Theatre of Food 2017 - enlightening, enlivening, entertaining and engaging
I’m going to struggle to keep this short and sweet, there was simply too much fun, food and entertainment at this year’s Theatre of Food to synopsise in 200 words.
Unlike most people who headed to Electric Picnic over the weekend, our preparation involved a little more than finding the tent poles and ensuring the wellies were packed (although they were both important!) Back in early August we received the chef’s recipes and started gathering the hundreds of ingredients necessary to feed the 4000 plus who would visit the Theatre of Food over the three-day festival. We took special care to ensure only the best of Irish ingredients were included like Comeragh mountain lamb, O’Neill’s bacon, Sean Rings free range chicken, Highbank cider, Little Mill flour, Achill sea salt, milk and cream from Glenisk and Fairfield and butter from Tinnock Farm.
Friday kicked off with a romantic dinner for two ….well there was quite a few more than that in the marquee for Chef Andrew Rudd’s (Medley Café) demo designed to make your other half swoon and their taste buds tingle! Fermenting Goddesses Dearbhla Reynolds and April Dannan showed us how easy it was to make your own gut healthy foods including Kvass.
But Friday night was all about the Déise, as was appropriate for the weekend that was in it!
Our own Colin & Kevin were joined on stage with fellow Waterfordians and chefs Michael Quinn and Paul Flynn (The Tannery). Paul was intrigued as to how a small independent store could have thrived let alone survive for 50 years in the midst of international retail giants. The brothers cited strong relationships and a commitment to quality as the reason behind the longevity and success of Ardkeen which boasts both customers and suppliers who are 2nd and 3rd generation. Michael Quinn was keen to point out provenance also played an important role, reinforced appropriately by cooking a recipe which included fine Irish producers like Rings Farm, Highbank Orchard, O’Neill’s Bacon and Wexford potatoes.
A bright and sunny Saturday saw such luminaries of the food world as Rory O’Connell (Ballymaloe) and JP McMahon (Aniar) take to the stage. Rory created a beautiful Tuscan inspired apple cake and was particularly taken with the ‘lovely blush’ on the peeled Ballycross Discovery apples (which have just arrived instore). He also made a wondrous dish of grilled scallions with mushrooms and anchovy which was a testament to how good food needn’t be complicated
JP is famed for his creation of Food on the Edge, an international chef symposium focussing on concerns for the future of the industry, he partook in a lively debate with Susan Steele (Sea Fisheries Protection Agency) Rory O’Connell and Fintan O’Toole on Food Sustainability. Although local and seasonal were obvious points, Susan encouraged us to look beyond our choice of cod and salmon and look at some of the lesser known and more prolific species like ling. Not one to be conventional JP tried to convince us that nutrient dense black ants were a sustainable future food source – we even got to sample some which tasted surprisingly like Bovril! I don’t know how soon we’ll be stocking them instore though!
Chef Adrian Martin brought us back to basic with simple ingredients of Irish Hereford Ribeye steaks and Hassleback potatoes, you simply can’t go wrong with steak & spuds!
Handstands and audience participation pancake flipping were the order of the day as The Happy Pear bounded on stage to a packed and overflowing marquee. Consummate entertainers and inspiring foodies Stephen and Dave managed to pack in a 5-minute Dahl, pancakes, a 2-ingredient chocolate mousse and a banoffee pie into their 40-minute demo. We were all energised by their enthusiasm for a happy healthy food!
There was lots of lighted hearted food shows too including ‘Hangover Causes and Cures from Around the World’ where unfortunately not all the cures were as palatable as the causes, and a Gulp 3.0 Food quiz which involved the consumption of tarantulas by some brave and blindfolded audience members! Rosanna Davidson picked one of her favourite recipes from Eat Yourself Fit to make; chickpea and sesame cakes with spicy mango salsa, a simple, tasty and inexpensive dish.
Ralph Rolle of Chic fame proved himself not just a king on the drums but a master cookie baker too and Aileen Cox Blundell convinced us that experimenting with your food is not just for adults in her baby led weaning piece.
The day finished with Pascal Rossignol of Le Caveau and master sommelier Colm McCan championing the cause of natural wines, it was a truly mellow end to Day 2.
The obligatory overnight downpour at EP didn’t dampen the appetite for good food at the Theatre of Food on Sunday which began with toast and Bloody Mary’s of course!
Ed Cooney from the Merrion Hotel was super, his small plates (see Irish tapas) included pigs ear and boneless chicken wings (genius!) although he noted it was one of the perks of being an Executive Chef that he came up with the idea but his team had to figure out how to execute it!
Gautham Iyer (Iyers Café) served up the most fragrant delicious vegan Indian street food making the point that spices like turmeric are not just for flavour they also great for your health.
Surfer and blogger Finn Ní Fhaoláin who has coeliac disease, dished up some delicious gluten free sea spaghetti with dairy free pesto salmon. The very bright and bubbly Sophie White had us in stitches whilst reading from here book Recipes for a Nervous Breakdown…we can thorough recommend her peanut butter fudge recipe too.
Things turned a somewhat serious when Niall Toner chaired a discussion with Suzanne Campbell, Dee Laffan and Gary O’Hanlon (Viewmount House) on how faithfully food is reported. Dee and Suzanne both lamented the reporting of scientific research which upon delving deeper would reveal sponsorship by producer/manufacturers with vested interest. Gary O’Hanlon was vehement in his opinion that chefs and food journalists have an ethical responsibility to the public to veraciously investigate the food they report and promote.
Tripe on toast was not what we were expecting at Theatre of Food but Assassination Custard really challenged our food perceptions.
Probably one of our favourite shows was when four inspirational women of Irish Food took to the stage Darina Allen (Ballymaloe), Jess Murphy (Kai Galway), Margaret Roche (Hugo’s) and Audrey McDonald (The Cookbook Café). It was all good sense; buy local, grow your own, waste less, introduce food as integral part of the curriculum and teach life skills. Quote of the weekend goes to Darina Allen who declared if we all ‘just planted one seed, waited and cared for it for three months, we would never complain about the cost of our food again’.
The wizard that is Kevin Thornton took to the stage for an impromptu demo of eggs three ways, as you can only expect from Mr. Thornton his time was spent delivering simple brilliance with some life advice thrown in. We were intrigued with the use of Irish truffle but his lips were sealed as to its exact provenance – all chefs have their secrets!
The evening closed with an intimate wine tasting lead by the knowledgeable Leslie Williams and cocktails by Alan Kavanagh before spiralling into a knees-up of music and dance as Theatre of Food 2017 came to a regrettable end.
I cannot end this blog without paying special tribute to John & Sally McKenna (McKenna’s Guides) and Sam McKenna who yet again managed to produce a truly enlightening, enlivening and engaging weekend with the help of a fantastic team not least of which were the indomitable Caitlin Ruth (Deasys) and Austin Byrne (Balfes) whose teams produced and served all those thousand’s samples. Bravo!
So, until next year, this was Theatre of Food 2017!
Scroll down for some more images from the weekend...