Richard Fox: Feel the love - musings from The Farm Shop & Deli Show 2016
Richard Fox, food & beer expert, writer, broadcaster and one of the hosts at Farm Shop & Deli show Live, writes for Speciality Food
When it comes to looking for inspiration, motivation and the general 'feel-the-love' camaraderie of folk with a common passion, the faceless impersonality of a sprawling exhibition centre may not strike you as your go-to destination. However, over three days in April, I found just that in the fresh-airless halls of the NEC for the 2016 Farm Shop and Deli Show. Rarely do I celebrate the concept of 'I can't believe a year has gone by', but as I greet vaguely familiar faces like old friends, embrace colleagues turned buddies, and start salivating at the prospect of sampling hitherto unknown treats, I feel a surge of excited anticipation of what lies ahead.
As a neutral at this show - I'm not here to sell, buy, or am even required to explore the aisles, over and above my daily return schlep to and from the feature to which I'm assigned to compere and present - I always enjoy the prospect of observing the assembled masses: their wares, idiosyncrasies and general to-ings and fro-ings. But like any old timer in the events presenting business, my musings can often be tainted by more than a soupçon of scepticism. It is therefore both liberating and refreshing, that I find myself shedding the shackles of cynicism like the professional illusionist vanishes his chosen subject with a magical flourish.
I bound from stand to stand like an exuberant Labrador pup, enthusing and lapping up the fresh, innovative and tasty offerings being aired, often for the first time, to potential distributors, retailers and manufacturers - all in search of the next reggae reggae sauce story, do-it-yourself charcuterie, or impossible taste sensation. But there feels something more to this show for me, over and above being a working foodie in the midst of a gourmet extravaganza; something more intangible, earthy and honest than the familiar trade show routine of business-to-business commerce. For a start, I'm struck by the number of people who have radically changed their lives - at no small risk - simply because of a personal passion for flavour: accountants-turned-meat curers; brokers swapping the square mile for the hectare; students creating a business from a passion for all things chilli. Even the battle-hardened marketeers and distributors seem to soften and melt in the face of entrepreneurialism fuelled simply by the labour of love.
Maybe there's an element of rose-tinted specs at play here from a man with nothing to lose; a little over-romanticising based on my rather extreme love of anything that touches on the theme of real food. But the point is, that's what this show makes me feel. And without a word of a lie, I'm writing this on my long journey home to begin, what I hope will be, a much longer and more exciting journey to launch my very own little craft food business. Who would have thought a few days at a trade fair could inspire an old timer like me? Certainly not me. See you next year.