle afoot in Hunsdon…
It would have been rude not to pay Kate Ash of Double Truffle a visit, I’m not one to refuse chocolate. Kate runs her business through social media; another self-taught person who turned her hobby into a business at the end of December 2020. Based in Hunsdon, she delivers for free within 3 miles and charges £5 postage for delivery anywhere in the UK. Her Father’s Day selection boxes were the perfect gift, and her chocolate shoes would please any chocoholic Imelda Marcos wannabes. I pandered to my own inner chocoholic and didn’t leave empty handed.
I left feeling really positive about the future of food and independent enterprises. So many positives have come out of negatives, and necessity has often turned people’s fortunes around. We need to vote with our feet, support them and keep businesses such as these alive.
The pandemic has made us rethink our shopping habits with many shopping closer to home. We should consider the provenance of food, buy quality over quantity wherever possible to reduce food waste, buy local to reduce food miles and give these people a fighting chance to outdo the huge conglomerates who threaten to dominate our food choices.
In the meantime, there are other food festivals and events to look forward to this summer, so let’s hope the weather is just as kind and restrictions are finally fully lifted. As French & Day proclaim with their motto, ‘Don’t eat to live, live to eat’. I couldn’t agree more.
Other Hertfordshire food festivals to enjoy this summer
Hertford Castle Beer and World Food Festival is planned for 14-15 August 2021. The usual links with town brewery McMullens promise a large beer tent, plus stalls and live music. Cookery demonstrations and promotions are promised, hosted by the town’s bars and restaurants.
On a larger scale, Knebworth Great British Food Festival July 17th &18th is celebrating its 10th year. It promises something for everyone, with foraging walks, kids cookery, baking and BBQ demonstrations and activities for the whole family.
Chef Tom Kerridge brings his Pubinthepark event to Verulamium Park September 10-12th which combines food and music, with All Saints, Lightning Seeds and Gabrielle headlining.