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Ireland’s Leading Independent Food & Hospitality Guide

Diary of a Failte Ireland Food Champion

Cattle

Anthony O'Toole

April is one of my favourite months of the year. Not just because it is my birth month, but because the days are getting longer, the spring air is warming up, and signs of new life are appearing again. In the lush green fields, we see and hear newborn animals out with their mummies, farmers are tending the land, ploughing fields and sowing seeds for this year’s harvest.

In gardens, buds are swelling on trees, perennials are growing strongly as the soil warms up again, and this year’s herbs, fruits and vegetables are being sown and/or currently sprouting in modular trays in potting sheds, tunnels and windowsills before they’re transplanted into a more permanent home outside in fields, raised beds, heated glasshouses or polytunnels. The new season’s greens are starting to appear more often at farmers’ markets, grocers and independent stores, and on restaurant and café menus around Ireland.

April is basically the beginning of the year for me. My larder and menus gets an overhaul after the long storage season. I switch from a diet of roots to having more greens in my life. Our food culture is based around the cultivation of the land and shoreline. So much work takes place before any piece of food reaches the kitchen table. All this food and agricultural action should be cherished and shared with our fellow citizens, our international visitors and friends, followers and expats of Ireland.

This leads me on to what we as Food Champions have been up to for the last month or so. On March 17th, Saint Patrick’s Day, we launched a social media campaign called This is Irish Food to celebrate Irish food and the people and places that make it. All of the above food activities plus many more are being highlighted through our new Twitter , Instagram and Facebook accounts with support from the wider food and tourism community in Ireland and abroad using the hashtag #thisisIrishfood.

A special mention to fellow Food Champion, Seáneen Sullivan for spearheading the campaign for us, a lot of work went into behind the scenes to get this movement off the ground. On behalf of the collective, thank you.

We selected Saint Patrick’s Day to launch the campaign as, around this celebratory day, the virtual world becomes a little dominated by shamrock shaped cakes, vile green drinks and our famous Irish stews. Type ‘Saint Patrick’s Day food’ into Google and you will see what we mean. The sad thing is, there are many people around the world who actually think we eat and drink this stuff every day of the year. I love a good bowl of stew or a plate of bacon and cabbage, but I do not eat it every day of the year!

As most countries around the world join in on our Saint Patrick’s Day festivities, this celebration of our history was an ideal time to broadcast our real Irish food story, dispelling the myths and clichés of our heritage and focusing on a conversation around genuine Irish food and drink.

Over Saint Patrick’s Day and the adjoining weekend, the Food Champions were out in force inviting people from far and wide through social media, an online newsletter, personal emails, texts and phone calls to join in on the important movement by using the hashtag #thisisIrishfood to share food images and experiences that truly represent our food island.

Looking back on the messages and images shared so far across the platforms, we have a great mixture of food and drink experiences represented, from sourdough and soda breads coming out of the oven, briny oysters and craft beers being served to tourists in Temple Bar, seaweed foraging along our rugged shorelines, woolly sheep roaming the Burren, and goats cheese being made on the Aran Islands, to a vast display of Irish dishes been cooked and served at many acclaimed restaurants, cafés, guesthouses, and hotels around the island of Ireland. Go #FoodChamps, let’s keep the momentum going by sharing what makes our food culture special to a wider community. A road trip around Ireland and the world springs to mind.

In partnership with Fáilte Ireland, The Perennial Plate also released a short film titled ‘Bacon & Greens’ to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day with us. The film was a culmination of the Perennial Plate’s two-month stay in Ireland last September and October. Watch the sensational film here: https://www.theperennialplate.com/episodes/2017/03/episode-173-bacon-greens/ 

So far, The Perennial Plate have released nine short films about our Irish food culture within the three tourism destination brands; Wild Atlantic Way, Visit Dublin, A Breath of Fresh Air and Ireland’s Ancient East , accumulating tens of thousands of views across the world.

The most recent film entitled ‘The Ovens of Cappoquin’ is about Barron’s Bakery of Cappoquin, County Waterford. The video documents this small business, its commitment to tradition and integrity, and love for good bread. View all the short films here: http://www.theperennialplate.com. More films to be released in May.

Daniel Klein had this to say about Ireland on reflection of his stay.“After spending two months in the green nation of Ireland from which my family originates, I have a new perspective on the people and landscape, but even more so on the food. Ireland is already known for its generous and gregarious people and its lush and wild landscapes, but its food (unless you consider Guinness a food group) has always been an afterthought for the traveler: no longer. I tasted Native Oysters, which might be the best of my life, feasted on the most tender lamb (raised on seaweed and mountain grasses), and fell in love with the traditional Irish butcher shops, bakeries and fishing villages. Yes, Ireland has Michelin-starred restaurants and hip coffee shops, but for centuries it’s had what the best of Brooklyn strives for: time honoured traditions using the best ingredients in the world. Travel to Ireland for Guinness, for green fields and awe inspiring cliffs, for traditional music and stone walls, but also for the food.

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Anthony O’Toole

Anthony O’Toole is a freelance chef, consultant and fervernt food advocate. From a young age he was to be found helping his mother and grandmother in the kitchen; his mother was a great baker and made occasion cakes. His granny, to whom he was ‘like an adopted son’, grew tired of his experimentation in the kitchen and pushed him towards a kitchen job. He embarked on his cookery career at 13, learning quickly to take on the responsibilities of running a kitchen. Anthony went on to study a degree in Culinary Arts and then a Masters in Culinary Innovation and New Product Development in 2012 at Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT). He has also completed an Advanced WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) certificate in Wine and Spirits. After his degree, Anthony spent four and a half years as Food Business Developer with catering company KSG. Since then Anthony has worked as freelance chef and consultant, as well as a cookery tutor, caterer and event organiser. ‘Education’ and ‘collaboration’ are the tool by which Anthony believes we can grow our food culture to the next level and attract the international recognition our little green island deserves, and these are two things that he is deeply committed to, along with working to link everyone and everything to create a strong local food community. @CulinarianPress

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