You may not have heard of Malton in Yorkshire, but it’s looking to put itself on the culinary map. The usual slightly underwhelming array of restaurants of every ethnicity except British has clearly got the town’s grandees champing at the culinary bit for something a bit more ‘oop market.’ So they’ve put out a challenge: they’ve put together a competition – in conjunction with Restaurant Magazine – for an experienced chef to open a new venture, or indeed expand his existing one (which begs the question – why the competition then?) with an investment of £10,000. The winner will demonstrate culinary flair and a clear love of local ingredients; in short he or she will be a champion of the traders, the town and the region with all the hopefully concomitant publicity.
A quick scoot through the town’s website offers something of an insight into the reason for the competition. They’ve got a wealth of butchers, bakers and candlestick makers as well as fishmongers and grocers – in short they are unusually well supplied with independent local retailers – but as usual the eating places seem to fall gastronomically short; they’re of the bog standard Indian/Chinese/Thai/Fish & Chip variety, none of which really pull in the punters.
You’ve got to hand it to the good people of Malton: they’ve clearly seen an opening in the restaurant market, realised something’s missing in the grand scheme of things and they’ve done something about it. If only all our councils could be so pro-active. Instead of encouraging the chains and the big boys, wouldn’t it be rather splendid if councils could support local independent food retailers in this fashion, the shops supplying the restaurants and the restaurants feeding custom back into the shops? Wouldn’t it gladden the heart in this age of austerity to meander down your high street and be dazzled by the shiny new tea shop or delicatessen instead of your heart – and tastebuds – slumping when you see yet another ‘safe’ pound shop or fried chicken place go up?
Is this in fact what the Government mean by Big Society? (Hoorah – have we cracked it at last?) It would take foresight and generosity and ambition and whole lot of other characteristics town councillors aren’t generally known for, but surely this could be a way forward to revitalise our crumbling high streets and reclaim them from the clanking shackles of the chain gang. Tell us your thoughts – is this a feasible proposition for the future or doomed to abject failure?