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VIDEO: Record number of stalls and 15,000 visitors enjoy ‘best ever’ Taste of Grampian

A record number of stalls and 15,000 sun-soaked visitors helped make this year’s Taste of Grampian the “best ever”.

More than 200 traders from across the country turned out at Thainstone Mart, outside Inverurie, on Saturday – the most in the food festival’s 19-year history.

There were numerous cookery demonstrations and contests in the agricultural mart’s show rings, each designed to showcase the quality ingredients produced in the north-east.

Primary Schools Packed Lunch Competition winner was Rayne North school – Euan Shannon, 8 with judge former Masterchef winner Gary Maclean and James Martin.

TV chef James Martin was the star attraction, running three sold-out sessions where he rustled up dishes involving local fish, beef, chicken and berries.

And organisers praised the scores of stallholders who ensured that Scotland’s largest food festival is continuing to expand as it approaches its third decade.

Event chairman John Gregor said: “Every year the show grows, and we want to provide something for everybody.

“It is all about showing local people what is produced and available in the area and stimulating the industry.

“We have been so lucky with the weather, there has been a great atmosphere.”

He said the layout of the festival had been changed this year to allow visitors more space to roam between the various stands and marquees.

And he pointed out the new stage, which welcomed young musicians as a way of marking a national celebration of young people, had helped to create a “festival feel”.

Throughout the day, a mouth-watering medley of smells wafted across the arena while visitors went from stall to stall trying out different dishes and drinks.

Stands offering spicy Indian cuisine sat beside those selling home-made jams, cheese and gin – showing off the diversity of the area’s culinary palate.

Anna Bennett with a lobster at the Granite City stand.

Newburgh butcher Sandy Ingram sizzled different varieties of sausage and burgers, while wine expert Susy Atkins delivered a masterclass in a nearby marquee and queues formed at ice cream stands.

One vendor who created something of a buzz was Liz Campbell, the owner of the Udny Provender honey company, who brought along some bees and honeycomb in a glass case to show how the sweet treat is made.

She said: “The bees are quite a curiosity for people, and we just want to show who does all the hard work.”

The Sutherlands of Portsoy fishmonger was sold out of stock by lunch time, with cold and hot smoked salmon the most popular products.

Procurement manager Alan Stewart said: “This is the quickest we have had a sell-out, and we have been coming for years.”

Northlink Ferries subsidised trips across the North Sea for traders from Shetland and Orkney as a way of highlighting the islands’ wares.

The owner of Shetland’s only distillery, Debbie Strand, said she was “nearly sold out” before 3pm.

Mr Martin’s demonstrations brought in packed crowds, as he praised the delicious ingredients reared in the region.

Following one session, Dyce man James Pern was announced as the winner of a competition to enjoy the cookery classes dubbed the “James Martin experience” at a luxury hotel in Hampshire.

Macduff 20-year-old, Ryan Laird, won a young chef competition over his fellow recent graduate from North East Scotland College, Barry Gunn.

Both men prepared a main course of pork escalopes and dessert of cheesecake with a sponge base.

The contest was judged by Masterchef winner Gary Maclean – who said only the texture and flavour of the pork separated the two competitors.

He added: “I don’t think I have ever judged a competition so close.”

Mr Laird, who graduated last Thursday and now works at the Knowes Hotel in Macduff, was presented with a £150 voucher by Mr Martin.

Colin Slessor v Jimmy Dick – Wham, Bam, Thank You Lamb.

Thainstone auctioneer Colin Slessor entertained visitors as he competed with chef Graham Mitchell, from the Cock and Bull restaurant at Balmedie, to create the tastiest dish from a bag of mystery ingredients – which included pork, Madagascan king prawns, bananas and a pineapple.

Despite claiming that his culinary abilities extend no further than making beans on toast, Mr Slessor was able to tie with Mr Mitchell after a vote from the audience.

Leader of Aberdeenshire Council Jim Gifford was among the thousands who enjoyed Taste of Grampian.

He said: “This has been a great event for years, and this one feels like the best ever, it has certainly been very busy.”

Event chairman Mr Gregor said the team would now be turning their attention towards making next year’s 20th edition “something special”.