Stephen Jardine: A festive fair for our festive fayre

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WITH FREEZING temperatures and the shortest day fast approaching, this a time for home, hearth and comfort cooking.

The summer, with it’s outdoor cooking and food festivals is a distant memory. Or is it?

This weekend I’m down in Padstow at the Cornish town’s Christmas Food Festival.

When I was invited many months ago, it seemed like a very good idea. I reminded myself of that a few days ago, as I jammed coats, scarves and gloves in a bag for the journey.

Despite the snow and icy conditions, record crowds are expected. It’s being held for the fifth year running and grew out of a desire to boost winter tourism in a town that has become a mecca for food fans.

That’s largely thanks to Rick Stein who still has a range of restaurants in the town but has built a worldwide following through his books and television programmes.

Stein will be cooking this weekend alongside acclaimed chefs including Angela Hartnett, Mark Hix and Edinburgh’s own Roy Brett, who developed his love of seafood while working in Cornwall.

With demonstrations, themed dinners, a Christmas market and carol concert, it is a great example of how a community can build a tradition out of nothing.

So why is that not happening here?

Scotland has it’s big food events like the BBC Good Food Show, Taste of Edinburgh and Foodies at the Festival but these are commercial rather than community undertakings.

If we are to be taken seriously as a land of food and drink, Scotland needs events with character.

At a time when salmon and shellfish exports are at an all-time high, we should have a Scottish Seafood Festival.

Tarbert has a local seafood event over a weekend in July but it has struggled to build scale or get noticed.

So maybe it’s time for a national event in somewhere like Ullapool, celebrating the fruits of the sea but drawing in chefs from around the country. Produce landed at harbours in the Highlands ends up in top London kitchens so let’s build that relationship by taking the chefs to where the story starts.

A celebration of the fruits of the berry fields or a food festival in the Borders built around game are other possibilities.

As this weekend’s Padstow Festival proves, weather is no excuse and neither is location.

Food tourism is the future for Scotland and we need a network of great local events to provide that with a framework.

If Padstow can do it in mid-December, we can do it here. We’ve got the produce and the chefs now we just need the ambition.