Exeter Festival of South West Food & Drink presents chefs Michael Caines Lesley Waters & MItch Tonks

PUBLISHED: 17:29 14 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:52 20 February 2013

Lesley Waters assisted by an Exeter College student , in the Celebrity Cookery Theatre.

Lesley Waters assisted by an Exeter College student , in the Celebrity Cookery Theatre.

A glittering line-up of gourmet gurus such as Michael Caines, Lesley Waters & Mitch Tonks performed in the Celebrity Cookery Theatre at this year's festival, says Alexis Thornely.

An elite group of Devon-based cookery masters descended upon Exeter for the region's finest showcase of the South West's food and drink. Between them these culinary kings and queens have earned eight Michelin stars, the coveted titles of AA Chef's Chef of the Year 2007 and South West Restaurant of the Year for two years; and if that isn't enough, there's also an MBE for services to the hospitality industry.

Now in its sixth year, the Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink was held in the heart of Exeter in the regal surrounds of Exeter Castle and Northernhay Gardens from Friday 17 to Sunday 19 April. From its humble beginnings six years ago, always with acclaimed chef Michael Caines MBE at its helm, the Festival has grown into one of the largest events of its kind in the UK, its rise corresponding to the huge surge in consumer demand for local produce, an industry that is now worth 4.8 billion.

These days, stories about local and regional produce dominate national newspaper and magazine food pages, yet for most Devon residents fine-quality regional and local produce is nothing new; many of the chefs participating in the Festival were sourcing unique local produce long before it became a fashionable label to have on a menu. Visitors to the Festival were able to experience the very best of the region's produce all in one place. This has been the dream of Michael Caines right from the beginning. "We are all extremely proud of what we have achieved over the last five years and in 2008 we introduced new attraction such as the Festival After Dark. In 2009 we will offer visitors of all ages even more great activities to enjoy, as well as the delicious produce of all the exhibitors."

This fresh approachsaw one of the greatest changes take place in the Castle Courtyard's Celebrity Cookery Theatre. Over three days, visitorssaw some of the South West's top chefs pitch their talents against each other, including a Devon/Cornwall culinary face-off. Additionally, Michael was joined by some celebrity friends at the Festival After Dark events, which took place on Friday and Saturday nights.

The first day of the Festival was a who's who of Devon's top chefs, who performed in the Cookery Theatre. These included Peter Gorton of the Horn of Plenty, who runs cookery courses throughout the year, and brothers James and Chris Tanner of Barbican Kitchen Brasserie and Tanners, which won AA Restaurant of the Year 2008. Also flexing your tastebuds was last year's BBC Masterchef winner, James Nathan, who has recently taken the helm at The Bath Priory Hotel under the expert guidance ofMichael Caines. Other culinary talents featured during the day included Matthew Mason of Jack in the Green, who has been teaching local students about food and seasonality; chef, spiritual healer and alternative therapist Paul Da Costa of Greaves from the Galley Restaurant, who runs his kitchen under the guidance of Zen; Tom Cull of Dartmoor Kitchen, creator of the award-winning Tom's Pies; and Canadian-born Chris Archambault, who describes Devon and the Westcountry as the 'Tuscany of England'.

Saturday's line-upsaw more familiar TV chefs stepping up to the hot plate, including Lesley Waters, former Head Tutor of Leith's School of Food and Wine, and Brixham fish champion Mitch Tonks, whose Seahorse Restaurant in Dartmouth has been dubbed 'the Ivy by the sea' (a reference to one of London's top restaurants). Making his debut at the Festival will be Tim Bouget of ODE restaurant in Shaldon, which has won the Taste of the West's South West Restaurant of the Year title two years running. Tim, who has cooked for U2 and Nelson Mandela, will be going head to head with Mark Dodson of the Mason's Arms, Knowstone, each chef fighting it out for the crowd's affections before their dishes are put to the vote.

Another well-known Festival face was Tina Bricknell-Webb of Percy's Country Hotel and Restaurant, Virginstow. Tina brought her unique and unrivalled style of cooking to the Cookery Theatre, using superb ingredients sourced from her organic farm. During Saturday's Festival After Dark, award-winning food writer and GQ Chef of the Year Mark Hix took on Michael Caines.

Bringing the Festival to a close on Sunday morningwas a handful of Michelin-starred chefs, including the only British chef to date to have won a gold at the World Chef Championships - Simon Hulstone of the Michelin-starred Elephant Bar and Restaurant, Torquay. He wasfollowed by Nathan Outlaw, whose restaurant Nathan Outlaw in Fowey currently holds a rising two Michelin stars. With such a glittering cast of culinary excellence, the Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drinkwas a must for any Devon foodie.

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