ONCE more, York city centre is a feast for the senses as the annual festival of food and drink gets underway.

This year's event is running until Sunday, October 1 with a programme to suit all.

Some 400,000 visitors are expected over its ten-day duration, as well as 1,000 school children.

You can check out the full programme at yorkfoodfestival.com.

Meantime, we thought we would take a look back at the popular festival over the years.

It first began in 1997 and was quite a different beast, with the focus on attracting celebrity chefs to York. Today, the festival is more about celebrating local and independent businesses and producers.

We took a dip into the archives to pull out some images of the festival over the years.

As you can see, some big names from the culinary scene have taken part in the festival including Raymond Blanc, Brian Turner, and - of course - North Yorkshire's own star chef James Martin.

York Press: Chef Brian Turner at the festival in 2000Chef Brian Turner at the festival in 2000

Back to the beginning

The York Food Festival - then known as the York Festival of Food and Drink - began in 1997 and was run by the local tourism partnership, First Stop York.

In 2004, local restaurateur Michael Hjort became the creative director of the festival (and is still the festival director) and in 2007, the festival changed hands to be run by a not-for-profit organisation in partnership with City of York Council.

With this change, the festival took a new direction: focusing on Yorkshire produce and chefs with the aim to educate and provide cookery lessons, demonstrations, and events to celebrate Yorkshire food and drink.

Famous chefs in York

Today, while the focus is very much on local and independent producers and businesses, some big culinary guns have still taken part in the annual festival in recent years including Tommy Banks and Stef Moon. Of course, as Yorkshire chefs in their own right, they tick the 'must be local' box.

Ryedale-born TV chef James Martin has been another popular choice at the festival. In 2006, he fed festival goers with a series of speciality puddings. He was in Parliament Street to do some filming beside the deliciouslyorkshire marquee for his new show Sweet Baby James. Food festival crowds were only too happy to help him road-test his recipes.

York Press: James Martin invites fesival goers to try his desserts in 2006James Martin invites fesival goers to try his desserts in 2006

In 2004, top chef Raymond Blanc helped judge the winner of the GNER Chef of the Year competition at the York Festival of Food & Drink.

And back in 1998, TV chef Andrew Nutter, of Ready Steady Cook fame, was also in the city to share tips, recipes and cooking skills with customers at Marks & Spencer's home store in Coppergate.

Early days

There was an air of excitement when the festival first launched in 1997 and was primed to be the largest food and drink festival in the country.

It ran from September 20 to 28, with wining and dining events taking place across the city.

The festival was expected to attract thousands of extra visitors and become a regular fixture on York's social calendar.

Tourist attractions across the city got involved in hosting events during the week, including the National Railway Museum which staged a railway catering exhibition looking at cuisine on the rails from the age of steam to the present day.

And the Jorvik Viking Centre offered a taste of food from the days when take-away food involved leaping in a longboat and crossing the North Sea.

York Press: Raymond Blanc at the festival in 2004Raymond Blanc at the festival in 2004

Other attractions included a "Breakfast Balloon Flotilla" which launched the festival with a mass release of hot air balloons in the shape of breakfast items.

There was also a festival food theatre with demonstrations from celebrity chefs.

The eight day festival offered 75 events and drew an estimated 38,000 visitors and residents.


Looking back, Michael Hjort said York's food scene had changed dramatically over the years.

He said: “When we first opened, there was no craft bakery in York, nobody made bread in the city centre and there were no ice-cream parlours.”