THIS will be the biggest and best yet.

Thousands of people flocked to the first day of the Bolton Food and Drink festival.

There is something for everyone with crowds of hungry punters sampling tasty treats from around the world in stalls in Victoria Square, Newport Street and Market Street, built for the four-day extravaganza.

And there is even a special area for youngsters, with hundreds of children flocking to see CBeebies star, Katy Ashworth.

Organisers said the event, one of the biggest of its kind in the country, puts “Bolton on the map” — and promised it would be the best yet.

In the main festival marquee outside the Town Hall, singing waiters joined celebrity chef, and food festival favourite, Michael Caines MBE to officially launch the event surrounded by Bolton dignitaries.

Mr Caines, who has received two Michelin stars at his restaurant in Devon, said he was delighted to be back in Bolton for the festival, which is now in his ninth year.

He added: “I love it. It’s a real family event, with great community backing and it gets bigger every year.

“As well getting the chance to see celebrity chefs, there’s the balance of 130 food traders in the town centre, which is particularly good.

“People have been really struggling in the last few years, marked by the rise of food banks and people struggling to make ends meet, so for Bolton to have a festival with free access, where people can have a day out and be a part of this community event is great.”

About 130,000 people attended last year’s event, and deputy leader of Bolton Council Cllr Linda Thomas said they were hoping to break that record this year.

She added: “We are hoping with the introduction of the marquees along Le Mans Crescent and the new children’s and family section we will attract even more visitors.

“I think the festival is fantastic. We are really building momentum every year and now people from across the country to attend the festival.

“I’m also looking forward to the gala dinner, but as the councillor in charge of health and wellbeing I’m hoping it’s going to be healthy food.”

Keith Davies, direction of development and regeneration at Bolton Council, said he thinks the new children’s section has already proved a hit with families.

He added: “There’s a real buzz about the town centre already.

“Following our bid to bring in the new children’s zone, we’re hopeful that it will bring some new customers into the festival, for the benefit of the town centre and for the businesses.”

Officially opening the festival, the Mayor of Bolton Cllr Martin Donaghy said: “It’s gone from strength to strength over the years, offering something for all the family.

“I’m very much looking forward to watching some of the cookery demonstrations, and I’m hoping to learn a thing or two from the experts.

“It is wonderful that we have the food and drink festival, which portrays our town in such a positive light and shows the best of Bolton.”

A gala gala dinner, with seven courses prepared by top chefs, took place last night (FRI) at the Holiday Inn in Higher Bridge Street.

Today (SAT) celebrity chef Gino D’Acampo will be holding demos in the main festival marquee in Victoria Square, tomorrow (SUN) Masterchef judge John Torode will take centre stage and on Monday Saturday Kitchen presenter James Martin will hold court. All demos take place at 11am, 1pm and 3pm.

The markets, opening from 10am each day, will be on Victoria Square, Oxford Street, Deansgate, and Market Street, with arts and craft stalls on Newport Street.

There is also a wine and Pimms bar, German international bar, and a cider and slush bar, along with street and musical entertainment.