Cornucopia Underground

festival-review Back in August, I wrote about my impending ten year anniversary of living in Leeds. Ten years. Where has that time gone? Moving to Leeds was the best decision I ever made and so, a decade on, it was only right that that decision should be celebrated in style. As ever, my beloved Leeds came up trumps with the ultimate anniversary present – Leeds Food and Drink Association’s Cornucopia Underground. When I previewed Cornucopia Underground for the Culture Vulture in August, I knew we were in for something special. A food festival with a difference, Cornucopia Underground promised to celebrate Leeds’ well-documented independent spirit with a showcase of some of the best food and drink experiences the city has to offer. With Leeds Food and Drink Association’s Jo and Nick at the helm, I knew we’d be in safe hands, but the reality of Cornucopia Underground surpassed even my wildest expectations. Descending into the subterranean lair of the Corn Exchange at just before midday, there were no immediate signs of anything out of the ordinary. Filling the basement’s centre were stalls laden with all the usual hallmarks we’ve come to expect of a ‘food festival’: mouth-watering cakes, beautifully-presented preserves and enticing cheeses.

Cornucopia Underground, Leeds

Photo Credit: Jo Murricane http://www.jo-blogs.co.uk/

Harrogate Preserves at Cornucopia Underground, Leeds

Photo Credit: Jo Murricane http://www.jo-blogs.co.uk/

These stalls surrounded tables swathed in patterned cloths that were occupied by folk sipping on tea, munching on cake and generally having a good time. Everything was in order. But Cornucopia Underground was about looking beyond the obvious; beyond what you’d expect, and it was the spaces around the edges that revealed that all was not as it seemed. Continue reading

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Preview: Cornucopia Underground

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.

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Grubstaker Launch – An evening of food and wine pairing

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Food collaboration is a wonderful thing. Think goats’ cheese and honey. Garlic and mushrooms. Tomato and basil. Simple ingredients that work perfectly well as individual elements, when they come together they seem to undergo an alchemic process that produces flavours akin to food magic. How else could you describe that sensation of a sharp, tangy cheese cutting through a golden, saccharine honey; that heavenly combination of earthy mushrooms and pungent garlic; that sweet tomato acidity matched with a burst of aromatic peppery basil? And best of all, you don’t have to be the world’s greatest cook to achieve this alchemy. You don’t even need to know why. The ingredients do the work for you. See? Magic.

But while pairing certain flavours together is second nature to many of us, the thought of applying these principles to food and wine pairing is, well, not. Because wine is scary. Lovely, but scary. There are just too many variables to consider. Which grape varietal should you choose? How does that grape varietal vary from country to country? And what about specific regions? Vintages? Reserves? Oaked or unoaked? Should you let the wine breathe, first? (And what does that even mean?!) How do you know if it’s corked? Is cork better than screwtop? And that’s all before you’ve even begun to contemplate what bloody food you’re going to pair it with. Gahhhh.

So is it worth the hassle?

Yes. I quickly arrived at this conclusion last week at a special wine and food matching event to celebrate the launch of Leeds Food and Drink Association’s (LFDA) Grubstakers. In case you’ve not heard about it, Grubstakers are a pretty special bunch. An LFDA initiative aimed at Leeds’ food and drink lovers, a one-off £25 subscription gets you a lifetime of food and drink benefits. Yes, a lifetime. We’re talking special events, exclusive insider info, opportunities to test products and menus, and all sorts of amazing ‘money can’t buy’ foodie opportunities from the glorious Leeds indies that belong to the LFDA.

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