There are a few things that really interest me both professionally and personally: food, travel and good business. So when an invitation to Malton* popped into my inbox, I knew this was definitely going to be a trip right up my street!
This small Yorkshire town has been on my radar for quite a while as a foodie destination, having been shown the various treats my friends inevitably return with after attending the monthly food market. However, it seems that instead of resting on the laurels of a monthly event, the town is attempting to draw a culinary crowd on a more regular and expansive basis.
It seems that the town and it's traders have firmly aligned themselves to a singular goal - to be Yorkshire's food capital. This is a pretty bold statement to make, especially as nearby York and Harrogate are also thriving food havens, both being full to the brim with independent restaurants, cafes and producers.
So as I stepped onto the train for my 25 minute journey from York, I found myself wondering whether this audacious statement was a. deserved and b. a feasible long term strategy.
Our first stop was the simply named Malton Cookery School, run by the nearby Talbot Hotel, which is in turn owned and managed by The Fitzwilliam Estate.
Upon arriving at the cookery school, we were met by Tom Naylor-Leyland, who is part of the family who still own and run the estate. Tom, a director of the Talbot Hotel, is now helping lead Malton in it's food strategy.
The first thing that struck me about Tom (apart from his extremely fetching flat cap, I should have asked where he got it!) was his enthusiasm for food! This is a man who isn't just paying lip service when it comes to creating a food haven, his passion for food and commitment to Malton is clear from the outset.
All good businesses have a clear vision and it was apparent that Tom was able to clearly articulate his hopes for the future of the town. A thriving and bustling food destination, drawing in tourists, artisan producers and other food based businesses.
Another promising sign came after Tom has finished his introductory speech, as a spokesperson from InnTravel, a slow travel company based in the town, clearly shared Tom's vision for the foodie future of Malton. InnTravel have already partnered up with the cookery school, with the development of a "A Yorkshire Gastronomic Celebration" holiday.
Having this high level of stakeholder support is undoubtedly a crucial component in any strategy which is trying to control and develop the image of a whole town.
After introductions and contextual explanations were over, we were tasked with getting up close and personal with some of Yorkshire's finest produce!
That's right good people, I was let loose on the cookery school floor.
Expertly guided by resident tutor Gilly, we were taken through several recipes which showcased the quality of the local produce and the diverse ways in which it could be used. We actually cooked dishes from a number of countries such as Italy, France, Germany - but all with a distinctively Yorkshire twist.
After we had gorged ourselves on recipes from around the globe, it was time to head outside to see how a thriving food community has been created through enticing artisan producers to the town.
Our first stop was Brass Castle Brewery, somewhere which I have been itching to visit for a while, after having heard a number of friends rave about their beers.
The fact that I had heard of Brass Castle before is a good sign, because word of mouth is one of the biggest referrers in the food industry. Stepping into the brewery, which was clearly producing at or near to capacity, it became readily apparent that this is a business which is doing a roaring trade.
Despite it clearly being a full production day, we were actually lucky enough to receive a 10 minute talk by one of the brewery owners, who followed in the footsteps of everyone we had spoken to so far, exuding a clear passion for food and for Malton as a town.
After trying a sample or two of the beers (this is exactly why one should get the train to such events I realised!) we then headed back out into the sunshine towards Talbot Yard, a self styled food court at the heart of Malton's culinary offering.
This is the point where I fully realised how seriously Malton is taking it's status as Yorkshire's food capital. Alongside the more typical offering, such as a butchers and a bakery, the town has attracted highly skilled producers who now retail handmade pasta, a coffee roastery, hand made ice cream and there is even talk of a buttery coming soon.
The fact that the town can support such specialised business is a clear sign that the food strategy is working well. I can only assume that these businesses have located themselves, and stayed open here, because there is sufficient footfall and most importantly, an engaged customer base.
As the day came to the close and my stomach became full to the point of bursting, I revisited my original questions about whether Malton could feasibly and deservedly brand itself as a food capitol.
Successfully branding even one business is a logistical and theoretical challenge, values need to be clearly defined and strategies have to be aligned, however it seems that the Fitzwilliam estate have been able to make a convincing start to establishing Malton as a real and credible food destination.
From a practical point of view, they seem to have everything in place to make their vision a reality - having brought in unique producers, all of whom come together to create a convincing and hopefully self sustaining foodie ecosystem.
To make an analogy, all of the ingredients for success are in the bowl. The next step however will make or break the dish.
It's all going to come down to the cooking method - how well they can get the word out there and market Malton as a destination for food lovers. I also think there may be a challenge in creating enough of a point of different to pull visitors into the town and away from the other food destinations I mentioned previously.
This is definitely one to keep an eye on and I for one was seriously impressed by their progress so far!
I certainly wish them the best of luck.
*Disclaimer: I was invited to Malton Cookery School and our Foodie tour as a guest of InnTravel, the Slow travel people. As always, my views are honest and my own!
Want to see me at the cookery school? Check out my latest Vlog!