Word from the West

Food on the Edge

West of Ireland food writer Anne Marie Carroll reports on Galway’s second Food On The Edge international symposium

It is said that behind every great man is a great woman - but in the case of JP McMahon, chef, restaurateur and occasional visionary, there are four. At least. Last month saw the second edition of Food on The Edge, the international food symposium held in Galway, a meeting of the most exciting minds and heavy-hitters from the culinary world. This year we welcomed such giants as Virgilio Martinez, Claude Bosi, Massimo Bottura and Christian Puglisi to our vibrant city on the rugged west coast of Ireland.

Christ-like in his tweed robes, and yet still Apostolistic in a printed FOTE team teeshirt brandishing the message ‘We Need To Talk About Seaweed’, JP took to the stage to introduce each speaker. On a small budget, his squad of ladies, almost faultlessly, pulled off a very successful event with big ambitions and expectations. Congratulations to Drigin Gaffey, event coordinator; Olivia Collins, communications manager; Ruth Hegarty, sponsorship manager; and Edel McMahon, administrator & graphic designer.

Monday and Tuesday have traditionally been the chef’s day off. On Monday 24th and Tuesday 25th October 2016, restaurants around the globe may well have been deserted as a gathering of the worlds top chefs and food leaders came together in the Town Hall Theatre, Galway. An audience of around 400 people attended on each day, to hear speakers debate and discuss themes around the huge and murky issue of the future of food.

JP McMahon

'Food On the Edge' was the brainchild of JP McMahon of the Eat Galway restaurant group which includes Michelin-starred Aniar restaurant in Galway. Over forty international chefs, many with stars of their own, attended the two-day event in Galway. Considered by many to be the equivalent of a ‘G8 Summit’ for food and food culture, international chefs, restaurateurs and other delegates came to Galway to share their thoughts on what the food industry can do for the future of food and indeed the planet.

The symposium aims to challenge our perspective on food and our connection with it. Establishing a forum where chefs can openly debate and discuss the key issues of an industry which doesn’t often get a chance to meet and speak peer to peer, the first Food on the Edge last year surpassed everyone’s expectations. The future of food is crucial to the health and wellbeing of the next generations and the industry enthusiastically welcomed this opportunity to continue the conversation at Food on the Edge 2016.

There were approximately 40 speakers over the two day event, all chosen for their innovation, passion and influence on today’s food culture. The mission of Food on the Edge is to create a benchmark for best practice, in terms of food, its culture, and the people who produce it, debated on an open platform. The speakers, each with his or her own unique perspective, all spoke with passion on diverse cultural, social, environmental and educational aspects of food.

Massimo Bottura

Massimo Bottura, the visionary Italian chef enthralled attendees when he delivered an impassioned talk about his Refettorio Gastromotiva project, which transformed wasted Olympics food into nutritious and tasty meals for the needy during the Rio games last August. At the other end of the experience spectrum, a young Galway chef who has been making his mark in the UK, Evan O’Ceallaigh spoke compellingly on the topic ‘On A New Culture of Chef’, highlighting that the best kitchens are those where respect for all is the philosophy, and there is no fear.

Panel discussions took place on the topics of the ‘Future of Irish Food’, the ‘Future of Canadian Food’ and the ‘Future of Australian Food’. It was truly international in flavour as delegates had travelled from as far away as Peru, the USA, the Middle East, the Philippines, Russia, Scandinavia, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany. The Artisan Food Village, however, which took up residence beside the Town Hall Theatre for the duration of the symposium, was distinctly Irish, showcasing a number of top quality food producers.

Perhaps most significantly, for an Irish audience, Jock Zonfrillo screened a powerful video on the disconnect aboriginal people experience from their cultural heritage. His message was to "Give back more than you take." The Scottish chef is now resident down under, but has learned about the culture of his adopted homeland through Aboriginal people and their connection with the land. "I didn't realise how sophisticated their food culture was, to take something inedible and make it edible - the key to that lies in their culture. It hurts to have so much knowledge passed on and on, then to have it broken."

John Mulcahy, Head of Food Tourism for Failte Ireland and a supporter of Food On The Edge, said, ’With interest in the combination of food and tourism in explosive mode, there is no doubt that Food On The Edge is helping to change international perceptions of Ireland’s food while also raising the gastronomic profile of Galway, the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland on a global scale.’ He added that the food movement in Ireland is coming of age. ‘This is evident in the current levels of activity relating to food, and the interest around local food and traditions. As a result, there is much happening and much to be proud of, and Food On The Edge is symptomatic of that.’

Food on the Edge Day Two

JP McMahon closed out the event with a summary of the common topics that emerged over the two days: ‘There are ten key points to take away from this year’s Food On The Edge - caring about the food we produce; sharing our culinary heritage as chefs; looking into the past to create the future; the importance of diversity and travelling to make us become true change makers; taking time for mentorship and family; accepting our failings as chefs and people; cooking as a call to act; and using food as a form of social change.’ JP also stressed the importance of increasing our production and consumption of organic food and seaweed.

Food on the Edge is a genuine attempt to do something meaningful in the world of food, to make an impact and a difference, to try to effect change and start a dialogue. The impressive event programme left attendees inspired and with plenty of food for thought. Chefs are the link between producer and end user and at Food On The Edge, this year as last, they showed what a powerful international community they can be - intelligent, articulate and genuinely concerned about the future of food. There is no doubt that Food on the Edge has resonated deeply with its participants.
Just on its second voyage, Food on the Edge challenges our perspectives on food. Is it time to rethink everything?


Anne Marie CarrollAnne Marie Carroll is a freelance food writer and member of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild who lives in Galway with her husband and two children. 

With a background in design and illustration, Anne Marie made the switch to journalism with a regular food and wine column in The Galway Advertiser. Her work now mainly focuses on restaurant reviews, writing and editing recipes, the development of food photo shoots, including styling and photography. She also writes for a number of other publications and works as a consultant for small producers, food retailers and restaurants.

Anne Marie writes about all things food from the West of Ireland at her blog, Warm & Snug & Fat. You can also find her on twitter as @Biscuits4ABear


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