Festival fever as thousands flock to Bolton 

John Torode with Michaela Daubney
John Torode, with Michaela Daubney (member of the audience) tasting a dish

Tens of thousands of foodies flocked to Bolton for the town’s biggest Food and Drink Festival to date.

Organisers are still calculating visitor figures but early indications suggest they are set to top last year’s 130,000 over the four days, with festival goers from as far afield as Australia, Bahamas, New Zealand and across the UK.

Celebrity chefs including Andrew Nutter, Debbie Halls-Evans, and Jackie Kearney, along with stall-holders also took part in an ice bucket challenge on Monday for a festival finale.

Thousands of people visited the festival over four days (Aug 22 to 25) and sampled culinary delights from 130 stalls; watched celebrity and local chefs in a series of demonstrations in Victoria Square, Bolton Market on Ashburner St, and the Market Place Shopping Centre marquee; listened to free live music, and enjoyed entertainment from various street artists.

Two Michelin starred Michael Caines launched the festival on Friday with a free demo where he cooked carrot soup and beef. Michael said: “I enjoy being here and being part of this event. It’s a highlight of my year and I really look forward to coming back to Bolton.

“Festivals like this are part of the regeneration in town centres and it brings in local producers giving them a chance to connect with the people.”

Leader of Bolton Council, Cllr Cliff Morris, said that a big hit this year was the addition of the free family area on Le Mans Crescent with CBeebies star Katy Ashworth, and the Octagon Theatre putting on performances of Peter Pan and Wendy.

“We’ve had some fantastic feedback from festival goers and one thing we know for sure is that Katy has gone down a real treat with young food fans and really brought that family element in. We’re already thinking ahead to next year which is the tenth festival so it’s a special one, and how we can make it the best one yet,” he added.

“The feedback we've had from the chefs, visitors, traders and town centre businesses has been really good. It's become a truly international festival with visitors coming from as far as Australia as well as from all over the UK. We're on course to at least equal last year's visitors figure if numbers so far are anything to go by.”

Katy, who put on free shows daily, said: “It’s been brilliant. Bolton has got a really good vibe about it. There’s a real warmth from people here and everyone has been saying how much they enjoyed the shows.”

Italian chef Gino D’Acampo was a hit on Saturday as he entertained a packed marquee. He said: “I’ve been here before and I think it’s great. The people make it. Anyone who’s not come here before, you’re crazy!”

Masterchef star John Torode made his first appearance at the festival this year. He said: “The great thing about this festival is that for the last nine years, people have worked together to actually make it grow, and get better and bigger. It’s incredible because few places have the guts to turn around and say look how good we are and set up all their streets and bring out all the people.”

And festival favourite James Martin brought the weekend to a close on Monday. He said: “I remember when it first started and every year when I come back it’s even bigger. It’s pretty impressive. It’s great to have Katy from CBeebies here as well and even more stallholders. It’s a pleasure to be invited back.”

As well as the celebrity chefs, the weekend saw a host of free demonstrations from the likes of Manchester House’s Aiden Byrne, Andrew Nutter, Debbie Halls-Evans, and former Corrie star Sean Wilson - all of whom also cooked up some fine food for the Magnificent Seven Gala Dinner at the Holiday Inn on Friday.

Chef Aiden Byrne, who was a big hit in the Market Place marquee and at the gala dinner, said: “It’s my first time here. The array of stalls on offer is unbelievable. The people of Bolton should be very proud of the festival. I’d love to come back next year and play a bigger part in the festival, without a shadow of a doubt.”

Die-hard festival goers travelled from all over to see their favourite chefs. Susan Singleton from Glasgow, age 37, woke up at 4am to watch Gino D’Acampo. She said: “I’ve watched Gino before and he’s always funny. Me and my friends come every year, the first time was about four years ago. The festival’s great, it’s definitely getting bigger. There’s a lot more things to do and it’s massive now. The music tents are excellent.”

Traders were very pleased with the turnout. Masterchef finalist Jackie Kearney from The Hungry Gecko, who also did a free cookery demo and judged a local chefs’ challenge, said: “It’s fantastic to be back at the festival. I love the people of Bolton. I can see the crowds, people appreciate the food, the traders and producers here are outstanding.”

Richard Campbell of Drum and Baste, who make woodfired pizzas, said it was their first time at the festival this year. “Everyone’s talking about Bolton Food and Drink Festival, how could we not have heard of it – we just had to come,” he added.

To keep up to date with the latest festival news, see www.boltonfoodanddrinkfestival.com, visit Facebook and search for Bolton Food and Drink Festival, search for #boltonfoodfest, follow @boltonfoodfest on Twitter.

Bolton Food and Drink Festival is organised by Bolton Council and sponsored by Bluemantle, Market Place Shopping Centre, Stateside Foods and University of Bolton.

Partners include Bolton Market, Crompton Place Shopping Centre, Greenhalgh’s, ISG, Kro Bar, Marriott, and The Octagon Theatre. 

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