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Diary of a Failte Ireland Food Champion

View from the Moorings, Dungarvan

In the latest of his monthly columns, Failte Ireland Food Champion Anthony O'Toole welcomes the new food festival season

The festival season is upon us with community events taking all over Ireland nearly every week from now until late autumn. The Food Champions are out in force attending many events within their regions and travelling to other counties simply to enjoy the festivities, and also to offer support, and/or participate in workshops, demonstrations, and panel discussions.

The #FoodChamps attend many festivals and culinary events throughout the year, not because we have too, but because we all love be part of our local and wider community, sharing our culinary knowledge and appetite for Irish food, our producers, chefs and tourism professionals, and the gastronomic experiences that can be found within our regions - and not just the ones on the main streets, but also down our narrow country roads that are full of potholes and have grass growing in the centre. For me, sharing authentic stories and interacting with local people and the indigenous landscapes is key in creating a memorable culinary festival.

If you are thinking of attending any festival over the coming weeks and months, please do go and support, and if you can, take pictures of the food, people and activities, and share with friends and family around the world on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #ThisisIrishFood.

We need to tell non-festival goers, how special our food culture is and they should come and be part of the celebrations. The Food Champions are actively doing this too through our personal social accounts and jointly on the @ThisisIrishFood accounts across the three social platforms.

As I start this diary update, I’ve just returned home from a superb weekend (21-23 April) in Dungarvan where I attended the West Waterford Festival of Food. This picturesque town, sometimes known as ‘FUNGARVAN’ , is one of my favourite seaside towns (see photograph of Dungarvan early on Sunday morning, taken from my room above The Moorings).

Food Champion, Claire Dalton is currently the festival chairperson and did a stellar job in organising the festival’s 10th birthday. It was a triumph and the best yet. I haven’t asked Claire the secret to hosting one of the best food festivals in Ireland, but I believe it’s down to the strengths of the festival team and the local businesses that work with each other while having lots of fun and laughter throughout the planning process.

Three of my favourite events in Dungarvan this year were Stephen Harris of The Sportsman in Kent (England) pop-up dinner at The Tannery; Susan Boyle’s and Peter Mulryan’s ‘Irish Craft in a Glass’ whiskey workshop; and the Sunday ‘Bake Off’ event in the Town Hall Theatre.

I would not have wanted to be one of the judges this year, what a spectacular showcase of cakes and bakes. Well done and congratulations to all entries. Make sure you place the festival in your diary for 2018. Mine is marked already!

Out west, so many great events have taken place in April too, like the Connemara Food Festival; there were some great images on Twitter of a children’s cooking workshop titled ‘Where’s Dory’ with Jacinta Dalton and her colleague Maria Conboy - we need to see more of this at festivals and events around Ireland, and in our schools.

The Galway Food Festival was the place to be over Easter weekend where fellow Food Champions Brid Torrades, Mark Murphy, Jacinta Dalton and Gabriel Faherty along with Sinead Hennessey of Fáilte Ireland were out in force spreading the word about food tourism along the very successful Wild Atlantic Way.

Down south in Cork, Ruth Healy of Urru Culinary Store in Bandon has led another fantastic culinary initiative called the Cork Character Café Series, with the first series having taken place in April. This initiative was supported by Taste Cork and aims to promote Cork food producers through gradually building consumer awareness of what makes Cork food ‘Cork’ and to promote where people can access Cork food in its most authentic form. Throughout the year, the cafés will champion various themes in order to effectively showcase the outstanding variety of producers in Cork.

The first week was dedicated to Milleens Cheese in honour of Veronica Steele who passed away this January. Veronica was a trailblazer within the Irish food movement and the doyenne of the Irish farmhouse cheesemakers. If you don’t know who Veronica was, read this wonderful obituary published in the Irish Times.

This is an initiative, I believe, that could be duplicated across the country. Imagine how powerful this would be for raising awareness about our regional foods if restaurants, cafés and caterers worked together and highlighted one producer for a week, say four times a year within their region, let alone spreading the word about of food culture? It would also educate people about real local food. After all, our food culture would not exist without the people who work the land to produce good food.

The Boyne Valley Food Series has begun with another fantastic list of events. Olivia Duff and her team have yet again, pulled together a sequence of events representing all aspects of food and tourism within their cross-county regions.

Two of many highlight events for me are the Sheridan’s Irish Food Festival taking place on Sunday, May 28th at their warehouse in Carnaross, County Meath and The Kells Hinterland Festival from Thursday 22nd - Sunday 25th June, where you will see me and fellow Slowies (Slow Food members) talking about the People4Soil ‘STOP TREATING THE SOIL LIKE DIRT’ campaign. Read about the campaign here and please sign the adjoining petition to protect our soil . Without fertile soil, we would not exist.

Litfest, a Food and Drinks Literacy Festival at Ballymaloe is just around the corner, 19th -21st of May, where you will see many Food Champions networking with some of the best international chefs, writers, and food activists from around the world. Many who just travel to the festival as a festivalgoer, not as a Speaker. Some of the Food Champions will be participating in events, eg Garrett Fitzgerald of Brother Hubbard in Dublin and Ruth Healy of Urru in Bandon. I’ve attended Litfest since its inaugural year, it is one of those festivals where your food dreams can come true.

In Kildare town, Judith Boyle has been working with GIY on the new Cottage Market scheme where she will run a food and family market at Boyle’s in Kildare. So far, the market dates for the next two-months are June 4th, June 18th and July 16th. Judith is also part of the Kildare Town Medieval Festival, which is on 20th of August this year.

In the South East, I’ve joined the committee for the Rockin’ Food Festival which will take place in Enniscorthy on Friday 4th to Monday 7th of August. Yes, it’s the August Bank Holiday Weekend - so all roads lead to Enniscorthy for that weekend. It promises to be a weekend full of 1950’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, workshops, popups and taste trails designed to celebrate Wexford’s diverse range of food, heritage, and craft, irrespective of whether you are a stick-to-what-you-know type or an adventurist.

As I have another life in Dublin and spend half my time there, I also sit on the committee for Slow Food Dublin. We are currently redesigning our website which will have an events calendar and a new ‘Explore Dublin’ area listing all the great eateries, shops, producers and culinary experiences around Dublin who champion the ethos of good, clean and fair food. We are also working on a monthly calendar of events, including a festival in the heart of Dublin city, celebrating the best of what Dublin’s food, people, community, and culture.

There are so many other festivals and events taking place across the country, many of the Food Champions are heavily involved with or support them year on year - another that I am really fond of is the Burren Slow Food Festival that is taking place this weekend (12-14 May) in Lisdoonvarna, County Clare.

Until my next update, please join the #FoodChamps and keep shouting about our rich soils, clear seas, and even more importantly, our skilled farmers, growers, fishermen and women, butchers, producers, chefs, servers and all those people involved in the food movement around Ireland. We can and we will put our little green land on the world map for food and tourism. 

Photo caption: Fáilte Ireland’s new food champions (front row, l to r) Jacinta Dalton, Gabriel Faherty, Olivia Duff, Ketty Elisabeth, Garrett Fitzgerald, Chris Molloy, Ruth Healy and Brid Torrades. (Back row, l to r) Kevin Ahern, Seáneen Sullivan, Claire Dalton, Tom Flavin, Judith Boyle, Ivan Varian, Aine Maguire, Pádraic Óg Gallagher, Patrick Ryan, John Relihan, Anthony O’Toole and Niall Sabongi. Photograph: Pat Moore

THE NEW FOOD CHAMPIONS ARE:

Fáilte Ireland’s new food champions (front row, l to r) Jacinta Dalton, Gabriel Faherty, Olivia Duff, Ketty Elisabeth, Garrett Fitzgerald, Chris Molloy, Ruth Healy and Brid Torrades. (Back row, l to r) Kevin Ahern, Seáneen Sullivan, Claire Dalton, Tom Flavin, Judith Boyle, Ivan Varian, Aine Maguire, Pádraic Óg Gallagher, Patrick Ryan, John Relihan, Anthony O’Toole and Niall Sabongi. Photograph: Pat Moore 

Ireland’s Ancient East

Anthony O’Toole – Chef, culinary creative and writer, Wexford
Claire Dalton - Dungarvan Brewing Company, Waterford
Gearóid Lynch - The Olde Post Inn, Cavan
Judith Boyle - Beer sommelier and publican, Kildare
Patrick Ryan - Firehouse Bakery, Wicklow
John Relihan - Holy Smoke, Cork
Kevin Ahern – Sage, Cork
Olivia Duff – The Headfort Arms Hotel, Meath

Dublin – A Breath of Fresh Air

Garrett Fitzgerald - Brother Hubbard
Ivan Varian - Dalkey Food Company
Niall Sabongi - Klaw
Ketty Elizabeth - French Foodie in Dublin and Delicious Dublin Tours
Seáneen Sullivan – L. Mulligan Grocer
Pádraic Óg Gallagher - The Boxty House

Wild Atlantic Way

Áine Maguire - The Idle Wall, Mayo
Gabriel Faherty - Aran Islands Goat’s Cheese, Galway
Chris Molloy - The Lemon Tree, Donegal
Tom Flavin - The Strand Hotel, Limerick
Mark Murphy - Dingle Cookery School, Kerry
Jacinta Dalton - Department of Culinary Arts, GMIT, Galway
Ruth Healy - Urru Culinary Store, Cork
Bríd Torrades - Osta Cafe, Sligo

For more information about the Food Champions, please click here.

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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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