This post originally featured on The Culture Vulture
Ten years ago, I arrived in Leeds. I was a young 18 year-old, hungry for my first taste of freedom in a city that had lured me with its promises of amazing student life. It didn’t let me down. Everything was new, exciting and unexplored, and I spent three years falling in love. I loved everything about Leeds: its cool cafés, laid-back BYO restaurants, big green spaces, and especially its cheap and cheesy clubs that seemed tailor-made for my 18-21 year-old self. I’ll leave exactly what clubs they were to your imagination, but let’s just say that when I left university, things soon changed. I changed.
I’d stayed in Leeds because I’d fallen in love, but the Leeds I thought I loved didn’t do it for me anymore. We were growing apart. Determined to make the relationship work, I spent the next few years getting to know Leeds all over again. I got to know its musical side, spending every spare penny I had on gig tickets for bands I’d barely heard of at venues with very questionable hygiene standards. I had a fling with its young professional side when I made the big mistake of working in recruitment; a snooty side filled with snooty bars frequented by snooty people in snooty suits. A job in the arts got me acquainted with its cultural side; a conveyor belt of gallery openings and preview nights attended by some of the most incredible people I’ve had the good fortune to meet – underpaid and overworked, but united by a genuine passion for the arts that the government seemed intent on destroying. I even had a brief encounter with Leeds’ eco side, after being so tormented by the sight of ducks bobbing in the syringe-filled river outside my city-centre flat that I donned a pair of marigolds, grabbed a rake and coerced my housemate and boyfriend into giving up their Saturday to clean up the ducks’ home with the Leeds Waterfront Association.
It’s fair to say that I’ve loved and experienced many different sides of Leeds over the last ten years. But the Leeds that has my heart now; the Leeds that I’m completely besotted with, is a side to the city that I’ve really got to know in the past few years. Leeds’ independent food and drink scene. It’s simple, really: proud, enterprising and unique independent businesses that work with, not against, each other, to make Leeds a bloody exciting place to live. It’s like the pairing of wine and food: when you get the pairing right, you improve the flavour of each individual element to create a taste sensation that’s better than you could have ever imagined. And this is what makes Leeds so special.This is why I’m more in love with Leeds than ever before. There are hundreds of examples of this independent collaboration right across the city’s food and drink industry, from the street food traders that collaborate to put on a massive feast each month at Belgrave Music Hall, to the perfect matrimony of The Sparrow’s craft beer and Prashad’s Indian vegetarian Street Food at the newly-opened Bundobust.
Such matrimonies deserve to be celebrated, right? Well, keep reading. On 20 September (which, coincidentally, is a decade to the day since my arrival in Leeds – thanks for remembering, guys), Leeds’ very own Food and Drink Association is throwing a massive party to celebrate the city’s food and drink credentials – and you’re all invited. I caught up with Leeds Food and Drink Association co-founder, Jo Murricane, to find out more.
There have been lots of rumblings about Cornucopia Underground on twitter for the last few weeks – can you tell us more about exactly what’s happening?
It’s the first major event hosted by the Leeds Food and Drink Association, so we wanted it to be a big, exciting event that celebrates all the independent people and businesses that are our Members.
It’s taking place in the basement of the Corn Exchange and will run in two parts – day and night. From 10am until 5pm, the central space of the basement will be taken over by a craft ale bar by Sela (who are also selling their famous pizza), a prosecco bar run by Latitude Wine and a cream tea café. You’ll be entertained by local artists and bands, and there will be a carefully-selected range of stalls that celebrate Leeds’ best food, drink and produce.
Everyone will have free access to all this, but there will also be mysterious ticketed events running in the Corn Exchange’s subterranean alcoves. These will be small, focused and unique events run by different Leeds Food and Drink Association Members. For example, Dough Bistro are running ‘spoons and booze’ event every hour, which promises fine dining flavours of whole meals in just one mouthful, with a drink to match. There will be an express yoga brunch from 2 Oxford Place, focusing on digestion and cleansing, followed by brunch, smoothies and a chat with a yoga specialist. There’s also ‘Cheese Beats’ from George and Joseph, which is essentially cheese and music matching! I’ve never heard of anything like it before, but it’s kind of quirky and sounds brilliant!
We’ll then close between 5-7pm to get ready for the big evening events. The evening is ticket-only, with several food / event options available: Latitude and Yorkshire Wine School are putting on a Food Fight, 2 Oxford Place is running a supper club and quiz hosted by drag queen Toxy(!) and there’s also the Evening Gala Spectacular. If you choose the Food Fight option, you’ll get four courses prepared by Dough Bistro, Friends of Ham and George and Joseph Cheesemongers. Each course will be matched with wine, with supermarket wine up against Latitude’s wine. Brilliant! If you choose the Gala, you’ll get a buffet which incorporates food from lots of great Leeds independents, including cheese from Homage2Fromage, pies from Greedy Pig, Moroccan food from Cafe Moor and cakes from Sunshine Bakery.
Whichever option you choose, you’ll be able to enjoy the gala events which will take place in the Corn Exchange Basement’s central space. The craft ale bar and prosecco bar will still be there, as well as several smaller bars and speakeasies in the alcoves. There will also be live music and burlesque performances, as well as other acts which we’ll announce soon.
It sounds very exciting – so what do you think makes Cornucopia Underground different to other food events in Leeds?
Well, it’s kind of like a food festival, but a little bit different – we didn’t want to just have loads of stalls where you go and buy a sandwich or some pickles. We wanted it to be really interactive, and we also wanted it to be a bit out there and different. That’s why we’re running lots of ticketed events in the alcoves, rather than just having one central space. I think there’s something really exciting about having lots of little pockets of mysterious things happening around and about in secret underground spaces.
Can you sum up how you’d like people to come away from the event feeling?
That they’ve had a great time and were part of something special. A little bit inspired maybe? We want it to be a fun event that’s a little bit quirky; something to talk about. Something with a great atmosphere, that people will remember. It’s going to celebrate the local food and drink scene, but in a will also be an experience – more than just what you’re eating and drinking. We want it to highlight the great independents that we’ve got in Leeds and show off just how much they can do.
Cornucopia Underground will be the first big event organised by the Leeds Food and Drink Association (LFDA) – can you tell us a bit more about LFDA for those that haven’t yet heard of the organisation?
The main aim of LFDA is to promote Leeds as a great place for food and drink. There are so many individual, well-crafted businesses run by people who really care about what they’re doing – and who are really clever about it. We set up LFDA because we wanted to bring everyone together, to help them collaborate and make something even bigger and better. We want to celebrate that collaborative spirit and that’s what we want to be known for, and make Leeds known for.
Why do you think Leeds needs an organisation like LFDA?
It needs someone to bang on about how good it is for food and drink. Somebody to pick out all the brilliant people that are here, and say this is what Leeds is great at. And I don’t think there are many other people doing that at the moment. We saw a big gap, and thought we’d be much stronger as a team, so why don’t we all pool together and collaborate to do these great things and make food and drink in Leeds even better.
How can people get involved with LFDA, then?
There are two main ways – as a member or as a Grubstaker. LFDA is a membership organisation for Leeds food and drink businesses of all shapes and sizes, and we’ve already got a great range of people and businesses represented in our membership. Membership is by invitation only and we’re quite particular! I don’t mean this in a snobby way, it’s just that we want people who have the right mindset – people that are passionate about Leeds’ food and drink and who love what they do, but who also support other people in what they do. We want people who get fully involved in everything that LFDA is doing, and trying to do, to raise the profile of Leeds as a destination for great food and drink. We go by recommendations for members, so if anyone knows of someone who they think should be a member, then let us know.
Grubstakers are supporters of great food and drink in Leeds. For a one-off payment of £25, anybody can become a Grubstaker – for life. Grubstakers are the first to find out about everything that LFDA is doing, they get discounts at events run by LFDA’s members. We also arrange special food and drink events just for them, like the wine and food pairing evening we held at Salvo’s in May. Some of our members are starting to do ongoing discounts for Grubstakers, too, like Haley and Clifford who offer a 10% discount for Grubstakers. There are loads of benefits to becoming a Grubstaker – find out more on our website.
So back to Cornucopia Underground – there are lots of different ticketed events going on, as well as the free-entry bars and entertainment in the day – what’s the best way for people to get the most out of Cornucopia Underground?Have a look on our website – all events and times are listed there. I’d recommend booking any ticketed events that you’re interested in, as they’re likely to sell out quickly. Come down for the events you book, and then just hang out afterwards. Or come and hang out in afternoon, then come for the ticketed evening event. If you don’t want to buy a ticket for anything, then just come anyway – you don’t have to buy a ticket to have a look around the food stalls, have a drink at one of the bars or just enjoy the entertainment.
How much will the ticketed events cost?
They cost £15-25 (roughly). All events will include food and drink so you’ll be getting your money’s worth. Even better, most events have Grubstaker discounts – there’s a discount of £10 off the Evening Gala event – so if you’re not already, it’s definitely worth becoming a Grubstaker to get the discounts for Cornucopia Underground!
Finally, what are you most looking forward to about Cornucopia Underground?
I just can’t wait to have all these different pockets of brilliant things going on. Where else would you find cheese and music matching in one space and then a gluten free supper club hosted by a drag queen in an alcove next to it?! The evening will be really special and I’m just excited to be a part of it. I’m also really excited to hold it in the Corn Exchange, with all its little cavernous holes filled with crazy events and activities. The Corn Exchange is such a stunning venue, and its layout allows us to have lots of different things happening at once, right in the centre of Leeds. It’s an amazing space, but I think it needs events to bring an atmosphere to it, and I really think this will. It lost its ‘fun’ element for a while, and I hope that’s what Cornucopia Underground will help to bring back.
Cornucopia Underground takes place in the Corn Exchange on Saturday 20 September. For more information, to book your tickets or to get involved as a food and drink business, head to the LFDA website. You can also find the event on Facebook.