Enda McEvoy, head chef of Michelin-starred Aniar in Galway.
It has been a difficult year for the food sector. Beside the struggle to survive in a challenging market, restaurateurs and craft food makers find their voice reduced to a whisper when pitted against the megaphone lobbying of bigger food interests. A new government has not brought a new way of thinking about food, as many in the sector had hoped.
It seems to have realised the agricultural sector could be our way out of the recession, but ‘food’ for it is about global brands, and this leaves the small producer far behind. Still, is hasn’t all been bad news, a fact borne out through the following ten highs:
**1: Blaa Blaa Blaa*
The EU-wide ‘protected status’ labelling of foodstuffs has made quite an impact on our neighbours in Britain. They now boast 55 guarantees of origin; we have just four. Our list includes Clare Island Salmon, Connemara Hill Lamb, Imokilly Regato and Timoleague Brown Pudding.
The famed Waterford Blaa is slowly making its way through the red tape towards PGI status too. Once achieved this Protected Geographical Indication means only bakers in Waterford will be able to make this light and floury bread and call it Blaa. The folks in Waterford are to be commended for the hard work they’ve put in to protect this uniquely local product.
2 James Street South
Day trips and weekend stays in the North have never been more fashionable – and no wonder, with chefs such as Niall McKenna and Stephen Toman in James Street South. Dishes such as razor clam, chorizo, squid, broad beans and sapphire are offered like jewels on velvet and taste as precious too.
James Street South Restaurant, 21 James Street South, Belfast BT2 7GA. Tel: 0044-289-0434310 www.jamesstreetsouth.co.uk
3: A raw deal
Often it’s what people don’t do which reveals their true self. However, the government’s reaction to the sale of raw milk confirmed what many suspected: it’ll do almost anything to support business friends.
Farmers such as David Tiernan from Dunleer, Co Louth continue to sell raw milk, so keep an eye out for it and support the good fight.
4: The rise of artisan beer
Changes in legislation under the previous administration has led to a boom in artisan and local beer making. There are now more than 20 artisan brewers linked to Beoir, an independent group raising awareness of our independent microbreweries. Imagine if this was replicated with other local businesses beyond the food and drink sector. It would lead to more robust local economies as well as more employment.
5: Spain Gourmetour
The demise of the beautifully produced Spain Gourmetour magazine was a great loss to the foodie world. The publication was the gift of the Spanish government and promoted all things culinary which that great nation has in abundance.
The only problem for lovers of the magazine was that it did not appear more often during the year. But that has all been resolved now with a new website updated fortnightly, foodsfromspain.com.
Headed by the former editor of Spain Gourmetour, Cathy Boirac, the site is brimming with food facts, recipes and informative features covering everything from saffron to wine, and food matching to planning your foodie itinerary in suuny Spain.
6: Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year
When the rest of the country were glued to Masterchef and other TV foodie shows, the foodocracy were cheering on the finalists of the annual young chef awards organised by Euro-Toques.
These are the future famous chefs of our rich food heritage. Previous junior chef winners include the likes of Neven Maguire.
This year’s winner was Ciarán Elliott (24), originally from York in England and now working in Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud as part of his studies of his BA in Culinary Arts in DIT Cathal Brugha Street.
7: A first Michelin star for Galway
The Michelin star for Aniar was a highlight not just for Galway but the whole country. Our list of Michelin starred restaurants begins to grow, including a well-deserved first star for Lock’s in Dublin.
8: Brown Hound Bakery
Slowly but surely, all across the country, new food businesses are being opened by local entrepreneurs who believe in food with a soul.
The excellent Brown Hound Bakery in Drogheda is just such a spot, with mountains of cakes and savouries piled on old-fashioned cake stands – it is a must-go for anyone in the neighbourhood.
Let’s not forget that for every €10 spent with local food businesses, €34 worth is recycled in the local economy.
Brown Hound Bakery, 2 Bryanstown, Drogheda, Co Louth, tel: 041-9833792; brownhound.ie
9: Oireachtas Restaurant, Leinster House, Dublin
I visited the Oireachtas Restaurant back in March and discovered only one artisan food was name-checked on the menu. This is the place where many TDs and senators bring foreign dignitaries and guests.
Sadly, a recent enquiry confirmed they are still being fed generic food. All this without complaint from your TDs: unwitting testimony to their attitude to food.
Still, I am not all talk and no action: Darina Allen and I have started a campaign to ensure the Oireachtas restaurant reflects the richness of our culture, and not the dead hand of tendering.
10: Hatch & Sons
In direct contrast to the Oireachtas Restaurant, a truly authentic restaurant has opened on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin. The brainchild of Domini and Peaches Kemp and Hugo Arnold, it boasts some of Ireland’s finest suppliers and everything is 100 per cent Irish.
That includes the mayonnaise – which is made with Irish rapeseed oil instead of olive oil.
Hatch & Sons, 15 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, 01-6610075
This first appeared in The Sunday Business Post, 23 December 2012.