FROM pulled pork to squirrel squealers, Malton Food Lovers Festival served up a real treat for food lovers everywhere, and despite the challenging weather, they visited in their hundreds from miles around.

There were stalls selling pork-scratching vodka, sugar-laden tiffin and mini macaroons, but the dominant ingredient was pulled pork “sandwiches” with lashings of coleslaw – a dish championed by one of the two main stars of the festival – Cyrus Todiwala, of The Incredible Spice Men.

Yorkshire producers were there in force, but such is the pull of Malton’s annual food festival that stallholders travelled hundreds of miles to attend. One, from Shropshire spice-mix firm, was still smiling despite the gale force winds which swept through the market place on and off during the two-day event.

“It’s a good festival, lots of variety and it’s well worth the journey,” he said, contemplating a night in his van rather than his tent.

There were beers, ciders, sweets, chocolates, chutneys, jams, cheese, oils and plenty of venison and vegetables, and all were for tasting.

Malton’s newly-opened cookery school drew the crowds, with the likes of Jean-Christophe Novelli, Channel 4’s Michela Chiappa and her sisters and Jake Jones, from James Martin’s restaurant at The Talbot Hotel, in Malton, demonstrating their skills, some French classics and Italian delights.

There were live cookery theatres with BBC Masterchef finalists and Andrew Pern, of The Star Inn fame, tutored tastings with local brewers Brass Castle Brewery and Ryedale Vineyards, pop-up restaurants doing a roaring trade, gala dinners and plenty of activities for children, if they could be dragged from the stall pulling as much attention as The Incredible Spice Men the stall selling squalers, but like everything at the festival, who could resist the lure of squirrel, boar and wild fox squealers – a type of sausage roll without the sausage?


KAREN DARLEY catches up with Jean-Christophe Novelli during a break at the food festival

JEAN-Christophe Novelli may love to cook but he also loves to chat. Timetabled for an hour’s question-and answer-session, he was overrunning by nearly 30 minutes and clearly had many more tales to tell the delighted audience.

With book-signings to follow, and of course, the obligatory photos, I managed to squeeze in a slot in his busy day before he unveiled the festival’s floral cow sculpture followed by his cookery demonstration.

Novelli clearly has the energy to keep up with his demanding schedule, which includes about 50 events worldwide each year, as well as developing his own cookery school in Hertfordshire and promoting a new cookery book Simply Novelli.

There are also plans to write his autobiography – which will be “very funny” – and up-and-coming TV work.

With more than 30 years of experience in the kitchen, Novelli is well-known for his cooking skills, but he is also at ease with his fans making him a perfect guest at this year’s food festival.

“I love Yorkshire, the people, the food and the accent,” he said. “When I first came to this country from France I could not tell the difference between each region’s accents, but the Yorkshire accent is so distinguished and unique and of course the people are so friendly.”

The Yorkshire Pudding, he said, is another tradition which gives the county its uniqueness. “I had never heard of a Yorkshire Pudding, but now I love them and I certainly want to try one of James Martin’s puddings. We go back a long way and first met when he was a trainee chef and now he is doing very well so I want to sample some of his food at The Talbot.”

Today, however, was not the day for enjoying a leisurely lunch, for as well as headling Saturday’s live cookery theatre, Novelli was giving an exclusive lesson to eight lucky visitors at the new Malton Cookery School. He was clearly as delighted to be involved in the two-day food festival, as Malton was to welcome him.

“This is a unique festival, which has been going for the last six years, has gone from strength to strength,” he said. “Yorkshire is renowned for its food and this event is showing it off in a fantastic way.”

Novelli was also impressed with Malton’s Market Place and said he would quite happily “live next door” to the town. “It is amazing with all these wonderful buildings – a really typical English town.”

And his only criticism about the festival – that he couldn’t be in Malton for longer. “Yes, I am very busy, but I would love to come back next year and spend more time here – in terms of food festivals, Malton really is in the premier league.”