Us Leeds folk must have a thing for food-based crowdfunding campaigns. Earlier this year, we rallied together to turn the terrible vandalisation of Manjit’s Kitchen’s van into a positive; funding the transformation of a disused horsebox into the finest-looking Chaat Station in all the land. Reaching the £4000 target in just five days, Manjit’s Kitchen’s campaign was a heart-warming display of Leeds’ fierce loyalty to its independent food heroes – and our addiction to the life-changing creation that is Manjit’s Chapasty, obviously…
Five months on, and we’ve done it again, this time raising £6750 in just ten days to make the first Leeds Indie Food Festival a reality. Dreamed up by Leeds Indie Food, a team of six stalwart Leeds food lovers, the festival promises to help nurture the independent community by putting on a collaborative, city-wide celebration of Leeds’ independent food and drink culture over two weeks in May 2015. YES, Leeds.
It’s things like this that make me so proud to live here. I know I’m always banging on and on (and on) about Leeds’ incredible independent spirit, but it’s because it’s so flipping fantastic. There’s a real breadth of talent and innovation across the city, harnessed by the willingness of independents to work with, not against, each other. Collaborations are springing up everywhere, from craft beer bars joining forces with Indian vegetarian restaurants, to breweries teaming up with pop-up food starlets. We’ve even got our own Leeds Food and Drink Association, an organisation founded to celebrate Leeds’ independent food and drink scene and make Leeds a city famous for its food and drink. This collaboration between independents is now so common that it’s as if it’s been woven into the very fabric of the city, creating a unique food and drink culture that makes Leeds a very special place to live.
But what I love most is not just the existence of this culture, but the value that Leeds folk place on it. Times are hard and cash is tight for many of us, yet we’re still willing to shell out our hard-earned cash to support the talented folks behind Leeds’ indie businesses that make our city such a pleasure to live in.
Leeds Indie Food Festival is a very exciting prospect for Leeds, so I caught up with Lil Dix, food blogger at Whip Until Fluffy and one sixth of the Leeds Indie Food team, to find out more.
So, where did the idea for the Leeds Indie Food Festival come from?
I guess to begin with, it sprung from a general dissatisfaction with the current Leeds Food Festival. There were a lot of chain bars and restaurants, and while that’s great for some people, we felt it ignored a whole side of Leeds’ food and drink scene. From Matt’s point of view, trading with Fish&, they didn’t get the exposure they’d have hoped for, and Ross and Katy went with their kids and didn’t find it very family friendly. I went along and, although I enjoyed it, felt that there wasn’t any real representation of the independent food and drink businesses that make Leeds so great.
Leeds has an incredible independent scene, which needs to be celebrated, so we all got together and started to talk about what we could try to do ourselves. This all happened just after the Leeds Indie Bikes project, run by Laura Wellington at Duke Studios. We loved the impact this had on independent businesses, and we were inspired by how open they all were to collaborating. Someone even told us that if we’d have suggested five years ago that they’d have had the name of another indie business on their window, they’d tell you where to go! But now people are proud, and really happy to help each other; they’re proud of what’s going on in the city.
We met with Laura and had a chat about how we could build on the legacy of Leeds Indie Bikes. We agreed that an independent food festival would be a great first event under the Leeds Indie umbrella, and as a team, we’re all really excited about what we can do. Between us we have a good range of skills and experience to make the festival a real success. Matt works in street food, Ross and Katy run the online journal Food&_ and pop-up dining experience Trestle, which has been received really well. Simon’s a press guy, and Claire runs Friends of Ham so has a wealth of knowledge about the Leeds bar scene. I’m a copywriter, blogger and social media manager.
You’ve mentioned a general dissatisfaction with the council-run festival, which I’m sure lots of people (myself included) can identify with. Yet it does attract a lot of people, so what are your thoughts on working with the council, along with other organisations that champion indie food and drink in Leeds, like Leeds Food and Drink Association, to create a truly inclusive food festival for Leeds?
We’re happy to work with anyone! We’re very keen to include everyone who wants to be involved in our plans. We want the festival to be inclusive and transparent. It’s a little more difficult with the council as we want to maintain autonomy, but we certainly wouldn’t be averse to meeting with them. For example, we’d love access to venues or the resources they have at their disposal for advertising to help promote Leeds, but we’ll be funding the festival independently. What’s important to stress is that we’re doing this in our free time because we love food and drink in Leeds. We spend all of our time and money in these independent businesses, and we want to celebrate them and show everyone what we can do when we work together.
So, practically speaking, how are you going to include everyone and make it a truly collaborative festival?
At the moment, we’re going to see what happens. We’ve gathered a lot of expressions of interest, but we need to hear everyone out to make sure we don’t miss any spectacular ideas. So many people want to do something special, which is great, so we’re going to be moving towards a proper event submission process in the next few months. If anyone wants to be involved but doesn’t have a particular event in mind, just contact us and we can help. Not everyone has the time or resources to plan something big, so it’s our job to help make it happen. If someone needs flyers printing, we have a printing partner. If anyone needs social media help, I can teach them the basics. If someone’s not sure what their strengths are, we’ll work with them. We want the festival to be new and innovative, to go outside people’s comfort zones, and to have a lasting legacy, so we’ll do as much as we can to facilitate this with the independents involved.
Can you tell us a bit more about the events you have in mind for the festival so far?
The festival will open with a Backers’ party, to say thank you to everyone that’s pledged to make the festival a reality through our Kickstarter campaign, and it will finish with a showcase closing event that we’re hoping will be a really big deal!
We don’t want the festival programme itself to be limited to ticketed events in restaurants and bars, though. We want there to be events for families, in the daytime, in the suburbs and the city centre, with a decent amount low cost or free. We’re also keen for the festival to not just be about eating. We want to have film screenings, art exhibitions, seminars and lectures at the Universities – a great variety of programming with something for everyone, and a real celebration of food and drink culture.
We’ll also be creating loads of digital content that people can access any time, things like food trails for small plates across the city or podcasts with baristas discussing the coffee scene. We want to leave a legacy. We don’t want to vanish, and we have big plans for the future of the festival that will involve lots of extra content for people’s money outside of the two weeks in May.
So, how can people get involved, besides donating to the crowdfunding campaign?
Shout about it. If you want to be involved, but you don’t know how, just get in touch. If you tweet us, we’ll always reply, but we’d love to meet you too. It’s really important to us that people understand that there’s a human face to the festival (six of them!), and we’re really up for talking to as many people as possible. As a team, we’re incredibly passionate about Leeds Indie Food, so we want to show people how much we care. Even if you don’t know where you fit, there is a place for you, so just let us know you’re interested.
What do you think makes Leeds so special for food and drink?
If I’m completely honest, I came here as a sceptic. I’m from Bristol originally, I went to Uni in London, and then I moved here because Matt (Lil’s husband and Leeds Indie Food team member) was doing a PhD. I always thought of Leeds as a stopgap, but since I got here I’ve genuinely fallen in love. There’s a really nice, friendly vibe about the city. There’s so many people doing so many creative things, but they have no agenda. There’s just a genuine tone to everything that makes you want to stay here. And that’s especially true of independent food and drink businesses. They welcome everyone with an attitude of ‘this is what we do, we hope you like it’, and I love that.
There are also some really exciting things happening in the suburbs that don’t get the attention they deserve. People just don’t seem up for venturing across town, for whatever reason, and although I understand that, I think it’s a real shame as there’s some amazing things going on. That’s going to be one of the aims of Leeds Indie Food: to connect the city. We want to shout about the independents in the suburbs and make people aware of them. Maybe even see if we can give them a space in the city centre for the two weeks to capture people’s attention, if they want it.
Finally, what are your favourite independent food and drink businesses in Leeds?
I have many. My favourite place to eat at the moment is Zucco. I just love it there – I love the atmosphere, the food – everything. I also love The Reliance. I think it’s a real unsung hero – people obviously do know about it and rave about it, but I just think it deserves more praise. They’re doing some really exciting things and I never leave dissatisfied – I could literally lick the plates! I go to Opposite in Chapel Allerton a lot (like, everyday), and in the Victoria Quarter too. I also love Laynes and Mrs Athas – and for someone who didn’t like coffee until recently, that says a lot! I think Sarah from Noisette Bakery is an absolute genius. Those are my favourites, but they change a lot. I eat out all the time, but I never run out of ideas and I think that’s what’s so great about Leeds.
A big thanks to Lil for taking the time to share more about Leeds Indie Food Festival. It may have already reached its crowdfunding target, but there’s still two weeks to make your donation and make the festival even better! Head to www.leedsindiefood.co.uk to find out more and play your part in the first Leeds Indie Festival.