WHEN Colchester Food and Drink Festival first took place 17 years ago, chef Malcolm Long had a slightly different role.
He could be found showcasing his skills at fashioning breathtaking floral displays out of vegetables and speaking to festival-goers about the courses on offer at Colchester Institute where he was a senior lecturer for more than three decades.
In recent years, and now running his own successful restaurant, he has taken up the challenge of organising the chef demonstrations at the hugely-popular culinary event.
This year, as well as its 17th year, the festival will also mark the 125th anniversary of the Castle Park which hosts the two-day event at the end of June.
Don Quinn, director of the event, has added a competition in honour of the occasion encouraging bakers of all levels to create a cake for Castle Park and a beer, Catchpool’s Legacy, has also been brewed up in memory of the man who gave the park to the town.
Alongside the demonstrations and chance to try a host of food from across the world there will also be a large number of exhibitors at the popular event.
Malcolm says the demonstrations are about enabling those who attend to see chefs at work and be able to pick up tips and suggestions as well as watching them create top quality food.
“Food now is such a big thing, everybody loves it so much you get people who plonk themselves down at the start of the day in the marquee where we do the demonstrations and they just stay there, from the minute we start right to the end.
“Watching every single bit and leaving believing they can go home and recreate it at home,” explains Malcolm.
He says he has a format for the demonstrations.
“I make something and make sure it looks absolutely brilliant and then I get the audience to taste it. And then we go through exactly how it was done, bit by bit.”
He says he believes the attraction is finding out exactly how professional chefs work.
“I personally think for a long while cooking was not taught right in schools, they were doing a lot of theory and not enough practical teaching and so it has led to about three generations who cannot really cook as they only had a cursory education.
“So in my demonstrations I think it is really important to show how to sharpen a knife, how to peel something properly or chop and dice things up.
“Simple things like filleting a fish or kneading bread in the right way. People love to see it.”
The festival lines up a host of talented chefs to assist on the day - many of whom Malcolm taught during his many years at Colchester Institute.
“When I first started going along to the festival, I was demonstrating these vegetable flowers and talking about the courses we were offering at the college.
“That then led to me helping to organise the demonstrations and bringing along chefs I knew to work alongside me,” he says.
It is a role he has continued to play even after leaving the college to concentrate on running Assington Country Kitchen, at the barn at Assington, around three years ago with his partner.
They are currently in the process of majorly expanding the premises to accommodate even more diners.
One of the specialities there are platters with edible herbs and flowers which he also demonstrate how to make at the festival.
“I bring in other chefs with other skills and I have got a list of those who will come and work with me.
“There are probably very few chefs in Colchester and the wider area who I have not taught at some point and there are also many who are now working across the world in places like Australia and America.”
Among those scheduled to appear at the summer event are John Riddlestone, executive chef at the Green Room on Colchester’s North Hill, Italian chef Michael Bonacorsi who is the pizziola as Luca at Mistley and Laurianne Mayhew, pastry chef at Greyfriars.
“She comes as my assistant and was one of my students.
“She has a real wanderlust which means she has worked across the world and on yachts in the Mediterranean.
“And Luca has worked in a number of top Italian restaurants including Cesara in London and he will be showing people how to make fresh pasta and pizza so there is a real wide range for everyone’s tastes,” adds Malcolm.
“it’s just really great being able to showcase the talents of local chefs because there are so many around here.”
The festival takes place in Castle Park from 10.30am to 5pm on Saturday, June 24, and Sunday, June 25.
Admission is £4 for adults and free for children up to 14.
Entry forms are already available at www.foodanddrinkfestivalsuk.co.uk for the cake competition.