© Ed Ovenden
Meet the Festival Team
We’d like you to meet our multi-talented and hard working Festival Team members, who, by combining all their amazing skills, work throughout the year to make this year’s Festival the best ever!
Chef & Food Writer, Director
“Everything that is great about British cooking, growing, harvesting, catching, eating and drinking is represented here for the four wonderful days of the Dartmouth Food Festival every October. It is a festival that is loved by locals and visitors alike. We have a great friendly neighbourhood here and we all celebrate together with friends, family and visitors, it’s a party atmosphere from start to finish, I absolutely love it and love being a part of it!”.
Festival Advocate & Company Director
Looking out across the waters of the Bristol Channel would be Mitch Tonks’ first significant connection with the sea. He grew up with his mother in Weston-super-Mare. Just a few doors down the road lived his grandmother. It was in his grandmother’s kitchen that his earliest food memories would form. He recalls buckets of eels arriving at her back door, fished from the Rynes by the local children. The eels would win an hour’s reprieve swimming around in her sink before being chucked, boiled and jellied. Mitch would run errands for his grandmother. He’d return home from the fishmonger with shrimps, which he’d help to peel and prepare sandwiches with, which they would then devour together. These simple shared pleasures were the first small steps of a food journey that would take Mitch to culinary experiences all around the world. But home would always be the coastline of the south-west of England and the place where his fervour for seafood in particular would shape and resonate most profoundly.
Mitch has become one of the most respected and knowledgeable seafood people in the country and an acclaimed restaurateur, chef and author in the process. His Seahorse restaurant has won the Observer’s ‘Best UK Restaurant’ gong; his Rockfish takeaway restaurant chain has twice claimed ‘Best Independent Restaurant’ at the National Fish & Chip Awards. Of his books, one of them – Fresh – scooped ‘Best Fish Book’ at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. And his achievements and influence have been further recognised with a nomination for Ernst & Young’s ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ and inclusion in The Caterer’s prized ‘Top 100 Most Influential Foodies’ list.
Such accolades are an acknowledgement for a philosophy that is genuine and refreshing in a world where Michelin stars and viral social media campaigns so often steal the limelight: keep it simple and do something as well as you can possibly do it.
Each new day at The Seahorse, the Dartmouth quayside restaurant he co-owns and runs with his best friend Mat Prowse, begins as though it was their first. Acutely aware that they are only as good as the weather and climate and the food they source, they must rely on their kitchen team to treat those ingredients with care and respect and trust their front-of-house team to welcome each new customer into the restaurant with the warmth afforded to an old friend.
And so it is with each of the other restaurants under his stewardship – Rockfishes in Dartmouth, Torquay, Plymouth and Brixham, and the Spiny Lobster in Bristol. In Brixham, the restaurant stands proudly amongst the bustle and noise of the fish market, allowing the Rockfish chefs to see and hear the catch of the day, every day.
The recipes in his books are the recipes of his restaurants, dating right back to his debut FishWorks Cookbook, named after the original Bath-based restaurant which grew into an award-winning 13-site-strong chain. But these restaurant recipes belong to the home and to tradition, often inspired by his travels and by such legendary writers as Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson, and always informed by the best of what the local land and sea have to offer, embracing simplicity, freshness and flavour over everything else. Home is the ethos that underpins every aspect of his restaurant business. He wants people to walk into a place and they feel like they belong there, a restaurant that knows everyone.
His fifth cookbook is the absolute embodiment of this philosophy, featuring the people who produce, source and supply his restaurant, the cultures and traditions that pass recipes down from generation to generation and the simple wonders of the ingredients themselves. The Seahorse: The Restaurant and its Recipes was published in June 2015.
On TV he’s known for his ten-part fishing series with Matt Dawson and appearances on Saturday Kitchen and Market Kitchen. He is a consultant for the menus on the distinguished Pullman trains run by Great Western Railway and also to a number of brilliant national restaurants, including Hawksmoor in London. He is a champion of sustainability and driven by a strong belief that the South West coast is Britain’s Seafood Coast and produces some of the finest seafood in the world.
He is committed to constantly giving back to the community that has given him so much. He has embarked on an academy scheme in partnership with South Devon College to help train the next generation of aspiring chefs and to supporting the local fishing industries. On matters of UK fishing, sustainability and supply, his is arguably one of the most erudite and credible voices out there.
Festival Chair& Social Media, Director
Julie has been involved in the festival since 2012, in her main role as events coordinator and also as a director. But over the years she has been involved in most aspects, organising everything from the food and drink events over the weekend and during the year to sponsorship and even workshops.
Julie relocated to the Dartmouth area around 12 years ago from her native West cost of Scotland, and loves living on the coast. She has spent many years working in all sorts of areas of the catering and hospitality industry, both as a chef and events manager. This gives her a great wealth of experience and knowledge to bring to the festival.
Julie recently took on the role as Chair for the Dartmouth Food Festival
Chef & Director
Escaping London 15 years ago to move closer to the Family Farm in Blackawton Serin has played a large role in getting the Dartmouth Food Festival where it stands today. As Chef Director he helps co-ordinate all the food based events in the lead up and through the Festival weekend.
Our Festival Chef & Company Director
Serin started his time in Dartmouth opening the Anzac Street Bistro a much loved and successful bistro in the centre of Dartmouth but after 11 successful years Serin decided to have a change and set about a new business with old friend Simon Entwistle and Dartmouth Fine Foods was born.
Serin and Simon now offer bespoke Catering for any size event from a small Canapé party of 20 to Grand Weddings for 200 they also offer contract catering and are working on a line of top class ready meals for customers and businesses for re sale. With between them more than 40 years experience in different aspects of the catering trade Serin and Simon bring a whole heap of knowledge to the Food Festival and continue to steer it on a steady path.
Chefs Co-ordinator, Director
Denise is an amazing sales expert with Nkuku, the stunning, sustainable lifestyle brand by day and by weekend a celebrated party lover extraordinaire.
You’ll find her in the Royal Avenue Gardens with a broad smile and Geordie accent looking after our many chefs on the Festival Stage.
WEBSITE & TECH SUPPORT
Laura moved to Dartmouth 8 years ago, joined the Events team in 2016 and launched our new website in 2021.
Laura is a Business Operations Consultant specialising in Tourism & Hospitality and Operations Director for The Eco Laundry in Dartmouth
Supporting Events in the local area, working with Discover Dartmouth, Committee member for the Port of Dartmouth Royal Regatta and Director for Dartmouth Mayflower 400 , Laura brings many aspects of local Tourism together to showcase the best Dartmouth has to offer.
Laura runs our Dartmouth Food Festival Website and provides tech support to the team.
I love compering the festival as I have been involved in it since the very first one 17 years ago. I have seen it grow from a tiny festival in the market square on hay bales to a superb national success attracting the top chefs in the country and 100’s of producers from Devon and the South West. I have been lucky to share the stage with the UK’s best loved chefs and rising stars of the future.
Gina is the fabulous compare of our Chef Demo tent and has been living in the South Hams for nearly 25 years following an eclectic career in the music business working in recording studios and record companies. She loves music, travel, film, eating and drinking, driving – has driven across the Sahara in a banger and loves theatre and started treading the boards herself ten years ago and can be seen with the Dartington Playgoers amongst others. She now spends her days selling superb tailor made safari and beach holidays to Eastern and Southern Africa with Safari & Beach Travel in Kingsbridge and spends a few weeks every year in both Tanzania and Kenya. She is extremely fond of rose and champagne, so feel free to buy her a glass at any time!
Food Matters Programme Co-ordinator
Always fond of good food and wine, and an enthusiastic domestic cook, Craig has since retiring to Dartmouth become a lobster fisherman, sourdough bread maker and dedicated seasonal eater. He has also become interested in how food is produced and became aware of the ecologically poor record of modern farming and the food industry.
For 2022 we offer an even more challenging and entertaining programme than in 2021 with Sustainability and the impact of the Pandemic on the food industry as core themes. We have a fantastic collection of experts to amuse and challenge the festival audience.
Come and hear the experts and join in the conversation.
Festival Administration Co-ordinator
Festival Administration Co-ordinator
Your main point of contact for all things Festival related…
Lexi has over 20 years experience in the events industry, mainly in motorsport having worked in F1, WRC, 24hrs Le Mans, but also has a very keen interest in food and drink on a more personal level! Furthermore she has run a catering business on the banks of the River Dart, until she became a full time mother of 3. Lexi is delighted to be a part of the Dartmouth Food Festival team.
You can contact Lexi by email at email@example.com or on the festival phone 07974 739623.
Samuel Fradley is a British documentary photographer based in Torbay who runs his own company, The South West Collective of Photography Ltd, with ambition to promote photography in the South West of England.
Photographer for Dartmouth Food Festival
Events Team: Dart the Dart 2023
Jane recently moved to Dartmouth after many years accompanying her husband around the world during his time in the RAF. She has strong links with the area as her parents and grandparents both lived in the South Hams and she still has family locally. She is a keen fisherman and has recently acquired a (failed) Guide Dog who keeps her fit.
Having just joined the committee this year she is part of our Events team as they plan a series of events leading up to the Food Festival.
Volunteer Coordinator (2022)
Having a been a regular visitor to Dartmouth for nearly forty years Claire retired to the town in 2017 after a career as a health service manager.
She is currently shadowing Frances Davidson and will be taking over the role of volunteer coordinator in 2022.
After moving to Dartmouth 20 years ago, Helen has always been involved in food one way or another – from making and selling ice-cream, working in a deli, setting up Farmers Market and creating a food blog to making novelty cakes. Having been the Festival Administrator for 6 years, Helen is now taking on a new role in the Events Team. She can usually be found somewhere with a glass of Prosecco in hand !!
We moved to Dartmouth about four years ago from France, where I lived and worked remotely in Project Management. Since moving here I’ve got heavily involved in volunteering for the Flavel, the Rowcroft Hospice Shop., plus I’m a Trustee for three Dartmouth based Charities. When I’m not volunteering you’ll either find me out with my Jack Russell, Meg, or I’m travelling the world sampling the delights of international cuisine and wine!
In 2023, I’m liaising with our wonderful Festival Friends, I’m also helping to organise the Dart the Dart Fundraiser plus I help out with co-ordinating our all important Volunteers, who we couldn’t run the Festival without.
John retired some years ago after a career as a Solicitor in the Midlands. He and his wife have a second home in Dartmouth which they visit as often as they can. He has been a volunteer at the Festival for several years helping with parking and has now joined the Festival Board and is the Company Secretary. Apart from indulging his enthusiasm for all the wonderful food in South Devon John enjoys walking and sailing.
BUSINESS FRIENDS CO-ORDINATOR
Deb retired to Dartmouth in 2009, having had a career in HR for Accenture.
She joins the Festival Team this year (2020) with responsibility for Food Festival Friends, fresh from her most recent role as General Manager of the Flavel.
Mike retired to Dartmouth in 2009 after a career working for Caterpillar in the UK and Canada.
As well as being a cruising sailor, Mike is a keen cyclist and walker and joined the Food Festival Board this year focusing on Traders and festival operations.
Drinks Seminar Co-Ordinator
Suzie moved back to Dartmouth with her husband Jonathan in 2015 to take over the family wine business, Michael Sutton’s Cellar.
Prior to that she had no formal training in the wine industry, (her background was stockbroking) she has been gaining a much greater depth of knowledge by studying through WSET, general research and via vineyards visits. Since taking on the business they have expanded their Wine Cellar and organised a diverse programme of events including Monthly Wine Tastings and Private Dinners working with local chefs.
She is passionate about food & wine and loves travelling to experience at first hand the wonderful world of wine.
Suzie joined the committee in 2019 & offers support in lots of ways.
Childrens Day Organiser & Social Media
Most mornings Leanne can be found cooking up the most delicious breakfasts in our favourite Cafe Alf Resco on Lower Street, Dartmouth. When not cooking breakfasts she is frequently whipping up tasty brownies & cakes.
Leanne is organising this year’s Children’s Day, which is attended by local school children, an opportunity to find out about our own local food, fishing and farming. It’s a great day of learning and laughter.
She’s also regularly posting Festival tweets to keep you all in touch and up to date with all our Festival news, whilst sharing Festival activities on our Instagram.
Jane started off her career working at St Thomas Hospital in London in research in histology and cancer related studies.
From there she did a stint as a PA for the MD of a private company in London before taking time out to go back to college to study beauty therapy after which she set up her own business. She set up quite a substantial beauty salon in Surrey for 18 years working alongside premium brands which she eventually sold on when she moved down to Dartmouth with her husband.
Jane started up a high end lingerie and swimwear boutique business “Juste Moi” in Foss Street and after a year set up an e-commerce site to run alongside the shop eventually selling to almost every country in the world. After 7 years Jane sold the business on and is pleased to note that “Juste Moi” still seems to be flourishing in a difficult retail market.
She took on the role of Merchandise for the Music Festival and ran that for about 3 years; a role she really enjoyed whilst working with a great team and seeing the Music Festival grow from strength to strength. She took a break from this to look after her father for a time and the Festival are now really pleased to welcome her back to the Team.
Treasurer and Director
Keith is a passionate Devonian who followed his dream of returning to Dartmouth after a long career in the technology sector including founding 4 successful start-up companies, being President of a large Wall Street Company and most recently Chairman of a UK based technology group.
Having recently retired, his reasons for joining the Food Festival Board include trying to give something back to a town that he loves along with joining a great team in a special festival whilst trying to keep the brain cells working! Interests include boating, golf and tennis.