WHEN I sat down with Patrick Burke in February 2020 to preview that year’s Taste Jersey, none of the participants – or would-be diners – had any idea that, within days of launching the festival, restaurants would be closed and Islanders would be plunged into lockdown.
Nor, at that point, did anyone imagine that it would be two years before hoteliers would be able to hope for a season that was not impacted by Covid.
Happily for all those in the industry, that time has now arrived and, with hopes high for a strong year ahead, Luxury Jersey Hotels members are excited to be launching the season with a gastronomic celebration of Island produce.
‘We are all very excited about this year’s festival, as Taste Jersey is a wonderful platform for the hotels and the restaurants within those hotels to showcase both their food offer and the world-class produce that we are so lucky to have on our doorstep,’ explained Mr Burke, LJH chair and owner of The Atlantic Hotel.
‘For many years, hotel restaurants across the British Isles have struggled to secure the reputation they deserve, which is a shame, as I think that some of the best food to be had is in such establishments, particularly in Jersey, where food forms a core part of many hotels’ DNA.
‘Local hotels are very much like mini resorts, with a strong focus on leisure, which means that there is a strength and depth in their kitchens which you may not find in a standalone restaurant,’ he added.
Underpinning this strength and depth, says Mr Burke, is the quality of local produce. ‘There is a wonderful marriage that comes from hospitality and agriculture, two long-standing industries which are fundamental to the Island’s culture,’ he explained. ‘So much of the success of Taste Jersey stems from the quality of that produce. In fact, there are not many places that I know of which share that intrinsic quality of ingredients and the food and service which follow.’
And, when you combine that produce with the talented chefs working in LJH properties, it is no surprise, says Mr Burke, that so many of the restaurants in these hotels have been awarded AA rosettes.
The chefs’ use of local produce is not new. Indeed, many of the hotels have been championing the Island’s seafood, agricultural and dairy produce for many years.
But, as concerns about sustainability and a demand for experiential holidays grow, Taste Jersey has an ever-expanding role to play both in supporting local producers and in offering another string to Jersey’s tourism bow.
‘While Jersey has been a little bit overlooked in tourism terms in recent years, UK residents are now much more open to the idea of a holiday closer to home, which plays well for the Island,’ said Mr Burke. ‘People are also deeply motivated to experience much more in a destination than they have been previously, and Taste Jersey, with its focus on local produce, is a very good example of an event that can add an extra dimension to their holiday.’
Having previously run in February and March, Mr Burke says that the slightly later start for this year’s event is ideal both for showcasing new-season produce and for extending the season.
‘Jersey is in a very competitive league when it comes to tourism, which means that we have to find every reason we can to shout about the Island’s offer,’ he smiled. ‘While holding Taste Jersey in the spring creates a wonderful opportunity for Islanders to enjoy some of the finest local produce, having it at the beginning of the season also gives us the chance to put Jersey on the visitor map, something that we are doing in partnership with Visit Jersey, who have been incredibly supportive of the festival.
‘As an industry, we recognise that the summer months generally sell very well and face the highest demand. We also know that building visitor numbers in the depths of winter is a tough ask. Therefore, the opportunity lies in building numbers in the shoulder months, when there tends to be spare capacity both on flights into the Island and in hotels.’
After two years in which bookings were impacted significantly by Covid, Mr Burke said signs for the industry this year were positive.
‘It is very early days in terms of this season but we are certainly encouraged by the rate at which bookings are coming in,’ he said. ‘There is a strong feeling that we are returning to a more normal position again and, having survived everything that has been thrown at us over the past couple of years, we do feel more confident about the future.’
Helping to fuel this optimism is the ‘new market’ coming to the Island. ‘For a generation, we have seen tourism growing exponentially around the world but declining in Jersey, as people have chosen to travel further afield and haven’t really considered the Island as a destination,’ he reflected. ‘In the past two seasons, heavily truncated though they were, we saw people who might not have come here previously, giving the Island a go. And what was particularly heartening was how many of these people said what a wonderful experience they had enjoyed in the Island and that they now wanted to come back.
‘This means that, for the next year or two, we have the opportunity to benefit both from this new audience and also from our regular clients, many of whom have not felt able to travel over the last two years.’
With the prospect of a full year’s trade ahead, Mr Burke is not alone in looking forward to the 2022 season.
‘There is a sense of excitement throughout the industry,’ he smiled. ‘We are able to celebrate what we do again, and Taste Jersey is a very special celebration with which to start the season. It is a festival which works on every level, as it has the potential to attract new visitors, while providing a wonderful additional experience to people who were travelling to Jersey anyway and giving local residents who support us year round the opportunity to enjoy the special menus on offer in our hotels.
‘After an exceptionally difficult time for everyone, it is incredibly exciting that we are once more able to come together and celebrate our local produce through this very special event.’