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Diary of a Failte Ireland Food Champion

Limerick Workshop

Last June Anthony O'Toole was one of a group appointed as the new Fáilte Ireland Food Champions. So, one year later, what have they been up to?

Since June 2016, we Food Champions have worked closely with the Fáilte Ireland Food Tourism team, discussing the various food tourism opportunities within our regions. This type of communication works two ways.

First, we as Food Champions give regular updates on what is happening on the ground at grassroots level, through sharing stories and experiences that are in development, and highlighting the ones that are ready to be sold to a wider audience. We also share our findings from our own adventures and research while travelling around Ireland and beyond, which helps our Food Tourism Development Network to build, promote and market Ireland as a high-quality and competitive tourism destination.

Secondly, we regularly receive support, direction and updates from them to assist us with the development of our regions inline with the three brand destinations – Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s Ancient East and Dublin – A Breath of Fresh Air.

Over the last couple of months, we have also been working with Fáilte Ireland on the creation of their new food tourism strategy for 2017 – 2021 (2028). Our direction will help domestic and overseas visitors to experience a unique insight into Ireland’s evolving food story. It will help spread the vision and values of Irish Food Tourism and the three brand experiences among customers, media, food and tourism businesses, and other stakeholders. Subsequently, it will assist with mobilising local food and tourism operators to raise the overall quality of food and drink on offer to visitors across Ireland.

Along with the above, progress is well under way with identified projects we have each agreed to work on in partnership with Fáilte Ireland. As part of the three-year programme, we all have to develop and deliver a local food tourism initiative, the impact of which will be measurable and directly attributable to our role as a Food Champion.

Our chosen initiative could range from an event of scale (like a festival, event or symposium) to a small local undertaking (creating a new food tourism experience or organising a workshop for local producers), to a more of a coordinating role.

This role could be assisting with the development of a local food network in creating a food destination, or organising the application that might possibly receive a major tourism destination award. Think Dingle, Galway, Boyne Valley, West Cork, or Kilkenny - all major food destinations.

One of the highlights so far from working on this voluntary mission is the strong collective that has formed. We’ve all bonded through our love for good food and drink and, more importantly, our love for Ireland’s culinary heritage and landscape, the food and drink it produces, our people and the stories they have to tell along with the Irish spirit of conviviality.

Literally thousands of emails, tweets, WhatsApp and Facebook messages, texts, Skype and phone calls, and face-to-face meetings have formed true friendships over the last year. In addition, tourism ideas were shared, supported and developed, and we have collaborated at food festivals and events across the island. A few alliances have even formed outside of Ireland, through our personal contacts and benchmarking trips where we are actively promoting the unique and high quality food stories that can be experienced on our tiny island.

Butchers Table Supper

On May 29th and 30th, many of the Food Champions and Food Ambassadors came together at the Limerick Strand Hotel for a two-day Fáilte Ireland workshop. The workshop comprised of a food tourism strategy update, Food Champion presentations and discussions and a highly benefical business development session, which aimed to tell us the ways a tourism experience can be promoted and sold across the world.

Sinead Henessey from the Food Tourism team began with sharing research and findings from writing the new food tourism strategy, which defines the road ahead for food tourism in Ireland over the next four to ten years.

We’re not allowed to say much yet, as nothing has been finalised or signed off by the powers that be. So let’s just say that we were happy and generally in agreement with the new direction that food in tourism will take. I am really excited about the possible food tourism events and partnerships that the rollout of the new strategy will bring.

One such partnership is with Georgina Campbell for the ‘Georgina Campbell Irish Breakfast Awards’, a new national awards scheme that took place in April and aims to remind people of the important role the Irish Breakfast plays in Irish tourism, Irish hospitality and Irish food. It also serves to celebrate and promote Irish hospitality providers and Irish food producers who excel in their delivery of high quality produce and the Irish Breakfast experience.

After Sinead’s insightful presentation, all the Food Champions in attendance had to deliver a presentation to the group on their identified project for 2017. What I particularly loved about this process was the questions and answer session, where we all offered and received invaluable advice and feedback on our projects.

We also received a Food on the Edge update from former Food Champion and now Food Ambassador, JP McMahon. Food on the Edge was born from the Food Champion programme and is now recognised as one of the best international food symposiums. If you are not familiar with the event, check out their website here: foodontheedge.ie 

Below is a list of the projects that were presented over the two days. Unfortunately three of the Food Champions were not attendance due to work commitments. I will include their projects in my updates over the coming months.

Ireland’s Ancient East

Olivia Duff (Meath) – Boyne Valley Food Series Banquet at the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery.
Claire Dalton (Waterford) – Food - The Waterford Way.
Gearoid Lynch (Cavan) – Cavan Food Network.
Kevin Ahern (Cork) – Feast - East Cork’s Food & Drinks Festival.
Anthony O’Toole – Enniscorthy Food Tourism Project.
Judith Boyle – Legendary Tastings – the modern stories behind Ireland’s drinks.
Patrick Ryan – This is Irish Food Experience – an immersive two-day event with a butcher, baker and beer maker.
John Relihan – Cork in the Fall – a two-day experience aimed at celebrating Cork’s food heritage and the game season.

Dublin - A Breath of Fresh Air

Seáneen Sullivan (Dublin) – Monthly series of Irish Food and Drink Pairing Events.
Ketty Quigley (Dublin) – Howth Coastal Food Tours.
Padraic Óg Gallagher (Dublin) – Brews & Stews.

Wild Atlantic Way

Jacinta Dalton (Galway) – European Region of Gastronomy 2018.
Ruth Healy (Cork) – Cork Character Cafés.
Mark Murphy (Kerry) – “An Bord Fada” Wild Atlantic Way Long Table.
Brid Torrades (Sligo) – Wild Atlantic Salmon Route.
Chris Molloy (Donegal) – Tasting Menu of Donegal’s Wild Atlantic Way.
Áine Maguire – Westport Food Tours.
Tom Flavin (Limerick) – Pigtown Culture and Food Series.

Pigtown

I will elaborate on the above projects over the year ahead as they developh. But one such initiative that we all got to experience on the Monday night during the workshop was ‘The Butchers Table Supper‘ with special Pigtown performances at the Limerick Milk Market for the launch of the ‘Pigtown Culture and Food Series’ that Tom Flavin and the team behind Limerick Food Group have curated.

This September and October, the ‘Pigtown Culture and Food Series’ is taking over Limerick in an exciting celebration of Limerick’s Food Culture. Inspired by the history of Limerick’s famous pig industry, the Limerick Food Group has designed a series of events that will focus on Limerick’s unique heritage as a way to showcase the great food and drink available locally, along with sharing stories about Limerick’s piggy history.

Some of the events in the two-month series are: food trails, urban foraging walks, pigtown performance, butchery skills demos, the apprentice pigtown champion, numerous children’s events and the pigtown parade.

I for one am looking forward to heading back down to Limerick over the two-months to join in on the piggy festivites.

For more information, checkout pigtown.ie and follow them on Twitter , Facebook and Instagram .

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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