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#inishfood – Journeys End

March 21st, 2011

With about 4 hours sleep; I awoke on Saturday morning after the Odyssey of the previous day’s trip and the late night hospitality of the Lake of Shadows resident bar resting upon my shoulders. I felt less like the Greek poet Homer who charted Hercules long voyage from Troy, but more like that other Homer, of Springfield fame.

The breakfast room was abuzz with all manner of foodie debate as @pat_whelan and Mag Kirwan of @goatsbridge fame cut to the heart of the Irish food industry. It was not a conversation for a man who had only hours before heard the sirens song and crashed among the rocks that were the Drift Inn and the hotel resident’s bar. I ate my rashers, sausages and eggs and drank my coffee in silence. Incidentally, the breakfast at the Lake of Shadows Hotel is very good.

Coffee & Pigs

We arrived at Harrys Bar & Restaurant after the coffee demo ( which I had really wanted to see ) and just in time to see some pig carcases on display. Luckily there was still coffee a plenty and Ross from Bailies Hand Roasted Coffee and Juan from Coffee Angel sorted out by coffee cravings, and I thawed out about 11 o clock. Tipperary Pork hero TJ Crowe joined Ed Hick, Jack McCarthy and a dead pig on stage and brought us through the process of getting the animal to the table.

This little Piggy went to the market

This little Piggy went to the market

It was a joy to see craft butchery at its best and the bloody excess of Ed’s black pudding demo was the icing on the cake.

Ed Hick's bloody hands

Ed Hick's bloody hands

I recently found a Spanish wine with a Pig on the label and I dropped it down to TJ during his demo. He seemed happy with the present.

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I spotted Pat Whelan giving one of his passionate interviews to Ella McSweeney and promptly took a photo and tweeted it. Never let a #tippfood promotional moment get away.

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The Media were delightful

I had tweeted with Ella but never actually met her. Being involved with the Tipperary Food Producers, she had really helped our profile when she visited Crowes Farm and covered our Food Extravaganza last November. I was one of the members the crew chose not to interview on the evening, but I was determined not to dwell on that.

As the day progressed, I got talking to Ella and tried to embarrass her by getting a photo to show to my uncle, who is a dairy farmer in Tipperary. Ella is very well regarded by the dairy farmers of Tipperary. My advice would be for her to never visit there alone. There would be all manner of road frontage offered and quotas would be bandied about with gusto. The fact that she was so nice and down to earth was great. We talked about GIY, the Food Connect program run by the Tipperary Food Producers and also about our plans to hold a Salon du Blog as part of the Totally Tipperary festival planned for Cloughjordan in late June. I hope she can make it down, and I will keep the dairy farmers away.

Ella McSweeney gets to meet Gary Gubbins of Red Nose Wine

Ella McSweeney gets to meet Gary Gubbins of Red Nose Wine

The Food Bloggers of Ireland

It was great to meet so many passionate people that you come across online and in print on a regular basis. Sally McKenna was just lovely and the support that the Bridgestone Guides give to the local food ( and wine ) businesses is invaluable.

Food Heros from Donegal to Cork to Tipperary

Food Heros from Donegal to Cork to Tipperary

I had long been an admirer of Imen McDonnell’s very stylish blog “I Married an Irish Farmer” so it was great to meet her in person. I would love to say that I watched the butter making demo intensely, but last night’s exploits were catching up and a cure was needed. We snuck out the bar for a quick minute
I should state that I did watch #butterlive a few days later online.

Where everybody knows your name

Where everybody knows your name

Tipps best butchers enjoy a laugh

Tipps best butchers enjoy a laugh

The mood in Harrys on the day was electric with lots of interaction between everyone

Sleep & Rugby

Sleep was catching up on us and a Rugby match was looming at 5, so I slipped away and made my way back to the hotel and the bed that I was dreaming of. A bad rugby result was not an ideal aperitif for what was to come but the bus took us back to Harrys for the main event, the Inishfood no menu feast.

There are better food bloggers than me that can better describe the banquet that Donal and Ray put before us, and I would suggest you check Kristin and Caroline’s Irish Food Bloggers roundup of blogs to get a real flavour of all that was on offer.

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My highlights included the pork in all its guises ( obviously ), but the fish dishes were so fresh, and the langoustines and the Pollack were just superb. Donal was generous enough to include one of my favourite wines as part of the banquet. I think that everyone enjoyed Les Obriers de la Péira and the people who make it adhere to very similar principles to Donal and his team at Harrys.

Bob Dylan and the Lotto

Pat Whelan started a Twitter rumour that I won the lotto and there were some very interesting tweets flying about for about an hour. The band played Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and I think there was even some Tom Waits. A great end to a great odyssey and Donal Doherty and his team deserve huge praise for pulling off such an epic event.

My only regret is I did not spend more time seeking out and talking to more people. I am a little shy in such exalted company but hopefully some or all of them will come to one of our Tipperary Food Producers events. Look out for #totallytipp and #tippfood hastags on Twitter. April’s Dungarvan food festival will see many of the faces make a reappearance so I hope to be braver and introduce myself to more when I venture across the mountains to beautiful West Waterford.

The Long way home

We won’t mention the navigation on the way back and ‘someone’ getting us lost and finding ourselves on the backstreets of Belfast and then in Armagh. It’s a good thing he makes good rashers. So, just as Odysseus did in ancient Greece, we tied ourselves to the foodie mast, and had our ears plugged up with beeswax so as to safely sail past the Sirens and their song and we arrived safely back in Tipperary. It’s getting late, and this blog has lasted way to long and I’m starting to ramble so until the next foodie journey.

Article – Fethard Today, Moscow Tomorrow

January 28th, 2011

The Bridgestone Top 100 Places to Eat was published recently and John McKenna could be heard on various radio shows and was quoted in a number of national newspapers. As a proud recipient of a Bridgestone Award and having heard John speak on a number of occasions, I am always interested in his opinion of what’s hot and what’s not.

It is of course a subjective opinion and one person’s salt is another person’s pepper. However, one thing that struck me from the interviews I heard was the assertion that to save the national economy we must first save the local one. It is a subject that I have become very passionate about since opening Red Nose Wine (at the start of a recession), and more especially since getting involved with the Tipperary Food Producers. Wine and Food are two parts of the same experience for me.

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A Donegal Table

I spoke of food and wine last week and will again this week, but a few good news stories emerged from the despair that 2010 brought to the restaurant trade. When I spoke on behalf of the Tipperary Food Producers Network in Kilkenny last year at the FoodCamp seminar I met Donal Doherty of Harrys Bar & Restaurant in Inishowen Co. Donegal. This is a restaurant in a very remote part of the country that has become one of the most sought after eating experiences in Ireland. John McKenna mentioned them on radio and in print numerous times.

Local Local Local 

What makes them different is they have a very bold yet sincere declaration in terms of their promise to customers. All of the food must come from “one small beautiful penninsula – Inishowen”. This is taking local food to the maximum and they proudly list their local food partners as sharing in the glory. Myself and Donal are members of the Twitterati and you can follow the movements of the restaurant in real time. He is known as @harrysdonal in the Twitter world.

The savage winter would have cost them ( and many other restaurant owners ) a lot of business, especially in the critical December month. However, when the weather relented in the week after Christmas, according to John McKenna the restaurant did 2,000 covers. ( I met Donal in Dublin since the article was published and that number was actually closer to 2,100 ). Inishowen is a small place and that figure requires loyalty built with people who are travelling from far and wide.

As a Tipperary man talking about local food, then why should I talk about Donegal? It might be a long way to Tipperary but Donegal is surely further away. It is a model of success that I believe offers a great opportunity for Tipperary restaurants. I know that a lot of cafes and restaurants do buy local produce but I am not aware of one that does so exclusively. If there is one, please let me know.

Wow do you make your sauce?

There are a number of large food and beverage companies that supply a lot of the hotels and restaurants in Ireland at a very competitive rate. As well as choice, they also have that most useful of commodities, economies of scale. They offer a low cost alternative in a struggling industry so it is very easy to see why people use them. However, when the sauce on your chicken comes from a jar and tastes identical in Cork and in Sligo, then I believe you are losing more than you are gaining.

The business’s that are adapting to the economy best are offering something very different from their competitors and I think people want value, and as I have said before, value does not equate to price. If it did, we would all eat in McDonalds and I would never sell a bottle of La Péira.

A very special pub ( with great food )

I have had some really fantastic food in Tipperary and I think we are awash with great places to eat. I am trying to get Jasper in McCarthys in Fethard to put my picture up on the wall in the very famous pub. I have a space in mind beside Pricilla Presley. I am trying to argue that he would have it up before I am famous for the book I shall one day write. So far, he is not biting.

The Legendary McCarthys

The Legendary McCarthys

McCarthys do have a lot of local produce on their menu ( 90% of meat on the last order ) and I had a sublime meal out there recently. I had aged Tipperary beef in a Red Wine sauce which was cooked to perfection ( medium – rare). I have to admit I supply wine out there so when I say the wine was perfect with it, I am very biased. I am sure Brad Pitt is biased when says he has a great looking wife, but it doesn’t mean he is wrong.

The owner of Chateau Miraval ( on sale at Red Nose Wine )

The owner of Chateau Miraval ( on sale at Red Nose Wine )

Brad and Angelina also have a great wine called Miraval, but blatant plugs aside, McCarthys was a great night out and a good example of somewhere that people are wiling to travel to. The new chef has transformed the menu and the fish my wife had was “fresh as a daisy”.

Tipperary Food

Tipperary has a great opportunity to become the county of choice for food. Bord Bia released fantastic export figures recently and food is a strong positive in a very weak economy. Tipperary has the brand name, the location, but more importantly we have the food. As soon as it is possible to make quality wine in Tipperary, I will be the guinea pig, but until that time, I will match the local food to the wine of like minded people from around the world.

We just need people to buy into this idea of local business saving the national economy. The restaurants need to do it, but the people must support it and they must get value for money.

That is a lot of words about food in an article about wine, but I did warn you last week that I would talk about food for a few articles. I have a lot of plans to get Red Nose Wine to the next level in 2011 and many are ideas that involve food and local food at that. I am always looking to work with like minded people on these ideas.

I have just ordered my first container of wine from Chile with some other importers who are very like minded in what they are trying to bring to the Irish wine industry. We are competitors but we are also fighting the same fight and have many things we can help each other with.

Ham & Pinot Noir

Speaking of wine, I will now describe a typical Tipperary dish and I will match it to a wine for you. I was invited to a very food orientated party last weekend and there was all manner of food on offer. Among these was a perfectly prepared ham, sourced from the wonderful Crowe Farm in Dundrum.. A sweeter style wine is required here and Riesling or Gewurztraminer would be great white options. A medium bodied Pinot Noir ( possibly from New Zealand ) would be a great red to match the ham.

Ella Mcsweeney visits Crowes Farm

Ella Mcsweeney visits Crowes Farm

Apologies to Pat Whelan for stepping on his “Food” toes with the early part of the article but I think that Pat would agree with the sentiment. He is a very strong advocate of local food and Tipperary Food in particular. I appreciate that I am repeating myself but by saving the local economy we can save the national one. We need to become an exporting country, and food can play a big part of this. But this must start locally first. Fethard today and Moscow tomorrow.

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