Ahead of the Grand Départ, York has launched a food festival full of the flavours of France. MATT CLARK finds out more

This year marks York’s 18th annual food and drink festival and for the first and perhaps only time, it will be a game of two halves.

Part one takes place between June 20 and 29, just a week before the Grand Départ, comes to the county and, not surprisingly, there will be a Gallic theme to tie in with the Tour de France.

Yorkshire Produce – French Flavour is designed to tempt visitors to experience a fusion of these two great cultures and will also celebrate York’s links with its twin city Dijon, famous for mustard and now an official City of Gastronomy.

The June event feature’s the festival’s legendary street market, which will be in its usual space on Parliament Street and St Sampson’s Square. There you will find producer’s stalls, a real ale bar, Champagne tent, plus live evening music every day until 9pm. Some market stalls will also stay open late and there will be the annual ale trail.

Well-known Yorkshire chefs such as Andrew Pern will be on hand to demonstrate how to cook French recipes using Yorkshire provender. Stephanie Moon of Rudding Park is going to lead herb foraging forays along the Tour de France route, while others will forage for snails in York.

Artistic director Michael Hjort, owner of Melton’s, says having two festivals this year should give his team a huge logistical advantage.

“The other great thing about June is it will be daylight in the evening,” says Mr Hjort. “The weather will hopefully be better than September and the idea about doing something for York’s evening economy suddenly starts to look much more viable.”

Mr Hjort is right . The June festival promises to see York at its most cosmopolitan and perhaps we could do with something like this every night in summer. You know, like all those continental cities do.

“I don’t think weather is an adequate excuse here,” says Mr Hjort. “Developing an evening economy has to be culture-led and Parliament Street is the place to put it.

“You can then make the footfall that was there at 3pm still be there at 7pm and suddenly this is a very different proposition; a very different city.”

Exactly. Ideas about late-night shopping can surely only come to fruition if traders know people are already going to be here. Keeping stores open on a wing and a prayer is a bit like putting the chicken before the egg. Give people something to do other than go to the pub at night and York just might surprise itself.

“It may be an exaggeration to say we could kick-start something, but I think we can leave a mark of what’s possible and that’s very much our intention,” adds Mr Hjort.

There is another cause for celebration this year; the major revamp of Newgate Market. But with its stall holders occupying Parliament Street for the duration, you are invited to part two of the food festival. Between September 19 and 28, ‘Quaff and Scoff through York’, will feature all the other regulars, minus the festival market.

These include wine tastings; a taste trail offering samples from delis and restaurants and food tastings. There will also be cookery demonstrations, hands-on workshops and back by popular demand is Dine At My Table. Launched in 2011 the event gives local chefs and cookery enthusiasts the chance to host an intimate dinner party, with a set menu for up to eight people.

If that isn’t enough to whet your appetite, how about supper at the Guildhall, just one of York’s iconic buildings that will be hosting fine dining extravaganzas.

Places are limited, but don’t despair, because many of the city’s restaurants will be offering special offers and menus.

In 2007 the festival changed hands to be run by a not-for-profit organisation in partnership with York City Council. Subsequently, its aims changed. Now the focus is on Yorkshire’s produce and chefs to educate and provide cookery lessons, demonstrations and events that celebrate the county’s food and drink.

One is the schools programme, where York primary schools are invited to meet local producers and chefs. More than 1,000 students attend each year to learn about cooking from local sources and how to produce healthy meals

Another is the young chefs competition, where budding Raymond Blancs can show off their culinary skills. One of them is ultimately awarded the accolade of Young Chef of the Year.

Around 400,000 visitors are expected throughout the ten days in September and the foodie itinerary will be supplemented by a lively fringe programme, including the annual York CAMRA Beer and Cider Festival.

“June will be the market and demonstrations, September is essentially everything else, “ says Mr Hjort. “ Might it happen like this again? Ask me again in mid-October.”

For the complete list of events in June and September visit yorkfoodfestival.com