Saturday, October 22, 2011

Irish food, embarrassment of riches or plain embarrassment?

This is Donal Skehan, isn't he lovely? More on that later. This Friday I'll be locking horns in a debate with some premier Irish and international food writers at Savour Kilkenny. The topic is "Irish cuisine - embarrassment of riches or plain embarrassment?" Funnily enough I could debate either side of this but on Friday I'm on the "embarrassment" bench. Can't wait; I've got some great hideous Irish food examples lined up; the pub sandwich in the bag, rubbery, watery chicken in a wrap, the ubiquitous beef or salmon dinner - so awful they named a racehorse after it. Whatever side you might ally yourself with it's sure to be an entertaining debate. And hey opposition, don't think for a second you've a chance in hell of beating us.

Savour Kilkenny has a brilliant line up of food events - demos by Donal Skehan and Catherine Fulvio (above and right), food trails, wine workshops, children's cookery, blindfold sensory dining and a foodcamp on the Friday. Going to festivals is one of the nicest parts about writing about food and farming for a living. It's where I meet people who farm and produce food, other food journalists and all kinds of people who just like cooking and eating. Whether you write as I do for print or television it's still a solitary job. So going on the road; hanging out in windy fields with farmers and laughing with people at food festivals is where you see it all come together.
It's also where you see changes happening in the way food is presented and discussed. Five years ago in Ireland food festivals were all about food on the plate. Now they focus increasingly on where the food is coming from. What's the point offering a dish with tiger prawns intensively farmed in Vietnam, frozen and flown here god knows how long after they were harvested, as Irish Food? Unfortunately we still see this kind of thing in many good restaurants around the country. More and more chefs are realising the value of local ingredients, cooking accordingly and food festivals are thank god, following suit.

I spent five years producing Ear to the Ground - filming in stifling hot chicken houses, cold milking parlours and on wild wet mountainsides amid hundreds of black faced sheep. Learning how food is produced and handled at its early stages is essential to understanding what we have here in Ireland in terms of our food potential. Having visited factory farms in Holland, Belgium and documented GMO farming nightmares in Thailand and Vietnam, it's often sadly the case that don't know how lucky we are here, and how good and "clean" our foodstuffs are.

If you are near to Kilkenny this Friday drop into the foodcamp at the festival - it's a series of workshops where food professionals (chefs, producers) mix with foodies (journalists, bloggers, consumers) and agencies learn and share with each other. There's a day of speakers and discussions planned from 09:30 through to 15:30 running in 4 simultaneous rooms.

The day finishes with the Food Fight debate at 3:30 chaired by John McKenna of The Bridgestone Food Guide, the debate poses the question:
“Traditional Irish Cuisine – an embarrassment of riches or just an embarrassment?”
On the embarrassment side are:

Colman Andrews – Journalist, founder of Saveur magazine and food writer
Suzanne Campbell – Journalist, author and broadcaster
Regina Sexton – Author "The Little History of Irish Food"

On the opposite bench are:
Birgitte Curtin of the Burren Smokehouse
Kevin Sheridan, food campaigner, Sheridan's cheesemongers
Catherine Cleary – Journalist and food writer, The Irish Times

I'll keep you posted on how we get on and how soundly we trash the opposition. Happy eating x


  1. I can't wait to hear the results of this debate. I wish I was able to attend to hear it. But alas the kids have over committed their parents with Halloween events. Have fun - I will be living vicariously through your Tweets!

  2. that would be interesting, might try and toddle along. The ' Irish Food ' debate I would love. I did a project for Bord Bia shooting traditional Irish food a la twist moderne ..... thats my chowder shot, thanks for using

  3. I'm really looking forward to the different speakers on Friday and especially can't wait for the debate! See you there.

  4. Yes Jocasta your shots are travelling.. And hopefully spread the message about Irish food in exactly the way they were conceived to do, and beautifully! Incidentally the top country for readers of Basketcase is the USA, then Ireland, then Norway, UK, Italy, Russia and lots of exciting places, so Irish food has it's fans worldwide. Do say hello foreign readers, would love to hear from you.
    Nessa looking forward to seeing you on Friday and Mona have a rumpus of a Halloween x

  5. Sorry about the bad spelling above - the predictive text on this iPhone is driving me demented. It keeps putting in "Pop" for my husband's name. How messed up is that? If I can't turn it off you may find a recipe for iPhone chowder up here any day x