The sun came out to the delight of thousands of foodies who poured into the Pump Room Gardens for this year’s Royal Leamington Spa Food and Drink Festival.
The annual two-day event, which is estimated to have attracted at least 25,000 visitors yet again making it one of the largest free food and drink festivals in the UK, was organised by BID Leamington with the support of local businesses over the weekend.
It was the festival’s eighth year and saw more than 150 local retailers and food vendors showcase a diverse range of food and drink from a vast array of exotic cuisines, including the Caribbean and Asia.
The icing on the cake for this year’s festivities was the first ever Leamington Bake Off, which was hosted by Sweet As Cake Emporium and attracted 19 entrants who entered 30 cakes and traybake goodies between them.
The prestigious Bake Off title was awarded to Zoe Eardley, aged 24 who lives in Leamington. She was delighted to have been crowned the winner after she entered a fishing themed lemon cream celebration cake which wowed the judges.
“It feels great to have won the contest, I saw some of the other entries and there was definitely some stiff competition!” she said.
“I have a real passion for decorating cakes, which is what I spent most of last night up doing! My boyfriend originally encouraged me to enter a cake into the contest and having never competed in anything like this before it feels like a great achievement.”
Both celebration cakes and traybakes were entered by participants – including a husband and wife who competed against each other – with entries marked on presentation, taste and texture.
Contestants as young as five were judged by three highly regarded local chefs; Jenny Hudson of Sweet As Cake Emporium, Peter Knibb of Restaurant 23 and Laura Hamilton, of Queans Restaurant.
Jenny Hudson said: “We’ve been hosting our own exhibit at the festival for six years now and this year wanted to do something a bit different.
“And with the Great British Bake Off airing on TV and there being a real passion for baking at the moment, we saw the festival as a great opportunity for local amateur bakers to showcase their talent. “We’ve tried 30 cakes today and they have all been really amazing, we’ve been so impressed with the calibre of entries.”
Now in its second year, the Aubrey Allen ‘Home Cook of the Year’ competition was won by Jonathan Carter who bowled over judges and spectators alike in a live cook-off to present a delectable three course menu based around lamb loin wrapped in pancetta.
Judges included Michelin chefs Martyn Pearn, from Oscar’s French Bistro in Leamington, and Adam Bennett from The Cross at Kenilworth, as well as last year’s winner Kate Reddington and Warwick and Leamington Spa MP Chris White.
Live music from local favourites featuring Thom Kirkpatric, Jazulou Jazz Trio, The Rock Bottom, Gebby Eaton and more provided a relaxing backdrop and entertained the crowds. Other popular attractions over the two days included the Taste Trail, the Kids Cookery School and tastings and demonstrations on the BBQ Masterclass and Live Kitchen.
Stephanie Kerr, of BID Leamington which organises the festival with the support of local businesses, said: “Every year the festival gets more popular and this year has been no exception.
“It has a great reputation amongst traders and visitors come from far and wide each year which is testament to the high standard of produce and entertainment on offer as well as the hard work from staff and volunteers.”
Alison Shaw, also of BID Leamington, added: “The event is a fantastic way to showcase the town and local economy and we would like to say a big thank you to everyone who supports the festival each year, including the traders, local businesses, volunteers and visitors who make it an exciting, fun and resounding success every year.”