Talks & Tastings

Tasting Selection

The Mad Platter
Christos Kyriakidis is the owner of The Mad Platter micro bar and kitchen in Usk. He will give a cocktail master class in which he will showcase a number of his signature cocktails. Also Christos will talk about what makes a good cocktail and the importance of ice and use of sugar syrup infusions.

Christos Kyriakidis, owner of The Mad Platter microbar and kitchen in picturesque town of Usk.

Christos is originally from Greece but moved to Cyprus where his career in mixology began. At the age of nineteen he started working at the 5 star Elysium Hotel & Resort in Paphos, Cyprus. Here he began his lifelong passion for the preparation and serving of cocktails. Since then he has extended his knowledge of drinks and particularly the history of cocktails and the production of spirits.

In 2005 Christos moved to Cardiff to take up the post of Head Bartender at the Mercure Holland House Hotel before moving onto the Brookes Cocktail Bar as Bar Manager and later went on to the Park House Club as Bars Manager for four years. Christos has also worked as a consultant for Penderyn developing cocktails recipes using their brands. He moved away to work for the Plymouth Gin Distillery in early 2013, where he developed his passion and knowledge for gin.

During his time in Wales he has won many awards including Wales Bartender of the Year in 2008. Christos has also made his name as the finest bartender in the city of Cardiff. He has entered and won many cocktail competitions, reaching the final of the Diageo World Class UK Finalist in 2010 which has been his highlight to date.

Christos has visited many distilleries both in the UK and abroad. He has visited Venezuela with Diageo, Tennessee in the USA for Jack Daniels, Bols Genever in Holland and Hennessy Cognac in France.

In August 2015 he returned to Newport to open Mojo The FoodBar where he was promoted to Director of Mixology. In November 2016 he set up his own company CK Bar Consultancy and has provided consultancy work for Etc in Penarth, The Ridgeway Bar & Kitchen in Newport and Hi Coffee in Newport.

Christos is now the owner of the Mad Platter which serves delicious meat, cheese and seafood platters together with delicious cocktails.

Christos will showcase a number of his signature cocktails and talk about what makes a good cocktail, the importance of ice and use of sugar syrup infusions.

Dragonphyre Chocolate
Jules James is a Master Chocolatier from Dragonphyre Chocolate in Abergavenny. He will be on hand to help you find your perfect chocolate, what’s not to love?

Jules James, master chocolatier at Dragonphyre Chocolate in Abergavenny.

Jules was born in Crickhowell but brought up in Canada. At the age of seventeen Jules began a four year apprenticeship at Chef School in Toronto. During his apprenticeship he studied a wide range of cooking skills and styles of cooking. However during this time he discovered his enduring passion for pastry work, particularly working with chocolate.

After his completed his apprenticeship he worked at a number of high end hotels across Canada. His first job as a chef was at the Constallation Hotel in Toronto which was a hotel with a large convention clientele. Here Jules perfected his cooking skills before moving on to new areas.

Never one for the day to day kitchen of a restaurant, Jules moved on to The Molson Indy car racing in both Toronto and Vancouver. Here he was Assistant Executive Head Chef in the executive dining area. Here he specialised in pastry using his excellent chocolate skills to produce memorable desserts.

His next stop was as executive chef on a three and a half million dollar mega yacht. He spent the next couple of years sailing from Alaska to the Panama Canal, onto the Bahamas and finally to Maine in the USA.

His globetrotting years now behind him he has returned to his roots in South Wales. His passion for chocolate has not dimmed and he is now one of only a few Master Chocolatiers in the UK. In his workshop in the heart of Abergavenny he continues to make all manner of chocolate confections to delight both the eye and the taste buds of dedicated chocolate lovers.

Henry Ashby Master Forager
Henry’s first forage was aged eight when his maternal Grandfather fed him hawthorn buds which he called “Bread and Cheese”. At that time he spent time with both his granddads during his holidays and they both took him foraging. At the age of ten, Henry moved to the Isles of Scilly where he met Vernon Thompson who was to change his life. He took him shrimping, cockling, picking sea spinach and wild watercress. There were also several mushrooms on the island including giant puffballs, field mushrooms and bay boletus.

Henry has continued foraging throughout his life as well as spending twenty-four years in the Royal Navy. When Henry moved to Monmouthshire he realised what a fantastic place it was. He decided to use his skills as a forager to earn some money. He was worried that what had been a huge part of his life for such a long time and something that he thoroughly enjoys, would lose its magic. He shouldn’t have worried the magic was still there. The county of Monmouthshire is great for foraging. Between the shores, meadows and forests there isn’t much wild food that cannot be found. A big surprise for Henry was that wild vegetables salad leaves and herbs were the biggest part of his business with mushrooms second and nuts and berries third.

He started supplying the Hardwick, Crown at Whitebrook and The Llansantffraed Court Hotel, some of the finest hotels and restaurants in Monmouthshire. Sadly about three years ago Henry’s health deteriorated and he had to slow down. Henry now forages daily for Chris Harrod, Chef/Patron of the Whitebrook , Michelin starred Restaurant with Rooms in the Wye Valley.  Henry says that foraging is like gardening, it is something deeply satisfying for the human condition.” When you get home with goodies and share a meal with family and friends it doesn’t get any better”.

Early in June 2006 Henry found Penny bun mushrooms in a wood not far from Chepstow, which was unusually early. At that time of year he would normally be harvesting salt marsh salad herbs and leaves. Marsh samphire usually grows in the same area as sea asters and sea plantains which are similar to their land cousins. One of Henry’s favourites is arrow grass which is sometimes called coriander grass. Sea blights are very popular with restaurants and in late summer they turn a lovely deep red. Not far from the muddy shore line sea spinach can be found sometimes called sea beet. Orache is another wild vegetable that changes colour and can be deep orange or lemon yellow. Henry offers a warning “If you want to forage it is best to learn from a professional as you don’t want to eat hemlock or ragwort which are both common in Monmouthshire and very poisonous.

White Castle Vineyard
Robb Merchant and his wife Nicola are the owners of the award winning White Castle Vineyard near Monmouth. Robb will share their story and the secret of his delicious wine together with a tutored tasting.

White Castle Vineyard is a small Welsh vineyard situated near the market towns of Abergavenny and Monmouth which is owned and run by Robb and Nicola Merchant. In 1995 they purchased a 12 acre small holding and a year later converted the milking parlour into their home. It was 2008 before their dream of owning a vineyard became a reality when a five acre, gently sloping, south facing field was purchased. Soil tests were performed and vines ordered. They carefully selected varieties that they knew would grow well in their soil and produce grapes of the highest possible quality in the micro climate of the vineyard.

In May the following year four thousand vines were planted. The varieties they choose were Pinot Noir, Regent and Rondo, all red varieties together with Seyval Blanc & Phoenix to produce white grapes. For Robb and Nicola there was now no turning back. May 2010 saw a further planting of 800 vines this variety being Siegerrebe another white variety. Also in 20110 the Scott Henry trellising system was erected with the help of family members and their first harvest took place through October 2011.

Robb & Nicola attended Plumpton College East Sussex to study viticulture. This training gave them the skills needed to produce quality wines in their Welsh vineyard.

They believe that making quality wine starts in the vineyard. The grapes are closely monitored and as they ripen they are carefully hand harvested and selected. They are then immediately transported to the winery for pressing to ensure that they retain all the freshness and fruity aromas intact.

White Castle Vineyard now produces award winning wines which can be found in many top quality restaurants both locally and further afield.

Robb and Nicola also offer a conducted vineyard tours followed by wine tasting at 3pm Friday, Saturday Sunday and Bank holidays.

Forage Fine Foods
Forage Fine Foods is a little food business set on top of a hill in the gorgeous Black Mountains which is run by Liz Knight from her kitchen in rural Herefordshire.

From her kitchen window Liz looks out onto heather, wild thyme and whimberries on the mountain tops and onto lanes billowing with meadowsweet, hogweed and cherry blossom. The nearby meadows run riot with sorrel, clover and cleavers and the hedgerows are full of honeysuckle, hawthorn, elder and hazel. Apart from being a feast for the eyes Liz says it’s
almost impossible not to find something to eat from Nature’s bounty. For thousands of years the people of this wonderful land have picked, eaten and thrived on the inspirational larder that sits outside of everyone’s front door.

Liz grew up in a normal street in a normal town just outside London. When she was eight years old she walked passed Cath & Vic’s house. Vic gave her a biscuit & Cath showed her a greenhouse full of cherry tomatoes, fushias and
“mind-your-own-business”. For those of you who don’t know “mind your own business” is a creeping plant in the nettle family. From the day she met Cath & ate a plump fushia berry squashed into the flesh of a cherry tomato, life was
never quite the same again.

Liz has a fire in her belly about the wild and wonderful food of Britain and is on a mission to inspire in people a love affair with the taste of the wild. She makes her wares in tiny batches and turns the flavours she loves into a range of seasonings and condiments that she thinks will win people’s hearts and their tastebuds. To get people started on their own foraging journey Liz runs foraging courses and wild feasts throughout the year.