Isabel Kelly, co-director of the PX+ Festival, on the inspiration behind the event, which is taking place again this August.

In the latter part of eight years working in the commercial side of bakeries, I began to question the industry and became disillusioned by the lack of connection between the baker’s main ingredient and the wider food system.

Frequently, I would find myself working with some of the UK’s best chefs, who knew the intricate details of every product involved in creating a dish. Yet when it came to flour, not one chef questioned where it was from, how it had been grown or processed. Flour was, and still is, seen as a commodity product.

In  2017, I was involved with WastED London, a project by US chef Dan Barber and his team. The interactions between suppliers, farmers, producers, bakers, chefs, sommeliers and delivery companies sparked the idea of a longer-term event, and bringing these groups together. Buying and selling relationships had been put aside – people had been thinking and collaborating in an entirely different way.

We believed that, in creating a space for our diverse industry to come together, there was an opportunity to change some of that thinking while really considering our current practices, discussing what we needed to improve, and planning how we were going to get there. Together. 

In August 2018, more than 200 international participants joined us and more than 1,500 guests at Duchess Farm, Hertfordshire. A team of 14 industry professionals created 18 areas over the weekend.

One of the most talked-about was the live mill and bakery. Taking to the bakery stage were bakers from Louise Bannon to Paul Rhodes, millers including Gilchesters and Marriage’s, farmers and grain breeders such as John Letts and Fintan Keenan. Discussion, experimentation and collaboration were the order of the weekend. Butchers worked with bakers, bakers worked with chefs, chefs worked with farmers.

We return to Duchess Farm again this August – showcasing more incredible talent: Kim Bell of Small Food Bakery; Wing Mon Cheung of Ten Belles, Paris; Graison Gill of Bellgarde, New Orleans, to name a few. Andy Forbes will have his Moulin Astrie stone-mill in action once more, milling grains grown on the farm, along with other interesting varieties. Workshops, masterclasses and baking will take place in an even bigger barn this year.

In the words of a wonderful baker from Toronto, Dawn Woodward: “Let’s think of grain as a flavour component, not just a component to put flavour on.”