Failte Ireland's Food Champs

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

In the first of a new monthly column, Failte Ireland Food Champion Anthony O'Toole explains what it’s all about - and says, “We can and we will put our little green land on the world map for food and tourism.”

Back in June 2016, I was one of sixteen food advocates to be appointed as a new Fáilte Irelnd Food Champion, joining six existing Champions. So how did we all get this role you ask?

Basically, our peers in the tourism, food and hospitality industries nominated us for our involvement in the reviving Irish food movement.You could say that all of us being chosen as Food Champions was a natural progression for the food collective. Not just for our work in the Irish food industry, but because our social and travel adventures in and outside of Ireland revolve around seeking out the best food adventures and sharing these experiences and our passion for good eating with anyone who will listen!

On appointment in our new roles, John Mulcahy, Fáilte Ireland’s Head of Hospitality, Food and Standards, said that “the emerging food champions have already been working hard in their regions and can now become a part of our network, which we will support and guide as they continue to develop food tourism experiences.”

We all love Ireland’s food culture and how regional our food production, cooking, and hospitality can be. We believe that our little green island is on the same level as European and international food destination players like Italy, Spain, Japan, Mexico, China, and San Francisco.

Some say, and I really think this too, Ireland produces some of the best meat, fish, cheeses, fruit, vegetables, beers and spirits in the world. If you do a blind tasting, our produce always stands out, the flavour is more complex, it’s long tasting. You can taste our emerald terroir. Ireland also offers the some of the best all-round food experiences, but we just don’t have the confidence to play at the top levels just yet. We are getting there. As a nation, we need to keep supporting our indigenous food production and hospitality movement at a local level first.

What European countries like France, Italy and Spain have over us is that their cultures have been centred on their food for centuries; they have an unshakable pride in their produce, and they fiercely protect their artisan skills. They honour their farmers, grocers, and producers. Their children are brought up to appreciate good produce and the ritual of eating with others. They educate each other. We don’t do any of this. Well we actually did do this many many years ago. We just got lost along the way and forgot about our food history.

Also, we don’t have sun but we have the other, this other rich resource that comes from the sky. We have rain. Rain gives us possibilities. Our land and sea are fertile as long as we look after them. We need to listen to our European friends, train our children, and share our stories. We should remember our own proud moments in culinary history. Cherish the times when housewives churned out butter and bread during the wartime, how we used to live off the land and sea seasonally and pick wild fruit and herbs from the hedgerows and harvest seaweed along our shorelines. We have buckets of evocative stories to tell. After all, Ireland has a great reputation around the world for its warm hospitality. Why not food as well?

We export our best produce to other countries where many people do not even realise they are eating Irish ingredients! We need to keep some of this produce here and take pride in our edible treasures. The only way this can happen is if collectively, as Irish people, we start supporting our artisans and buy their produce. Yes, overall it’s more expensive compared to imports and bigger brands, but in the long run, it’s cheaper. Your health and wellness will be better off, less visits to the pharmacy and more money kept in your local community.

The focus for the Food Champion initiative in 2016/2017 will be on Food Champions from Fáilte Ireland’s two newest brands Ireland’s Ancient East – which I am representing - and Dublin – A Breath of Fresh Air with an addition of four new food champions to those already located along The Wild Atlantic Way.

So far, many of the Food Champions who were appointed back in 2013 have achieved much in the last three years; like Jacinta Dalton, who has been the key catalyst in Galway winning European Region of Gastronomy 2018, and the chef JP McMahon who is the driving force behind many new food initiatives, notably Food on the Edge, a two-day symposium that brings top international chefs and food enthusiasts to Galway in October to listen, talk and debate about the future of food around the world (a highlight annual event for me), and Olivia Duff who is the mighty force behind the Boyne Valley Food Series, a calendar of over 40 unique food events across Meath and Louth throughout the summer and autumn – if you haven’t attended one of these fantastic events, there is still time to attend one this year.

As a representative of Ireland’s Ancient East, I’m hoping my role as a Food Champion will help to build people’s confidence, tell tourists about our hidden stories along the east coast, introduce them to people behind the food, on the farms, in the kitchens as well as the people who sell the produce in butchers, bakeries, cafés, restaurants and green grocers. In my new monthly column here, I’ll walk you through our #FoodChamp journey and talk about the various voluntary food movements that all of the Food Champions are working on.

But first on our collective agenda so far this year was the inaugural Fáilte Ireland #FoodConnect conference which took place over two-days in Tankardstown House, County Meath on the 12th and 13th September 2016.

Food Connect is a new tourism congress developed by Fáilte Ireland where they exclusively disclose positive new findings on Irish food tourism. The conference featured expert international and local speakers talking about tourism trends and insights.

There were many highlights for me, but one key observation coming from the international speakers on Irish food tourism struck a chord with me: why do we not sell more local produce at our heritage sites? Local tastes should be on offer in each site all over Ireland - something I believe many readers will agree should be resolved. It’s quite embarrassing really when we’re selling Ireland as an international food destination and many of our overseas visitors will rarely get to taste our local edible treasures.

Overall, it was a truly inspirational two days, meeting my industry peers in Ireland and abroad and discussing future possibilities for Irish food tourism. A full report on the conference can be downloaded here or if you’re on Twitter, have a look at the hash-tag thread #FoodConnect.

Next, we’re all heading to Denmark in November on a benchmarking trip. As some of you might know, Denmark is going through a similar food movement to Ireland and we’re heading over to see what they are up to along with spreading the word about our own food tourism prospects.

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.

THE NEW FOOD CHAMPIONS ARE (see photo top right):

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.


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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