As Kinsale and Kilkenny get ready to see who can host the finest food festival later this month, Seamus O’Murchu outlines why Ireland is such a popular destination for gourmets.
The counties of Cork and Kilkenny have long been competitive foes, but this October, rather than collecting the spoils of the All Ireland Hurling Final, Cork and Kilkenny are battling it out to see who is tops with the nation’s gourmets.
From 10 - 12 October, Kinsale in Cork hosts its 32nd International Gourmet Festival. Situated along the scenic coast 30km from Cork City, Kinsale is a tiny town with a big reputation. This idyllic fishing port is the self proclaimed culinary capital of Ireland, with some of the best seafood in the country and its Gourmet Festival attracts foodies from around the world.
Organised by Kinsale’s Good Food Circle, the festival brings a whole range of exciting events to Kinsale, which this year include cookery demonstrations from local chefs Pearse O'Sullivan and Ross Lewis and an authentic French market selling produce and wares at the Short Quay on both Friday and Saturday.
On the Saturday, The Mad Hatters Taste of Kinsale, will see visitors joining Alice, the Mad Hatter, March Hare and the Fieldmouse for an escorted tour of the 12 Members of Kinsale's Good Food Circle. The tour kicks off with a Collato Proscecco reception in Acton's Hotel with wine and food tastings presenting spectacular dishes from local kitchens and bearing testimony to the culinary skills of the chefs of Kinsale.
Fruits de Mer also at Actons Hotel on the Sunday, offers a mouth watering four course lunch including lobster, crab, prawns and a range of locally caught seafood, accompanied by sumptuous Chapoutier wines, followed by a Brat Pack evening with music from the late great Frank Sinatra.
Kinsale Gourmet Festival is the most important date in the town’s culinary calendar and as one of the most prestigious epicurean events in Ireland it is a very tough act to follow.
But what’s this?!?! Those upstart Kilkenny Cats are attempting to knock Corkonian chefs of their perch with a food festival of their own!
Now in its second year, the Kilkenny Gourmet Festival offers a celebration of locally produced food in the medieval capital of Ireland, Kilkenny Town . From 24 - 27 October, festival goers will be treated to a host of gastronomic delights with a food tour of local producers to sample their wares. Visitors can enjoy sizzling sausages and a hog roast in the Keiran Street Market, or sample some authentic middle eastern food with the International Tabbouleh Competition. Visitors can get some tips with celebrity cooking demonstrations and enjoy a few pints of the red Kilkenny ale the town is famous for.
Irish cuisine has evolved beyond the simple staples of Coddle and Colcannon, with modern influences by flavors and indeed chefs from Europe and the rest of the world, while relying on the very best locally produced ingredients.
Ireland can be proud of its rich and varied larder with ingredients such as Dublin Bay Prawns, Clarinbridge Oysters, Bantry Bay Mussels, some of the finest salmon, beef and lamb, and artisan cheeses such as Gubbeen and Cashel Blue.
The Irish restaurant scene is a real cosmopolitan mix with an influx of Italian, French and pan Asian eateries sitting alongside native restaurants, who themselves have devised menus to cater for world tastes.
In the pubs too, you’ll find food of great quality, up and down the country. Gone is the idea of fresh frozen pub grub, replaced with wholesome traditional staples, like those mentioned above, or gastro pub dishes. Though most will still knock up cheese & ham toasties on request!
For those with an interest in cooking in Ireland there are a number of cookery schools which run half day workshops and full-time courses. The most well known is the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Co. Cork. Based on a 100 acre organic farm, Ballymaloe was established by renowned Irish chef Darina Allen in 1983 and includes award-winning chef Rory Carroll and TV celebrity chef Rachel Allen on the teaching roster.
Courses range from short lessons and afternoon demonstrations on things like making home made butter, warming winter stews, cooking irresistible breakfasts and cooking at Christmas, to a full 12 week residential course teaching the foundations for a professional career in catering. A typical day may be spent milking cows, sourcing herbs and vegetables from the organic gardens, foraging for mushrooms and cooking under the keen tuition of professionals.
Similarly the Dublin Cooks Academy offers a range of courses for chefs of all abilities in Dun Laoghaire , outside Ireland’s capital. Founded in 2005 by Vanessa and Tim Greenwood, the Cooks Academy features purpose built teaching kitchens and regular appearances from top chefs from around the world such as Italian maestro Ursula Ferrigno and Irish Times food writer Domini Kemp. Courses range from evening classes and short lessons in Classic Cooking for Christmas Day, Vegetarian and Wholefood Cookery or discovering the spices of North Africa with Moroccan Cookery, to full time professional certificates.
With two major food festivals this month in Ireland there is plenty to whet the appetite for professional and casual gourmets alike. Come along and see who serves up the best!
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