A top chef will be showing food lovers in Llangollen how to make a gourmet meal with ingredients that would otherwise be heading for the rubbish heap.
Kitchen queen Denise Baker-McClearn will be one of the star attractions at the popular Hamper Llangollen food festival later this year.
Denise, who runs a cafe in Bethesda, in Gwynedd, and is a tutor at the renowned Cookery School at Bodnant Welsh Food in the Conwy Valley, specialises in turning out of date food from shops into culinary masterpieces.
“Pretty much every time I’m in the kitchen, I embark on a mystery journey,” said Denise, who opened her ‘pay as you feel’ PAYF cafe earlier this year, and also runs Moel Faban supper club.
Edible food destined for landfill or at risk of being wasted will be ‘intercepted’ from supermarkets, restaurants, pubs, wholesalers, small businesses and market stalls.
As a result, the ingredients Denise receives each day are always a surprise and she regularly has to make up menus on the hoof, testing the entire range of her professional cooking skills.
“There is nothing wrong with the ingredients, they are all fresh and perfectly edible, but they are classed as waste by certain sectors in the food industry,” said Denise, who set up the PAFY Cafe with the help of volunteer fundraising and social enterprise grants.
She is delighted to be returning to the Llangollen festival, at which she also demonstrated last year, though she says as yet she has not decided what she will prepare during her showcase slot in the demo kitchen.
It is expected that this year’s 19th annual event on the weekend of October 17 and 18 will again attract thousands visitors to browse over 120 stalls at Llangollen’s Royal International Pavilion.
Supported by rural development agency Cadwyn Clwyd, the event in Llangollen’s Royal Pavilion is recognised as one of the UK’s top 10 food festivals.
Cadwyn Clwyd’s contribution comes via the Rural Development Fund for Wales 2007-2013, which is funded through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the Welsh Government.
Denise explained: “What I might do is leave it until the day beforehand, see which ingredients turn up and take them along with me. It’ll be challenging but it will be fun.”
She will also be talking to the audience about how they can reduce food waste at home and give inventive tips on using up ingredients that people might otherwise be tempted to put in the bin.
At the PAYF Cafe, customers are asked to pay whatever they can afford for a choice of offerings on the daily menu.
Denise has struck up a deal with the local Londis store which donates foodstuffs which would at one time have been thrown away. She also has an agreement with Blakemore wholesalers, Bangor, the Co-op and a number of other food outlets.
She stressed: “This is all perfectly useable food but we may get it the day after its advisory ‘best before’ date. A lettuce may have one or two brown leaves around the outside, but the inner part is fresh and green.
“Bananas may be slightly more ripe than people like to see them displayed on supermarket shelves. But they are fantastic for making delicious banana cake, banana bread or mixing with milk to make a wholesome smoothie.”
Many of Denise’s customers are mums with two or three young children, or pensioners living on a tight budget.
She said: “Our food is affordable for them, but also it tastes delicious. It’s always been my philosophy that people should not be forced into eating poorer quality food just because they can’t afford restaurant prices.
“We offer different nutritious and tasty dishes which are made fresh each day. What’s more the options may vary from day to day. That’s because we have to be consistently creative and think up the best ideas for using the food that is given to us.
“Today, for instance, we’ve been given five crates of cucumbers. On another day we might get a box of slightly bruised apples, or summer fruits which we could turn into jam.”
Originally from southern England, Denise trained as a chef on leaving school, but went on to study for a degree in forensic psychology at Bangor University.
“That is what brought me to Wales,” said the mum of two. “When I was made redundant from my job I went back to becoming a chef.”
Denise is also a firm believer in the need for the food industry to improve its ethical credentials and is delighted that increasingly numbers of people are waking up to that fact.
“I think a turning point has come. France has just made it illegal for supermarkets to destroy food that is still edible and could be given to the hungry. I believe we should do the same,” she said.
Hamper Llangollen 2015 will also include cookery demonstrations by members of the Welsh Culinary Association, led by Graham Tinsley, who has cooked for the Queen, is part owner of the Castle Hotel, Conwy, and consultant chef at Carden Park Resort, Chester.
For more details about Llangollen Food Festival-Hamper Llangollen visit www.llangollenfoodfestival.com.