LIF18: In Conversation With Simon Fogal

Now in its fourth year, Leeds Indie Food returned to the City on 10 May.

Until 28 May, this now iconic Festival promises a spectacular showcase of Leeds’ finest foodie talent, bringing together an eclectic array of flavour and feast. And this year, it’s making the world a better place, too.

Originally the brainchild of a six-strong, food-passionate team, LIF has come a long way since its beginnings on Twitter back in 2014. Part of the action from the very beginning was Simon Fogal, now Creative Director at PR specialist, I Like Press, which took over running the Festival in February.

I sit down with Simon on the rainiest April day I can remember. Seriously, on my way to I Like Press’s cosy Munro House office, I witness a car send a puddle into a tidal wave over a pedestrian’s head, and hope this isn’t an omen for the summer months.

Listening, learning and collaboration

‘It’s been rather manic since February, but it’s been fun.’ Simon says, with a head wiggle that alludes to how much work has gone into pulling LIF together in a short space of time. ‘We tried to make it a smooth transition, so we did an online survey to see what people actually wanted.In case you’re wondering, the masses called for MORE street food, which LIF 2018 is delivering in abundance.

‘I wanted it to be community-based – about the indies again,’ says Simon, echoing the Festival’s original mission of giving independent food vendors an affordable platform to put on events and collaborate. ‘Collaborations are one thing I wanted more of,’ says Simon.  ‘Last year, Bundobust’s Vada Pav collaboration was probably the most Instagrammed part of the Festival, so we have Prashad working with them, Whitelock’s doing a scotch egg collaboration, Knave’s Kitchen working with Neon Cactus and Oporto – lots of little things that make a difference.’

The scotch egg specials at Whitelock’s. Photography by Ben Bentley.

The LIF 2018 Passport

This spirit of collaboration is very much a part of Simon’s vision. ‘One day, there’ll be a little bit of everything everywhere during the Festival – and everyone can get it cheaper because of the Passport. That brings us on to the LIF Passport, the pocket-sized notebook that gains you priority tickets, cheaper event prices, chances to win prizes, and a ton of free stuff throughout the Festival’s 18 days.

Simon tells me how this year, passport-holders can collect stamps to win prizes, as well as gaining access to six passport-only events. ‘I’m trying to make it more about the special things – like gin-tastings, wine-tastings and learning experiences. We know that indies can’t always take on big costs, and we want them to feel a part of something.’

Celebrating sustainability

This year’s festival began with a discussion-style launch event, giving people in the industry the chance to raise key issues about the current situation for restaurants in Leeds. ‘It was about saying “Let’s just have a conversation,”’ says Simon, telling me how the hot topics – sustainability, food waste, veganism and coffee cup disposal – are all reflected in the LIF programme.

I really want sustainability to be the top thing. Eventually, to put on an event at LIF, you’ll have to sign up to do a certain number of sustainable things in the future,’ Simon says, conjuring a LIF mission that extends into the future, where venues work together towards the common goal of making the planet a better place.

‘The exciting thing is The Cup.’ Simon says with an excited grin, explaining how the idea to have a reusable coffee cup that allows discounts in coffee shops across the City came from a conversation at a sustainability forum earlier this year. ‘A Leeds Cup will happen, but at the moment it’s going to be a LIF cup,’ he says. ‘Soon, every coffee shop will give you money off for supporting LIF – but that’s what we want for Leeds – hopefully, we’ll be able to develop a Leeds Cup in Leeds colours, it’ll be recognised by corporates as well as indies, and it’ll bring the City together.’

Leeds Indie Food Cups. Photography by Ben Bentley.

Taking action

Along with a focus on sustainability, LIF 2018 features more charity-led events than in previous years. ‘We always work with a charity, and this year we’ve chosen Action Against Hunger.’ Simon explains how one pound from every passport sold will go straight to AAH, who will also be putting on a ‘Too Many Critics’ dinner event at HOME restaurant on 14th May. The event will see critics such as the Guardian’s Rick Samandar and food writer, Felicity Spector take on the challenge of cooking for the restaurant’s chefs – and of course the guests – with games throughout the night to raise money and awareness.

‘We’re also working with the Real Junk Food Project on a lot of stuff,’ Simon says, ‘at the LIF launch, Adam Smith (the founder of the RJFP) challenged Ben Davy from Ox Club to a Ready, Steady, Cook style cook-off. They’ll get a bag of ingredients and a blind taste test – it’ll be fascinating.’

After a brief pause of nostalgia over the days of red tomatoes, green peppers and the legendary force of Ainsley Harriott, talk turns to the innovative food waste disposal system in place at this year’s Festival. If there is waste, the indies are going to donate it to the Pay As You Feel supermarket, which opens its doors on Boar Lane for the whole of May.

‘Another charity event is Bread for Your Head, working with Mind Charity,’ Simon says. ‘Making bread is really good for mental health, because the kneading is so therapeutic, so it’s a small event where people will talk about that, and make and eat bread. No one’s making any money – the ticket price goes to charity.’

Ben Davy & Adam Smith outside 34 Boar Lane

Picks of the Crop

With over 70 events on the programme, LIF truly does have something to suit every taste (no pun intended). Simon enthuses about some of his personal highlights, which include Mary Jane’s Bakehouse and Parmo vs. Parma – both at Laynes Espresso; RootsToShoots, the plant-based collaboration from Greedy Pig Kitchen and the Swine that Dines; KirkLate LIF special, which promises a BBQ smokehouse and an Aperol spritz bar; Alfred’s Dinnerbox – a celebration of all things Meanwood, and of course, Eat North – for that ever-popular fix of beery street food magic.

‘It’s going to be good,’ Simon exhales what might be the biggest understatement of the year, a perfect blend of total confidence and nervous anticipation in his eyes. He smiles. ‘People say it feels much slicker this year – they feel they can get involved easier, and that’s exactly what we want.’

So, with a matter of days between us and the gargantuan programme of LIF 2018, we go our separate ways – Simon to prepare for tonight’s Leeds International Festival launch, and me to combat the pouring rain still clattering down outside. It looks set to be a boisterously successful year for Leeds’ finest celebration of independent food, and with I Like Press at the helm, I can’t see anything stopping it.

This year, LIF has a unique range of merch on offer, bearing the designs of local design experts, Hungry Sandwich Club. You can find it here.


Do you have a story to tell?
We want to hear your stories and help you share them.