By Jules Serkin presenter of ‘Scoff & Quaff’ on Channel Radio.
This year’s Taste of Kent Awards had some truly inspiring examples of food producers striking out in a big way. Many names familiar to Scoff & Quaff listeners have really taken off in the past year.
One of the top award winners is Matthew Kearsley Lawson, who was named Kent Artisan of the Year at the event on March 13.
The 39-year-old, who gave up his job as technical manager for the Fridays egg producer five years ago to start his own pickling business, scooped the award for his range of jams, chutneys and spicy sauces.
The accolade was capped by an offer from Budgens in Whitstable and Londis in Blean to stock his full range of products in recognition of the achievement.
Matthew learned his pickling prowess at Opis in Sittingbourne before moving on to Fridays, the third biggest egg company in Kent.
By 2010 he was mixing his flagship lavender jelly, which won Taste of Kent Product of the Year in 2010 and featured on the BBC’s Countryfile program with James Wong. He’s since expanded the range, with his spicy plum sauce coming runner-up and was a finalist in 2012 for the Kent Medway Business of the Year.
To cap the evening, Ed Martin, manager of Produced in Kent, gave a fascinating illustration of the importance of the food industry to our local economy. Here’s a snippet of what he had to say:
“There are tonight in this building about 260 people, give or take a few. But let’s make the maths easy. Let’s pretend that there are only 200 of us. By this time tomorrow night, we will need 1000 rooms this size to accommodate all the new born members of our ever growing global family..200,000 new mouths to feed every day of every year for decades to come.”
“And to feed them we need to increase our food production by some 70%…And we are not making any new farmland anymore – we need to treasure what we have, to value not just the land and our seas, but the people who work them, our fishermen, our farmers and our expert growers and gardeners, our chefs and – perhaps above all – our young trainees and students.”
“For remember this – we do not own these resources, we merely hold them in trust for future generations and we have a duty to pass them on in as good or better condition. The world is struggling for answers and desperate for advice to ensure everyone has enough safe and healthy food and drink. We hold some of those answers here in Kent which is why I say the world will want to hear our story and they will buy our skills and our produce, they will visit our county to learn and to witness how we are doing it.”
“In this, We are really only limited by our imagination. Here’s a quick story to illustrate my point and to show you how creative thinking in difficult times can have unexpected results: ‘I wonder how many of us here tonight know the true history of the origin of the Michelin Star restaurant system.
We have with us tonight a number of Michelin starred chefs and let me say congratulations and say a very warm welcome to all of you for joining us here. I am not sure what the collective noun is for a group of Michelin stars – a skillet perhaps? Or a Bain Marie? But it’s great that you are here.
But let’s see if you agree with my interpretation of history.”
“Michelin began making car tyres in a factory just outside Paris at the dawn of the car industry. By the 1st world war, they were the largest producer in the world by a distance. This was largely because it enjoyed a small commercial advantage in the form of free land and free raw materials – the rubber plantations – as France then owned a small corner of the world known as French Indo-China , what we now know as Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. A sort of early version of the TIGER fund perhaps, – but just in different stripes.”
“By the end of the Wall Street Crash ( 1929/1930)the company was on its knees and facing ruin until some young whizz in the marketing department went to his boss with the following suggestion:
‘we know the Parisians love to eat so let’s find a range of bistros and cafes each about a half a day’s drive from Paris, down rickety country roads: we will write glowing reviews about them, publish it
as guide which we hand out for free and wait until they get lots of punctures and need to buy new tyres…’
“And so there was a happy ending. And the company survived. They sold the guide years ago of course and now it’s a Brand in its own right and worth many millions. And the original Michelin is still there making tyres.”
“So food and tourism rode to the rescue of what seemed to be a completely unrelated business.
Yet today, we find ourselves in a not entirely dissimilar position. Not a company facing tough times, but our own hard pressed rural economy of Kent. And by the simple virtue of doing what we have to do every day anyway – buying food – we can, as a community, lift some of the burden and help conserve our countryside, help create jobs and build a more resilient future.” Let’s all try & shop local support our independent businesses & markets.”
11-12 – Food news for Kent. Listen anytime www.SCOFFQUAFF.co.uk. #Shoplocal