Quality key to the Taste festivals' success

26th May 2010

In villages, towns and cities across the UK, local communities and event organisers are planning hundreds of food events. Yet few, if any, are as well known as the Taste festivals.

Established six years ago, Taste of London has grown to attract 50,000 visitors each year, while the franchise, which is part-owned by Channel 4, has now spread to other UK and international destinations. There's Taste of Birmingham, Edinburgh, Cape Town, Dublin, Amsterdam and Sydney. Come September, Taste of Milan will be held for the first time. It's an amazing success story, especially as other food events are failing.

The continued popularity of the Taste festivals, and the London event in particular, is down to the "unique nature and the quality of the restaurants" which take part, according to Hannah Pike, Taste's festival director.

"There is no other event [with] the calibre and the quality and of the Michelin-starred chefs and restaurants," she noted.

This year's London event will be attended by La Gavroche and Gary Rhodes from Rhodes 24, while celebrity chefs Heston Blumenthal and Rick Stein are also taking part.

"These kinds of chefs haven't and won't do any other type of event… Heston, in particular, never does a live event format," Ms Pike added.

Another unique feature of the events is that Taste also draws people and companies who tend to favour displaying their produce at local farmers markets, rather than on the high-street, under the one roof.

Although other events have struggled during the economic downturn, the Taste festivals have been "quite recession-proof", she noted, adding that this was probably thanks to the pricing and ticket structure.

"There are certain different levels, so you could either get a standard ticket at £20 or a Laurent-Perrier Masterclass at £75."

The markets to which the tickets were positioned to seem to have gotten through the recession without too much of an issue, she said. "Last year's event we sold out at 50,000 visitors so it didn't seem to put anyone off."

"Certainly sponsorship has been tough but we've had the best year ever working with British Airways, Waitrose, Peugeot, San Pellegrino, O2, Laurent-Perrier and an amazing list of great quality brands who have chosen to stop their other activity in favour of just doing Taste of London," she noted.

The event organisers are hopeful that this year's Taste of London, which takes place from June 17-20th, will be equally as successful as previous years. "It'll be a sell out at 50,000," Ms Pike predicted, adding that even visitors who have been before will find something new to discover.

Some 40 per cent of the restaurants taking part this year have never previously been to Taste before, while it's also Heston Blumenthal first time at the event.

"We also have Rick Stein with our Taste of Malaysia area. Those are probably the biggies – the restaurant area and the two celebrity chefs," the event organiser added.

A new area for the festival, Taste of Malaysia will focus on the country's cultures, traditions - including the tea ceremony - and its food. Other sections include the Waitrose Kitchen and the AG main theatre, "which is where all of the big chefs come and do demonstrations". Nyetimber, an English sparkling wine, will be offered for tastings, alongside samples of salmon, while visitors can opt to also visit other areas for the chance to chat to small-scale wine producers about their vintages.

But the Taste organisers aren't neglecting the rest of the UK. In Edinburgh, from May 28th-30th, Jean-Christophe Novelli and Rachel Allen will be showing off their skills, while Birmingham's event, from July 16th-18th, will feature Midlands-based restaurants and top Indian chef Angela Malik.

Next stop Milan!