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Diary of a Failte Ireland Food Champion

Failte Ireland Announcement

This month Failte Ireland Food Champion Anthony O'Toole welcomes the recently released Fáilte Ireland Food and Drink Strategy for 2018-2023.

Consuming Irish food and drink can be an immersive cultural experience and, for me, it is one of the most hospitable and exciting ways to see our island. Fáilte Ireland, our national tourism development authority, predicts that Irish food and drink can help grow tourism revenue as much as €400million over the next five years.

Let’s think ahead. It is the year 2023 and Irish food and drink is at the forefront of our restaurant and retail offering in national airports, train and bus stations, ferry ports, and visitor attractions around the island of Ireland.

Hotel, restaurant and pub chains have copped on and realised why good independent hotels, pubs, guesthouses, and restaurants have been offering local food and drink to their customers for years. It’s just good business.

According to research released by Fáilte Ireland in their Food and Drink Strategy for 2018-2023, it pays dividends to support your local network of food and drink producers. And it’s not just businesses that will reap the benefits, but the wider rural community will see changes also.

The full report can be viewed here

Irish Oysters

Paul Keeley, Director of Commercial Development at Fáilte Ireland, says “To raise our game, we need to develop our capacity and performance within food in tourism businesses so that operators deliver a world class offering that is consistent and profitable. As part of this, we need to ensure that our visitor attractions use local foods to deliver an offering representative of place, we need to enhance our national menu in areas such as the Irish Breakfast, support pubs in bringing authentic experiences to life and assist the tourism industry in tailoring Ireland’s local food story.”

We should still offer some international food and drink – tropical fruit, spices, grains, cured meats and cheeses, beers, wines, spirits, coffee and tea - to offer diversity. But in Ireland we produce the best butter, wonderful cheeses using milk from grass-fed cows, buffalo, goats and sheep (unique compared to most European cheeses), real bread whether it is a sourdough or our signature Irish soda, world class seafood, beef and lamb, relishes, pickles and jams, an array of delicious vegetables, fruit and herbs, and of course our craft beer and spirits – the quality of our Larder should be the standard of our offering anywhere we serve food and drink. Some intensive production methods in areas such as pork and poultry may need improvement, but generally speaking our standards are high.

Irish Vegetables

Five years from now, tourists arriving or leaving our national airports would be able to buy and enjoy this fantastic Irish produce provided with our world-renowned Irish hospitality. Wouldn’t that be nice? Fáilte Ireland’s new strategy is a five-year one with a ten-year vision. It focuses equally on food and drink as both are a fundamental part of our culinary heritage, so let’s sing about the revival of our craft beers and spirit industry and bring our stories to life.

The last two-year strategy (2014-2016) was focused more on shifting the perception of Ireland as a producer of great ingredients to that of a nation with an authentic cuisine, and overall it has delivered. Irish food and drink is now in huge demand and, with the help of other state agencies and investors around the world, new craft breweries and distilleries are popping up all over the country and there’s new excitement around our casual dining sector. The ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ brand has been very successful, in some areas even over successful, with the newer ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’ experience on schedule to deliver its outcomes also.

Irish Fish

At present, one-third of the tourism spend in Ireland is on food and drink, yet only 10% of tourists initially travel to Ireland to taste our food and drink. The rest travel to Ireland to experience our heritage and see our landscape, but many return home satisfied and even surprised with Ireland’s food and drink experience. We need to be proud of our food and drink, show it off more on menus, fish especially, and tell our authentic story to our visitors. Click here for video

Although a lot of work still needs to be done on the perception of Irish food and drink outside Ireland, Fáilte Ireland’s strategy document calls for them and other state agencies like Tourism Ireland to act fast on this - and it needs work internally too, firstly in our schools by educating the next generation about what Irish food is.

The Food Champions welcome the new vision and we were delighted to be involved in the development process along with other tourism stake holders, like Georgina Campbell’s Guides. Overall, the new strategy aims to increase availability of our great Irish food and drink experiences in all counties by underpinning the quality and sustainable practices on offer from our innovative food and drink companies.

The strategy points out Ireland’s strengths but also our weaknesses and challenges, with opportunities highlighted and advice on how we can diversify and strengthen our food and drink tourism offerings. This year will see another destination brand created for the midland counties and ‘Dublin - A Breath of Fresh Air’ brand will be refreshed, to focus more on the heritage and culture part of our capital city.

Irish Farm

Yes, the strategy is ambitious but I truly believe it can be delivered if the perception gap of Irish food can be connected and if state agencies and the private sector work together and collaborate to achieve this vision. If twenty-one strong opinionated Food Champions can work together on a voluntarybasis with Fáilte Ireland, they can do it too!

We all play a part in achieving this vision (please do take time to read the report) by offering high quality Irish food and drink on menus, and by Irish customers demanding Irish produce and paying a fair price for Irish food and drink. It will always be more expensive until you create a demand for it and appreciate it, and then wider availability and the economies of scale will take place.

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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