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The old chapel, Conwy – Blinc Digital Arts Festival

I am a lover of food. My scales will confirm this. My love is for GOOD food though, not junk. I would say Olive oil is my major cholesterol weakness and I blame much of that on Jamie Oliver. And so I approached the Conwy Feast food festival on Friday night, tingling in anticipation of not only the endless miles stalls of delicious stalls from which to grab taster after taster, but also the acclaimed  Blinc digital arts show taking place in the evening.

My first foray into the festival was up at the True Taste tent by the city wall, where my sister Denise (Moel Faban Secret Supper Club) was demonstrating her exemplary skills at both fruit and vegetable jam making. Flanked by Rhun ap Iorwerth as commentator, she squeezed, stirred, pulped and boiled her way to culinary god-like-genius status, as people drifted rapidly in to the space,  rendered powerless by the sweet aromas wafting through the tents.

Moel Faban Secret Supper Club jam-making demo

Following her successful exhibit and the ensuing mass crush to experience the intriguing tomato jam, we ventured down to the harbour towards the oyster cocktail bar. Having had a not-so-pleasant experience with oysters once before (including significant expulsion of said oyster) I was understandably dubious about setting myself up for a similar situation. But watching my 10 year old nephew happily glug one down I felt the family not-so-peer pressure was imminent and so ensued my second sea-bogey foray. Aside from the look and texture, oysters are not repulsive in taste (if you like salty sea taste, that is, which fortunately I kind of do) They are constantly overrated though, in my humble opinion. As with many ‘delicacies’, just because you can eat something which is primarily a challenge, does not necessarily make it actually worth eating. Snails are my chief example. No matter how orgasmically sumptuous the sauce in which they are cooked, they are essentially just slugs with a shell. Which taste like slugs from a shell. Whoever originally managed to convince people they somehow had any worthy qualities in either flavour or texture was clearly a very impressive practical joker.

The Oyster Bar

Anyhow, I digress. The oyster stayed happily southward bound and we continued to wander around the harbour, in and out of tents and amongst piles of hypnotising goodies intent on sending me home with an extra chin. From cheeses to wines to pickles to cakes to ale to oil and even retro shots tasting like skittles (which really did!) we eventually emerged to the biting winds of the North Walean coast. Heads and bellies spinning, we felt in need of refuge in a pub but of course, this being Conwy Feast weekend, the only table free was in the restaurant thus forcing us to eat yet more food! Well, if fate insists, who am I to disagree? After a brief respite – cue both elderly and youthful power naps – we wound our way to the beer tent to watch the light parade. The culmination of frantic lantern-making workshops taking place the week before the festival, the parade starts at dusk. Headed by groups of wide-grinning children and parents, proudly holding aloft their handiwork, it builds to a drum-assisted crescendo with huge glowing creatures built from timber and translucent paper.

The Light Parade

Standing in the throng which unsurprisingly surrounded the beer tent, I suddenly caught a glimpse of flashes of light in the distance. Turning to look towards the estuary, my attention was caught by a laser display, sweeping in bursts across the bay like morse code and illuminating darkened areas of the water. But this was merely an understated prologue. We were soon standing mesmerised as huge projections swarmed the facade of the castle; poetry (written and spoken), illustration, kaleidoscopic shapes, dance, still life. Each projected back at the audience a link, a connection with the building. Using the walls as canvas, the works brought the castle to life. Somewhat unexpectedly, the spectacle allowed me to see the building more than I had before.  As with an object such as a mirror, for example, combining the artwork with a canvas which can itself change, distort and amend the image, you will undoubtedly end up with a fused piece. The canvas becomes part of the work in a pro-active way. Had the same projection been shown on a screen shortly afterwards, it would have invoked an entirely separate and probably very different, response. The town was alive. As the castle had been the fusion object at first, now the whole town performed the same function, scaled up. Crowds of families, teenagers, couples, friends, marched around the centre of Conwy, stopping at every new installation discovered. Sometimes bordering on trippy, sometimes unsettling and usually just downright beautiful, the projections at the old chapel and Plas Mawr, amongst others, had most of us ooohing and ahhhing as if it were already Guy Fawkes Night.

View from Conwy Castle walls towards the estuary

Blinc digital arts festival

Blinc projection on the old chapel

Pumpkin, tomato and strawberry jams made by Moel Faban Supper Club

Blinc

Stone sculpture by Richard Hackett

Blinc projection on Plas Mawr

Blinc projection on Conwy Castle

Conwy harbour

Light Parade finale

Castle wall detail

Oyster bin

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Global Feast

I must admit I’m not the biggest Olympics advocate. What with the the corporate bullying, unbelievably over-budget figure, the security farce and the fact that the British public (who paid heavily out of their own pockets for the disruption and overcrowding) have been constantly pushed to the back of the priority line when it comes to all the upsides. But, if you’re going to be involved, then damn well do it properly, as has Alex Haw, of Atmos, with his superb Global Feast.

Merging architecture and design with Olympic expression, Alex focused refreshingly on the global aspect, a welcome contrast to the popular hysterical outpouring of garish patriotism which we have been forced to bear witness to. Part brainchild of Kerstin Rodgers (The Underground Restaurant) and part designer’s dream, the concept was to bring together chefs and supper clubs from around the world to collaborate in a one-off event and to celebrate the most pertinent point of the Olympic theatre; that is, its role in bringing together nations from around the world, celebrating difference and variety.

Alex Haw at Global Feast

Kerstin with Denise and Aoife

What has emerged is two glorious weeks of cutting-edge cuisine, served up in the courtyard of Stratford Town Hall every evening by different chefs, the metaphorical food compass moving each day as the event continues. This fabulous culinary melee is set around a unique table centrepiece; a vision in MDF. The planet, in all it’s map-flattened glory and contoured loveliness, is presented through the Equidistant Cylindrical map of the world as the pièce de résistance of a year of planning and technical calculation. One look and you grasp instantly that blood, sweat, all-nighters and a lot of espresso went into the birth of this baby.

Equidistant Cylindrical Map Table Centrepiece

Table detail

On finally arriving, after being herded through the mass of over excited Olympic fans taking photographs of stairs and the like, I was handed a complimentary Courvoisier cocktail and a tantalising canape from a vast array. Very nice too, and certainly not my last. A quick tour of the table by Alex and starters were served; a blue cheese salad with sweet pickled cherries and small flowers, courtesy of Aoife Behan (Jelly & Gin), devoured greedily by myself and the BF and mopped up with beautiful map-covered napkins designed by Kerstin. As I basked in the glow of its deliciousness, I spotted various other exquisitely understated touches. Into each plate was scratched and inked a map, some drawing the shape of the Thames. Add to this scattered candles and flowering table decorations created from folded A-Zs and I began to feel as if I was at an incredibly upmarket and creative version of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. We were even encouraged to swap seats and experience other parts of the world, but alas, no doormouse to provide sarcastic commentary.

Flower Maps

Inked map plate

Main course was the classic fish and chips with homemade Tartar sauce, the only sensible choice for a truly English main. Cooked to perfection, the (sustainable) Pollock melted in the mouth, while the crunchy chips were the very apex of co-ordination and served in map cones. Cue the beginning of the opening ceremony, shown on a TV screen in the marquee to a delighted crowd (I have to admit I was a teeny bit intrigued to watch), fuelled by the fast circulating rumour that the party going on in the adjacent town hall would feature the Kaiser Chiefs – a bold claim, sadly later proved incorrect.

Main Course

As the drinks flowed and the atmosphere took a party turn we were served with dessert. My favourite dish (but then I may be biased) was cooked by my very own big sister Denise Baker-McClearn, chef and owner of the delectable Moel Faban supper club in North Wales. We were treated to Apple and cinnamon tarts, Welsh gingerbread, whisky ice cream and Vanilla salted caramel sauce, finished off with a shot of Penderyn whisky which warmed its way down to my stomach like some heavenly golden lava.

Dessert

By this point my senses were well and truly Experienced and as the night continued and we became progressively intoxicated in the process, the setting adapted with us. Low lighting and fast music contributed to a climactic celebratory atmosphere from which we piled out into the Stratford streets, sated and laughing, to make our way cheerfully homewards. Thanks for the memories, Global Feast.

Global Feast runs every night until 13th August. To book tickets click here (I highly recommend that you do)

To see more pictures of the table and from the night check out my Flickr page here