Stephen Jardine: Scotland faces challenge to stay ahead

Scotland's food and drink industry faces a challenge to stay ahead of the field. Picture: Jane Coltman
Scotland's food and drink industry faces a challenge to stay ahead of the field. Picture: Jane Coltman
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Today marks the halfway point of Scotland Food & Drink Fortnight. Originally launched as a September harvest festival, it has now grown into an annual celebration of the great progress made by the food and drink sector in Scotland, which could see turnover doubling to £30 billion by 2030. More than that, we’ve been through a food and drink revolution.

Our produce is some of the best in the world and we now have great food shops and restaurants proving we are much more than just the land of haggis and whisky. However, there is one trip hazard on the path to us becoming a great food nation.

For just as we have been changing our approach to food and drink, others have too.

It is more than 30 years since I first visited Greece but three memories have stayed with me down the years. That first trip was shaped by the scorching sunshine, beautiful beaches and absolutely appalling food and drink. The moussaka was heavy as a brick, the local wine attacked your head and stomach with equal gusto and the pork souvalaki was edible only as a drastic hangover cure. How times change.

Last week I was in Athens which is packed with cool, smart restaurants offering modern Greek cooking. It was good to see things were different but then capital cities usually have the best any country has to offer. So moving to the tiny island of Paros I braced myself for the kind of ghastly Greek food experience I remembered from the past. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Everything I ate for a week was simply sensational. From a simple salad made by the Dafereras family at home with their own sweet tomatoes and home produced olive oil to smarter restaurant meals of sharing mezes and beautiful grilled fish, it was all delicious, served with wines from the island that have won international competitions yet never even make it on to the ferry as the locals want to keep it all for themselves.

A number of factors are behind the changes in Greek food. Increased travel has brought in more visitors with higher expectations while allowing the Greeks themselves to see how others eat and drink. On top of that, the huge financial crisis forced some smart people out of jobs and many of them opted to launch clever, small-scale food and drink initiatives instead.

The improvement has been remarkable in Greece but it is mirrored elsewhere. France, Spain, Italy and Scandinavia have all taken what they had and improved it beyond all recognition and they are the places we compete with on a world stage.

For that reason, we need to keep on striving to be the best.

On 1 November, I will be hosting the first ever Scotsman Food and Drink Awards at the Corn Exchange in Edinburgh. From hidden gems to inspirational creations, the evening will showcase and celebrate the very best things happening in food and drink here.

Events like this are essential to keep on raising the bar and encouraging people to reach for the stars. When it comes to eating and drinking, keeping our competitive advantage is what matters most.