Cast your mind back a quarter of a century. ‘Craft beer’ didn’t exist, street food was probably a bag of chips and fusion sounded like something electrical. OK, a certain Robert Owen Brown (above) was probably spit-roasting a whole steer in a car park somewhere, but without his carnivore core audience baying for a commentary. How the scene was about to change.
Flash forward to the 25th Manchester Food and Drink Festival (September 15-26) – a landmark event guaranteed, given I’ve been there from the beginning, to make me feel old. As will the climactic Manchester Food and Drink Awards gala dinner. So many of the places I’ve been instrumental in garnering gongs for as a veteran judge are no longer with us.
Melancholy aside, what a remarkable transformation for the better has taken place in our expectations and how they are catered for. This is reflected in the first wave of the 2022 programme, full details of which are on the website. Cathedral Gardens will once again host the free to attend Festival Hub with its array of street food traders and bars… plus the Artisan Food Market, open from 15th–18th and 22nd–25th from midday to 7pm.
Among the special events and masterclasses my initial enthusiasm is for the first ever Festival Fire Pit Takeover, coming to the Hub for both long weekends. Sponsored by Weber, it will invite some of the region’s best loved chefs to cook over fire. These will include Caroline Martins, founder of the Sao Paolo Project, Fazenda exec chef Francisco Martinez and, yes, Robert Owen Brown.
The Hub will also feature the Octopus Cookbook Confidential demo kitchen on Saturday 24th September in collaboration with the publishing house of that name. Top chefs and industry experts will come together to share their tips and knowledge in cookery demos and debate. Spaces are free but limited and can be booked now.
Best known of the participants is probably telly’s Kate Humble, but my hot tip is don’t miss Jaega Wise, award-winning brewer/TV and radio presenter, going head to head with spirits guru Joel Harrison in conversation with Neil Ridley, subject Beer vs Cocktails.
Away from the festival hub, an array of activities will be taking place across Manchester city centre. Tickets are available to buy here for the Wine and Fizz Festival in a new home that’s the talk of Manchester. It will be the first event to be held in NOMA district’s New Century, currently being repurposed to open as new events hall and food hub from September. Cork of the North, Grape to Grain and sake masters UKiYO Republic re the first names on the team sheet for that kick-off.
Look out, too for a £25 for 25 years menu collaboration for the duration of the festival. Already signed up to provide these menu bargains are District, Embankment Kitchen, Three Little Words, Mi and Pho, Shoryu Ramen, Tast and Society.