In the first Inside Track column, Robin Hutson explains how his Smoked & Uncut music and food festivals have gone from ‘a guy with a guitar' to Kaiser Chiefs playing to 4,000 hungry diners in a field
n the last weekend of July we saw the final one of our series of three Smoked & Uncut festivals. The first was at the Pig near Bath with Kaiser Chiefs headlining, the second at the Pig in the new Forest with the Vaccines and, last but by no means least, we had Sister Sledge at Lime Wood.
These festivals are no mean feat and I'm constantly staggered by the way the teams from both Lime Wood and the Pigs transfer their hotel skills seamlessly into festival hospitality and management in what can only be described as a very big party in a field.
This sense of hospitality at Smoked & Uncut is what we feel makes it unique; it is staffed and managed entirely by our team members from across the group and they apply the same level of service and attitude to guest care at the festivals as they do in their everyday roles.
Lime Wood's head chef Luke Holder has this operation down to a fine art, with the team cooking and freezing food the month or so before. A mere handful of the options on offer include: mac 'n' cheese with sage and onion crumb; chilli non con carne with tortilla chips, rice and guacamole; S&U burger with dirty sauce or Mitch Tonks' spider crab croquettes with spicy mayo.
We also coerce Angela Hartnett and Mark Hix into the field, come rain or shine, and they equally embrace the camping equipment and get cooking for those who want to enjoy a sit-down feast in a field. The biblical rain at the Pig near Bath could have been a showstopper, but I seriously don't think it dampened spirts - just layers of clothing.
We sold our new Pig book, Tales and Recipes from the Kitchen Garden and Beyond, from the back of a battered old Land Rover. Nothing is matchy-matchy in the way we do things, and we love the team's creative input as to how each stall at Smoked & Uncut is going to look. One of my favourite surprises was when Mark Jones, director of Smoked & Uncut, painted a cardboard cutout of an ice-cream van and stuck it to one of our hotel freezer trollies.
At each festival we have 150 of our own staff from the Pigs or Lime Wood volunteering and everyone seems to love being a part of it. It brings the guys who work so hard the opportunity to make their week a little different and gives teams from the seven hotels the chance to unite and enjoy our summer parties.
We didn't envisage we'd end up with three pretty sizeable summer festivals when, back in 2010, it was just a guy with a guitar and what felt like two men and a dog watching. I simply said to a handful of the team that to fill Sunday night occupancy we should just "get in a good band". Looking at the size of the thing now it feels like a mini Glastonbury!
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