A Particpant's View of LitFest

LitFest Welcome

Irish Food Writers’ Guild Chairperson, Aoife Carrigy gives a participant’s view of LitFest!

The sun shone on Shanagarry and we all pretended that life was always like this here in Ireland. That it wasn’t raining everywhere except this blessed corner of East Cork (it was). And that we were all well used to mucking it around a working farm and kicking back in country house hotel style in the company of some of the world’s biggest names in food, from the charming Yotam Ottolenghi to the shamelessly swaggering Francis Mallman.

But of course, given the calibre of international culinary talent who have attended the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Festival of Food and Wine each May since 2012, the many regular returnees to the festival are getting used to such excellent company and the fine food for thought it provides.

Like any great festival, one individual experience could only ever offer a glimpse of the buzz of activities on offer, from shoreside foraging, blind tastings and butter-making disco brunches to cookery demos, readings, debates and TED-style talks asking ‘Our Food – What’s the Story?’

Over in the walled garden, the Garden Shed proved a popular spot throughout the weekend with a broad-ranging line-up that included a Food & Wine Special ‘Questions and Answers’ session with John Bowman, a Banter interview with Ottolenghi and a panel of five-minute interviews with members of the Irish Food Writers Guild, conducted by myself as Chair of the Guild, about what they’re currently writing and why it’s exciting them.

From food politics to modern Irish recipes, profiles of up-and-coming artisan producers to reviews of the hottest new restaurants, taken collectively our 60-plus members really do write on a diverse range of food topics. Leslie Williams had a good honest rant about some of the things he loves (and hates) about Irish restaurant food today, applauding the original creativity of chefs like Mikael Viljanen of the Greenhouse.

Caroline Hennessy

Caroline Hennessy discussed the book she co-authored with Guild secretary, Kristin Jensen, Sláinte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer and Cider, and her unswerving devotion to the modern classic pairing of porter with dark chocolate brownies.

Joe McNamee called for the appropriate food authorities to give real support to small-scale food producers facing cases of food fraud, as their name is misused on menus to sell dishes featuring someone else’s produce.

Dee Laffan explored some of the challenges facing consumers trying to navigate ambiguous and sometimes oblique labels, and highlighted some of the added elements that don't have to be listed as ‘ingredients’ on a menu (something she has written about on the Guild website).

And Michael Kelly talked about his current series of weekly articles, 52 Veg – A Year of Growing, Cooking and Eating Your Own Food, which explores the themes so close to this GIY-founder’s heart.

Of course, many of those involved in the Guild talk featured at various other sessions throughout the action-packed weekend. And there were more Guild members who popped up elsewhere over the weekend: Marie Claire Digby seemed to be everywhere at once, documenting the festival for the Irish Times, while Imen McDonnell was baking up a storm at the Kerrygold Korner with a beautifully moist milk cake. Sally and John McKenna were MCing various talks while Darina Allen and Rory O’Connell were truly being the hosts with the most.

Francis Mallmann

Like the rest of the festival goers, many got up before dawn on Saturday morning to join Mallmann in the cookery school grounds to start the slow work of building the open-air fires he would cook off later that morning in time for the most leisurely of lunches. Others stayed up to a similar hour on the last night in the Big Shed, which is where much of the festival’s eating and drinking happens, as well as most of its dancing.

Outside the Big Shed, Fingal Ferguson of Gubbeen was roasting a whole lamb over fire and Broughgammon Farm were serving up kid goat tacos, while inside My Goodness wowed with their take on El Salvadorian papusa (ground corn tortilla stuffed with black beans) and Rocketman with his salads and pickles, and Green Saffron served curry until the wee hours.

There was fermented gorse tonic from America Village Apothecary, a whole host of kefirs and kombachas and a brilliant choice of Irish craft beers and ciders to wash it all down.

All in all, as sun-soaked Shanagarry weekends go, this was another one to remember. Roll on May 19–21, 2017, for the fifth annual Kerrygold Ballymaloe Litfest.


Aoife Carrigy


Chairwoman of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild, Aoife Carrigy is a freelance food and wine writer and editor. She is a regular contributor to FOOD&WINE Magazine, The Irish Independent, The Herald and Cara Magazine, amongst others, and was co-author of The Ard Bia Cookbook and general editor of The ICA Cookbook, The ICA Book of Home and Family, The ICA Book of Tea & Company and, most recently, The ICA Book of Christmas. In 2015, she teamed up with Great Irish Beverages to launch the inaugural Dublin Wine Fest and Irish Cider & Food Day.



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