Ardkeen Quality Food Store - Special Irish Foods & The People Who Make Them

Colin and Kevin Jephson

At the 2016 Euro-Toques EirGrid Food Awards, held at Ballymaloe House, Co Cork, in June, it was pointed out that there are currently over 3,500 small to medium sized food businesses operating in Ireland: “Euro-Toques chefs work directly with the small producers and credit this produce that comes through their kitchen doors every day with the success of their award-winning restaurants. Furthermore, supporting small local food businesses benefits the local economy too: A study by the New Economics Foundation in London found that every €14 spent at a local food business is worth €35 for the local area, compared with just €20 when the same amount is spent in a supermarket or wholesaler.”

Supporting independent producers is what Euro-Toques is all about, of course, and over the last three decades member chefs throughout Europe have played a key role in nurturing local produce and introducing lucky diners to special foods and ingredients that might not have been able to survive without them.

But retail opportunities are equally vital to their success, and many small producers have particular reason to be grateful to the speciality stores who champion them.

So it was great to see that, for the first time this year, Euro-Toques presented not only several annual awards to producers but also a Special Commendation to Colin and Kevin Jephson (see image above) of the independent food retailer Ardkeen Quality Food Store in Waterford, for their tremendous support of Irish artisans and speciality food producers.

Ardkeen Quality Food was founded as a small grocery store by Robert and Pamela Jephson in 1967 and today is run today Robert and Pamela’s three sons, Colin (a Failte Ireland food ambassador), Kevin and Gerald. In the early 2000’s, finding themselves literally surrounded by international retail giants like Tesco and Lidl, they took the decision to become more specialised and focus on their strengths: a commitment to quality, an appreciation of provenance and good relationships with their suppliers.

In 2015 the Jephsons launched, bringing artisan foods to a much broader audience. With a product listing of over 1100 items and growing, the website offers the world’s best selection of Irish artisan food. In 2016 the store was accepted into the Real Bread Ireland network as not only do they support Irish artisan bakers, they also bake their own classic sourdough, focaccia and other specialist breads.

Euro-Toques commended Ardkeen for their unstinting commitment to supporting the best of Irish producers - an especially appropriate gesture on the 30th anniversary of Euro-Toques Ireland, which was founded by Myrtle Allen in 1986.

EuroToques Ireland Anniversary

In her honour, the 2016 Awards were moved from Dublin to Ballymaloe and a celebration dinner was cooked for Mrs Allen at Ballymaloe House by several Euro-Toques chefs including current Commissioner General Graham Neville (Residence and Restaurant Forty One), former Commissioner General Feargal O'Donnell (The Fatted Calf), and Euro-Toques chefs Kevin Aherne (Sage in Midleton), Rory O'Connell (Ballymaloe House) and Bryan McCarthy (Greene’s in Cork).

It was a wonderful occasion, rounded off in time-honoured fashion with the presentation of a bouquet and a beautiful cake, which was made by renowned Ballymaloe pastry chef, JR Ryall, and cut by Myrtle herself.

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