As the organisers of Crail Food Festival get ready to host its 10th event, we speak to some of those who have been involved in it since day one about their highlights and why they think it has been so successful.
The East Neuk, and Fife in general, has built up a stellar reputation for being at the forefront of the country’s food and drink offering.
Many producers are based in the region, taking full advantage of the natural bounty of the land and sea. It’s perhaps the reason why the annual Crail Food Festival has been such a success since 2010.
As the event was postponed in June 2020 due to the pandemic, the festival was unable to mark its 10th birthday when it was expected to. So, this year, all the stops are being pulled out to ensure it is still showcasing the very best the East Neuk has to offer, albeit in a hybrid of virtual and in-person format.
While the stage is being set for the event on the weekend of June 4-6, take a trip down memory lane as we speak to some of those who have been involved in the event since its inaugural year…
Many people involved in the festival over the years will tell you that much of its success is down to its creator, Graham Anderson, who also runs the Honeypot Guest House and Tea Room in Crail.
Having been inspired by a seafood festival in Johnshaven, Graham felt that his new home in the East Neuk village would make the perfect setting for a similar event.
He says: “The idea came from a visit I had when I was going up to Aberdeen one day, and I saw a sign that said ‘seafood festival’ at Johnshaven.
“They had a festival going in the harbour and there were people grilling mackerel in barrels, the sort of stuff you can’t do now, and it was just great fun.
“Then when I came to Crail in 2008 to live, I bought the Honeypot as a guest house and cafe. I walked down to the harbour and thought ‘that is just crying out for a food festival’. It just looked awesome in terms of the setting.”
Inspired by the seafood festival he’d seen in the north-east, Graham set about making it happen on his doorstep, with raising the money being the first order of the day.
He continued: “So by about 2010 I’d developed the idea to create a food festival in Crail. I suppose the challenge then, although I didn’t appreciate it, was to create an event with me having very little knowledge of the food and beverage sector. There was also the fact that Crail itself was not really renowned as a food and drink destination.
“I had teamed up with a local guesthouse owner and we were both interested in food. We decided to have a fundraising night in the wee hall and we raised £2,100, which I couldn’t believe. It was apparently the highest turnover for a community event in many years in the area. Then that was all the budget we had for the very first festival in 2010.”
“From that, we created the event at the harbour, with some stalls and using the town hall.”
The first event
With only a couple of thousand pounds to spend on the festival, Graham had planned to have a few stalls with a small set up in the village hall. But when a funder got in touch a few weeks before the event itself, he was able to escalate the festival’s offering.
He adds: “Three or four weeks before the event itself, I got a call from Fiona Richmond at Scotland Food and Drink. I’d met her at a food exhibition when I was looking for stuff to buy for the Honeypot.
“She said they had some money left in their budget and they wanted to use it for something and thought about us. She first asked me to justify what we would do with the extra money and I went around everyone on the committee and nobody had an answer.
“So I thought, ‘if I had an extra £2,000, what would I do?’, then I called her back and said we would use it to have a dinner on one of the nights of the festival and we’d also have extra stalls at the harbour. She came back to me within about 48 hours and said ‘that’s fine Graham’ and we were granted the extra funding.
“That dinner ended up being the main highlight of the festival and that extra funding turned it around. Without it, the festival would’ve just been half a dozen stalls and some juice, biscuits and oatcakes. It would’ve looked pretty bad. But that £2,000 just allowed us to do so much more and it was a turning point.
“Then in the following year, I started to personally get to know a few more people and that’s when some of the collaborations started, which became a feature in the festival in the early years.”
Fife food ambassador
Fife’s food ambassador, Christopher Trotter, has been involved in the festival since the very beginning and relishes the fact that the event has helped to put the region on the map as being a place of fine food and drink.
He says: “I’ve been involved pretty much from the word go, though not every single year. I was approached in the very early days by Graham Anderson who, in my view, is totally responsible for its success.
“His ability to get people to do stuff is remarkable, especially for someone who doesn’t know a huge amount about food! He just galvanised the community from the very first year.
“Crail is an area where the shellfish is phenomenal, it’s a very pretty little part of the world and they’ve got all sorts of things coming in. Actually, Crail is extraordinary because now it’s got bespoke shops, a delicatessen, a wee crab shop and a bread shop as well. So, for a small village, it’s extremely well stocked with good quality stuff.
“I think it has also put Crail on the map, there’s no doubt about that.”
In his role, Christopher was able to help showcase Fife’s fine fare at the event, first setting up a “taster plate” to introduce people to the region’s foodie offering.
He continued: “One of my highlights is from the very first one in 2010. It was very exciting and Graham asked me if I wanted to do something at the festival. I would love to repeat it but logistically it might not be very easy, but I contacted food producers from all over the region and created a ‘Fife taster plate’.
“I was in the church hall, on a table at the very end of a row of stalls and as people came up to the table I’d give them a little platter of food with about seven different things on it from smoked fish, cheese from St Andrews Farmhouse Cheese Co, vegetables, a cured meat – just a different range of things.
“Then we had a map showing where all these producers had come from – and actually one or two of them were at the festival anyway so people could go and have a chat with them. It also helped people to visualise the extraordinary variety of stuff coming from Fife and where it all came from.”
As a trained chef, Christopher was also able to assist in some of the demonstrations at the festival.
He added: “The second highlight was maybe two or three years later, when the market was down right on the quayside, and the weather was great. I was right on the pier with the chap who was dressing crabs, then he was passing some of the meat to me and the shell and I was making a crab stock and cooking stuff with crab, such as risotto. It was to show people the variety of stuff you can do with crab.
“We’d do the demonstration every hour or so for around 20 minutes and I really enjoyed doing that. It was great fun and there were a lot of people who didn’t know much about crab who were trying it. It really helped people to realise where their food was coming from and what to do with it.”
One of only two chefs based in Fife to hold a Michelin Star, Geoffrey Smeddle of the Peat Inn, has been a regular guest to Crail Food Festival and has never turned down the opportunity to take part during the event.
He says: “There are a few highlights from the Crail food festival for me. I’m very fond of Crail, I think it’s a very pretty town and the festival brings an opportunity to roam and explore a beautiful location. I don’t know how they manage it but it always seems to coincide with beautiful weather as well.
“There’s also, no matter what age you are, they always have something that will appeal.
“I think what is really special is that the organisers behind the festival have changed over the years and I think that’s very healthy as what that’s meant for the festival is it brings a new energy and allows it to evolve.
“As a chef, I get asked to attend a lot of food festivals and food demonstrations and I can’t say yes to all of them. But I always love saying yes to Crail. That’s not just because it’s on my doorstep nor because I think Crail is a beautiful place. I just think the festival is very diverse, fascinating, very well organised and it really does showcase some fantastic producers and growers.
“I think the festival typifies the best of Fife. Crail may be at the ends of the earth in terms of location but it really is worth a journey as I can’t imagine anyone would go to the food festival and not have a wonderful time.”
Another one of Fife’s top chefs, Jamie Scott of The Newport, has been a regular visitor and guest in the past and also enjoys the atmosphere the event brings to the village.
He said: “The Crail Food Festival is very important to Fife’s food and drink scene. It’s almost like the bloodline that connects the suppliers and the wholesalers in Fife to everyone else because it really highlights and showcases the East Neuk especially, and further afield.
“It brings everything together in a beautiful setting and have done a lot of stuff over the years, whether it’s been food and drink demonstrations, fine dining events, there was a banquet one year, there’s been a little food truck on the harbour, there’s been so much and it’s just such a great festival to be a part of.
“The harbour has always been a highlight, when they used to do the food down there. It’s just such a beautiful setting, Crail harbour is absolutely stunning. Four years ago we did a seafood pop-up at the festival and there were four or five of us in a row – two bars and Iain Spink doing his smokies on the far end. We had bands playing all day and it was great weather, and was just a great atmosphere.”