Sunglasses and picnic rugs may have been swapped for raincoats and wellies but this year’s Royal Leamington Spa Food and Drink Festival was at its sizzling best.
The autumnal weather failed to keep thousands of foodies from near and far away from the tenth annual showcase of the best in local and regional food and drink at the Royal Pump Room Gardens.
The event, regarded as one of the best autumn food festivals in the country, attracted a mouth-watering array of food and drink exhibitors to mirror the town centre’s reputation for a diverse range of award-winning bars and restaurants.
From gourmet marshmallows and wild beaver pie to organic liquers and English wine, and from jerk chicken and Mexican street food, to local beer and fruity punch, all washed down with a toe-tapping set of live local music from the bandstand.
The Live Kitchen proved as popular as ever with a feast of local chefs demonstrating their culinary skills over the two days, but the spotlight was on the amateurs on Sunday with Aubrey Allen’s Home Cook of the Year competition.
The competition, which attracted more entries than ever before, saw three finalists serve a three-course meal to judges Russell Allen, managing director of Aubrey Allen, Clive Fretwell, executive chef at Brasserie Blanc, and last year’s winner Michael Abell.
Announcing Sophie Hyam as winner, Clive said: “Fabulous flavours from everyone. Fabulous combinations and textures. But on the sheer technical skill, unanimously Sophie.”
Sophie, from Coventry, who was a finalist in last year’s contest, said: “I had to win – I’m so competitive! I’m over the moon. I practiced so much my husband probably ate lamb for about five weeks!”
The Great Leamington Bake-Off for young and older bakers featured tray bakes, chocolate cakes, tarts, celebration cakes and new for this year, bread.
Having won the Celebration Cake category last year, Susann Gallion retained the crown with a stunning rustic watering can as the centrepiece.
Susann, from Warwick, said: “I didn’t expect to win again but I’m delighted. I only just did it the night before and it took me about six hours to make. It’s my thing – I relax when I bake!”
Stephanie Kerr, executive director of BID Leamington, said: “It’s been a fantastic two days and a more than fitting celebration of a decade of the Leamington Food and Drink Festival.
“We had torrential rain on Saturday and a river of water running into our information tent at one point, but we managed to clear it relatively quickly and then the sun came out again which was amazing.
“We have not had rain like that at the festival before. Everyone coped really well and the traders remained really upbeat. Overall it was a great weekend and once again I would like to extend our thanks to the sponsors, Brooks Macdonald and the many traders and amazing volunteers who support this event year on year!”