Stephen Jardine: Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight

TODAY marks the start of Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight. Over the next two weeks, in excess of 300 events are scheduled to take place up and down the country.
Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jane BarlowStephen Jardine. Picture: Jane Barlow
Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jane Barlow

From beer festivals to jam-making competitions, the annual celebration showcases the amazing diversity of our food and drink culture.

But here is not where the real test lies. To understand where we stand in the food and drink world, we need to see ourselves as others see us.

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I’m just back from a week in New York and a food journey was a salutary reminder of how far we still have to travel. On my first day I visited the vast Farmers Market in Union Square. It takes place three times a week and features 150 stallholders selling everything from honey to oysters and vegetables.

With prices in line with local stores, it was buzzing with ordinary shoppers as well as with local chefs who arrived early to pick up inspiration for their menus.

But it is just the tip of the iceberg. In New York, local food markets aren’t just chattering spots for middle-class foodies but rather a key way of feeding the city. From the Bronx to Brooklyn, more than 600 now exist in the city, directly connecting producers with the public. To combat this massive movement, even local convenience stores are being dressed up to look more like indoor markets and less like quick and cheap places to shop.

And people aren’t just choosing to food shop in the streets of the Big Apple. It’s where they are choosing to eat as well.

Street food may have started to arrive in Scotland, but in the States it is everywhere and booming.

On a street corner in Greenwich Village I watched two young Mexican cooks set up a cart on the edge of the pavement.

By the time the first food was ready on the grill, a lunchtime queue of about 50 people had formed.

With delicious tacos starting at just $3 or about £1.80, that was hardly surprising. What was unusual was the fact that they told me they worked for a company with four restaurants and three food carts located around the city.

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To encourage this new food culture, licensing authorities have been flexible and supportive. That’s something our local authorities really need to learn from here.

Over and above all that is an even greater emphasis on service. America has always excelled at delivering great customer experience, but the bite of the recession has led to even sharper standards and warmer welcomes.

So as our annual food and drink festival begins, there is a reason to celebrate but no room for complacency.

We have the produce and the talent at home but we shouldn’t be ashamed to look abroad for ideas to take our journey on the next big step.