|Rosscarbery producer Avril Allshire with moderator Joe McNamee|
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Thursday, November 30, 2017
Winning Blas Producers
at Bank of Ireland Food Series
Bank of Ireland Startups, who helped get the successful Backyard feature off the ground during this year’s Blas Awards in Dingle, hosted a number of follow-up events last Tuesday, including one at their premises in Patrick Street, Cork. Joe McNamee was the moderator for the evening and the principal speakers were Artie Clifford of Blas and local chef Kate Lawlor.
Lia Boyland was involved in setting up the latest Workbench Food Series Event and she welcomed us to the Workspace at the bank, explaining that the digital progress in the banking sector has freed up the space for “events like this evening”. Work spaces are available during the day - bring your laptop - and you'd never know who you might meet.
We knew though we were going to meet Artie as not alone was he a panel member but he also launching the 4th edition of the Blas na hEireann Buyers Directory. Artie, involved in the founding of the Dingle Food Festival eleven years ago and in setting up Blas a year later, was delighted to launch the book here.
“Thank you all for coming. Eight thousand inserts (from the 10,000 copies) will be coming with your Shelflife magazine. It makes it easy for buyers and chefs to find good Irish produce. There is no charge for inclusion - it is something we want to give back. We hope this is a useful guide for sourcing Irish products and that many of the producers listed here will become your suppliers of tomorrow.”
There is a lot of work going into the new Blas website and it will include a searchable catalogue of producers, and will be ready soon. “Next, we want to do a roadshow during the year to build on it, to talk among ourselves, producers, buyers, chefs, and to get our own solutions.”
We would soon find out more about Artie, the face of Blas, as Joe McNamee asked the questions before the discussion proper (which would include quite a few producers) began. Artie, from Dundalk, was a commercial fisherman, then a ship's engineer and a skipper. In 1992, the work was in Dingle so that was where he went, his family still in Dundalk before they eventually joined him in Kerry.
Later, Artie worked in a fish factory, most of the output for export. When the MD retired, Artie took over and looked at adding value: smoked fish, paté, chowder and so on for the home market. But costs went up, prices didn't and eventually, in 2010, the company was sold. By then Blas was just a little baby and Artie was making a few bob at Farmers Markets.
And his future then began to take shape. He told us about the first food festival in Dingle and the start of the famous Taste Trail there. “People came back year on year. In the second year of the festival, the awards became part of it and we worked hand in hand.”
Chef Kate Lawlor was the other main guest on the night and, like Artie, she too has had her ups and downs and is fully committed to using Irish produce. An early visit to Brussels with her CIT class inspired that commitment. They were there to promote Irish food and a belief took hold that it was as good as any. She joined Fenn's Quay in 2001 and that “amazing journey” included taking it over in 2008.
“We built a bond with local producers. I enjoy food, it should be fun and that was why I used some of the local slang on the menu. Sad to let it go this year but the producers are still talking to me.”
After the closing down of Fenn's Quay earlier this year, she took a much needed two month break - “I had run out of ideas, though there was a sense of satisfaction as well as sadness. I enjoyed the two months off and a highlight was the weekend in Dingle. This year I had the time to relax and enjoy it.”
Immediately afterwards she joined the newly reopened Oyster Tavern and the aim is to get it back to its “iconic status”. There are great young chefs there and Kate is just the person to help them. It is right alongside the market so she is back in there buying local again. “The connection between chef and producers in very important. It leads to personal relationships and a better understanding of the product.”
After the introductions, it was time to meet the producers and we’ll cover the interesting exchanges in the next post, now available here.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Out of the Blue
And only out of the blue!
Out of the Blue, the restaurant with the colourful beach-hut style frontage on Dingle’s waterfront, is a fish restaurant. Nothing else. So, if there’s no fresh fish, there is no opening. They have a few sample menus on their tidy website but you won't know what is really on offer until you get there, indeed, they themselves profess not to know until the boats come in. So it is always something of a surprise, but never a let-down.
Do book in advance though especially when there is a festival in town. We were there last weekend and reserved a table for Friday night, the night that the Food Festival launched. You don't get a menu in your hand. A large blackboard is positioned on a nearby chair and you are given plenty of time to consider the long list, everything from mussels to lobster, from pollack to black sole. We made our choices as we sipped a glass of cool prosecco.
If the outside looks like a hut, the inside is solid and comfortable, lots of paintings hanging there, including a lovely Currach by local artist Liam O'Neill. We had time to look around before the starters arrived.
Pan fried curried plaice fillet with mango salsa was CL’s choice. And mine was the Duo of home cured and smoked salmon with citrus dressing. Indeed, it was an agreed choice and we went half and half. Both were excellent, the salmon smooth and easy, the plaice enhanced by the mild curry treatment.
Jean Marie Vaireaux has been chef here for the past ten years - he has been in Dingle for much longer - and we noticed that was demoing his Scallops flambéed with Calvados on the following day. We didn't pick that as a mains as we thought we’d catch him at St Jame’s Church, the demo venue for the festival. But we got side-tracked by the Taste Trail!
Back to Out of the Blue and the mains, where there were many choices. Mine was the Char-grilled Halibut fillet with garlic butter. An excellent dish, superbly cooked and delivered to the table.
I enjoyed that and CL was very happy indeed with her Pan fried Plaice fillet with Ratatouille Provençal, another simple dish, superbly executed.
Oh, almost forgot, We have wine. The list is large enough to cover most tastes and the majority of the wines are European. Not a great fan of Picpoul de Pinet but the Cave L’Ormarine Preambule from the Languedoc could change my mind! Crisp, smooth, fruity, and mouth-watering, it proved an excellent match all through.
Dessert? Tempted yes, but in the end settled on a share of the cheese offering that featured Gubbeen and Crozier Blue and we finished off with that and a glass of port. Delicious end to a lovely evening and then a short stroll back to the hotel.
Tuesday, October 3, 2017
72 Tastes of Dingle
Great Choices for 22 Euro
We were sitting (well, standing, no room to sit) in the sunny back-yard of Dick Mack’s Pub in Dingle last weekend, coming to the conclusion that we were attending the best food festival in Ireland. As we finished up and made our way down Green Street, we met different groups of friends, all in town for the festival and all agreeing that it is indeed the best.
The Taste Trail that we, and they, were following is a major plank of Dingle’s success. For €22.50, you can buy a book of trail tickets. Present a ticket at any of 72 participating outlets and you’ll get a taste, two tickets and you’ll get a different offering (maybe better, maybe bigger). The outlets can include restaurants and cafes and pubs, but a music shop, a Surf Shop, an art gallery, may also host a food producer or a wine seller. The choice is huge. And often impressive.
Kick off, on both Saturday and Sunday, is 1.00pm. We weren't going to be in town on Sunday so we were determined to get the best from Saturday and we certainly did well.
Out of the Blue was quite close to our hotel. We had eaten there the night before so knew its quality. Here, for one ticket or two euro, we got a Taste of the Blue, a helping of calamari with an Asian style sauce. We ate on the sunny bench outside and soon headed off towards the next stop.
|At Ida's, the two of us with (l-r), Colm & Pascal (both Le Caveau)|
and Kevin and David (both Ida's). Selfie by Colm!
Murphy’s Pub was listed at #8 on the list. We joined the long queue and our short wait was rewarded with a Pulled Duck in a mini Pitta Pocket with sweet red cabbage. A delicious combination and plenty of it, again two euro.
We passed stalls selling lager and fresh barbecued Tuna, even (inadvertently, sorry Sam) one selling Cloudberry’s macarons, before landing at The Dolphin Shop. Here Ruggero Sileri was busy serving his Italian Traditional Porchetta - slow-cooked (10hrs) loin of pork, served on bread with a thick layer of caramelised onions. Again a massive and tasty mouthful for the minimum.
|Pink Pinot Grigio|
We had intended to get to the other side of town and thought we’d better get a move on, skipping excellent offerings from the likes of the Charthouse and Fenton's and the ever popular Bush Tucker Kangaroo Skewer at Dingle Surf.
We were heading for Bacus on Green Street where Gaelic Escargot were selling their snails with a garlic and herb butter and Bacus sourdough to soak up the sauce. Delicious, though I got some curious stares as I poked the snails out of their shells while sitting on the steps of the church.
Nearby the local Fire Brigade were doing a demo, showing just how dangerous a fire in a chip pan can be, often started inadvertently by a man coming home from the pub and then falling asleep. Even if you're fully sober you’ll need all your wits about you to safely put out such a fire. If you come across any such demo in your area, do take the time to observe and learn.
Massive queues, as always, at the Little Cheese Shop, who were offering Raclette, the Swiss dish where the cheese is melted on to bread with a pickle or two on the side.
|A new twist to the old spud!|
By now, we were heading down Main Street, leaving behind Spanish Wine and Tapas at the Original Kerry Craft-shop, Kerry organic Rose Veal Kofta at Kennedy’s Bar and Dingle Salted Grass Beef Taco by Dingle Cookery School at the Carol Cronin Gallery.
We kept on going to meet Pascal and Colm from Le Caveau who were doing a wine tasting at Ida’s Restaurant. I'm familiar with a few of the wines but was surprised when Colm poured a sample of what looked like a rosé only to find it was a Pinot Grigio, produced near the Dolomites by Foradori.
Then he poured some Bravos Volcanico Pais from Chile. You'd be forgiven for expecting something rough and strong. But, no. This was a very pleasant and drinkable red wine, with a low enough ABV of 12.5%. These two drops alone prove you should never go to a tasting (either food or drink) with your mind made up. Sample it first!
We weren’t finished yet! Nelliefreds on the Spa Road (out towards the brewery) is listed as a garage/bar. It is a venue for music, drink and food. And their offering was an unusual Light Sabre Spud. Explanation: Tornado potatoes/fries are a popular street food in South Korea. Using a special slicer, the potato is spiralled on a stick and then fried until crispy when delicious herbs and spices are added! Keep your mind, and mouth, open!
Back on Main Street again, we called to Pantrí. We bought on the double here, including a lovely Vegetable curry with Rice and Raita. But the favourite was undoubtedly the Maharees Beetroot and Coconut Soup with Chive Cream.
Were we finished? Not quite. Walking down Green Street, we decided we need a drink and joined hundreds in the back-yard of Dick Mack’s. Obviously, many were in and out of the bar but our destination was the small outside bar serving the beers from the newly opened brewery (also on the yard).
With the sun out, we decided against the excellent stout we had enjoyed the previous night and instead ordered their Session IPA (4.6%) and the Amber Ale (also 4.6). And it was then, as the beers sank down, with the place packed and food being served, that we concluded that this is the best Food Festival in Ireland!
See Also: Dingle Weather Or Which? Ignore Forecast. Just Go!
Out of the Blue Dingle
The Skipper, Ventry
Out of the Blue Dingle
The Skipper, Ventry
Monday, October 2, 2017
Dingle Weather Or Which?
Ignore Forecast. Just Go!
|Louis Kennedy Pottery|
We have an ex Dingle woman as a neighbour in Cork and if she hears we’re heading for the peninsula, she says: “Why go, it will be covered in fog. That’s why I left.” The weather forecasts can be equally discouraging. My advice, based on years of practice, is to ignore both Mrs Flaherty and the forecasters. Just go and enjoy yourself.
Our latest examples came last Friday. Rain was forecast for early afternoon. It didn't come until about seven in the evening. Here's what we did in the meantime.
We had been in Dingle since the day before but had some time to ourselves on Friday. First stop was the beach at Ventry, wild, windy and beautiful, the sky a gorgeous blue. Great for a walk to clear the cobwebs from the night before.
On then to the magnificent Slea Head, along with a few cars and even fewer buses. What a magnificent sight under that clear blue sky. Loads of big waves rolling in, crashing on the sharp rocks and sending sun-lit white foam bubbling towards the sands. What a son et lumière.
And then more of the same as we continued around the peninsula. Waited for the one shower of the morning to pass before walking up on Clogher Head to a point where we had a fantastic view of Ceann Sibeál and the various bays nearby, the waves crashing wild and white against the rocks. Magnificent.
Time now for a snack. We had already passed the Blasket Centre (where we’ve often snacked in the past) so carried on a wee bit and stopped at the Louis Mulcahy café in the famous pottery. Just a little snack, tea and a scone (apple and cinnamon), and soon we were shopping for a tea-pot, a lovely piece that was well wrapped up for us. Actually that took quite a leisurely while as we had a great chat with the gentlemen serving us.
|Luke, Sharon, Zack.|
Back then to Dingle and to the The Backyard at Blas, a new “club” for people involved in the event. Here, whether you’re a judge or producer, you could have a cuppa and catch up on the latest news. There were also some more formal talks about various aspects of a small food producer’s business, part of the #BOIFoodseries.
We were at the Be Social event, designed to be a MASTERBlast of social media tips with the #Blas2017 Twitter Fairy, Sharon Noonan, who was joined on stage by Zack Gallagher (@Irishfoodguide) and Luke Burgess of Bean in Dingle Coffee shop. They were trying to influence those producers who are too busy in the kitchen or the yard to have anything to do with social media.
Zack says he took to social media “like a duck to water” and wants producers and chefs to go on Twitter and promote modern Irish food by using hash tags such as #Irish and #food. Luke is more an Instagram fan as it has a focus on younger people and the cafe can show their “fun attitude”.
“Get a website,” said Zack "and use the other platforms to drive traffic to you. We have too many amazing producers who are scared of social media.” Sharon advised to “be yourself. Don't leave social media to an intern.”
|Walking down to beach by Slea Head|
It could hardly be expected that a 20 minute session would be a blow by blow learning experience for the audience but the over-riding message was that if you are a producer or restaurant who needs to sell (is there another kind?) then you do need to get that website up and need to use either Twitter or Facebook to engage with possible customers, not to bluntly ram your big selling points down their channels but to at least let them know that you are operating and where and when they can find you.
|Aussie takes us on tour at Dick Mack's new brewhouse|
Next port of call was to Dick Mack’s on Green Street. Not to see the famous pub but to visit the newly unveiled Dick Mack’s Brewery in the yard. Here, an old cowshed dating back over 150 years, has been transformed into Ireland's newest brewery. So new that the samples we were drinking were all first batches.
And the three friends, Aussie, Finn and Seamus, who set up the brewery, while understandably a little nervous as the gang arrived, were soon smiling as the compliments started to flow for their three beers: a Session IPA, an Amber Ale and a Coffee Stout. All were excellent and, during the tour, Aussie promised they'd be getting even better, though hard to see how that delicious stout can be improved.
With such a promising start this is surely a brewery to watch. Initially, the beer will be on sale in Dick Mack’s but you may except it to travel, and travel well, in the not too distant future. Watch this space!
|Ceann Sibeál (top left)|
The tour finished just in time for us to head down town to Out of the Blue on the waterfront for a lovely fish dinner - separate post to follow! Back then to our hotel, The Dingle Bay, for the Food Festival Opening Night party. Paudie’s Bar was packed and rocking with the 7-piece Limerick band Trees Fall Down setting the pace, picked up eagerly by the punters (including a lively bunch of Germans On Tour! ) Great day. Great Night. Great Town.
|Beach at Slea Head|
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
The Blas judging has been done (though the winners won't be announced until Saturday). The huge Dingle Food Festival will launch this Friday evening before taking over the town on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Here are a few of my Dingle pics from this food weekend in recent years. Get all the details on the 2017 event here. Enjoy. I will!
|Shark Bite (via Out of the Blue) on the very popular Taste Trail|
|You can't get lost at Murphy's Ice-Cream. On the Taste Trail|
|Venturing out in Ventry|
|Turbot at Global Village|
|On the Taste Trail, over 70 outlets|
|Demos, formal and informal|
|Lots of little places to discover|
|Gold medal winner at Blas|
|This cask may not be there but a visit to the local distillery is a must!|
|The sun doesn't always shine at Slea Head|
Monday, October 10, 2016
Dingle Diary. Blas and the Festival
|The Supreme Champion|
Massive crowds attended the Dingle Food Festival (1st and 2nd ofOctober) but it was much quieter in the town when I arrived on the previous Thursday morning, just one of the dozens of judges gathering in the Skellig Dingle for the Blas 2016 judging. A record 2,500 products were entered and these had been whittled down to manageable numbers.
Still there was a lot of tasting to do - from about 11.30 until around 8.30 pm in my case. We finished up in Dick Mack’s pub in Green Street for the alcohol tastings. The pub is well worth a visit in its own right, just to see the huge whiskey selection alone!
|One of Dingle's little cafes|
Then it was down to O’Flaherty’s Pub for a proper drink and a proper bite. There was a great buzz here, particularly when the music started. Dingle Gin and Tom Crean lager was flying but I delayed turning to those until myself and my new buddy Johnny had cleaned out the Beal Bán from the West Kerry Brewery!
|On the Taste Trail|
The next day, Friday, was more or less at leisure and we did a trip around the peninsula (post to follow). That evening though, the Blas judges assembled in the Oceanworld Aquarium where candles lit the scene as the various fish, the shark and the turtle swam around and we gathered for more Dingle Gin and more Tom Crean and, yes, fish and chips!
|A Gold winner. For a full list of winners,|
please click here
And then Blas chairman and founder Artie Clifford introduced local adventurer Mike O’Shea who gave us an illustrated talk on his life, concentrating mainly on last year’s trip to South Georgia to retrace part of Tom Crean’s footsteps. Very interesting indeed, even the penguins behind seemed to stay still, though there were some strange noises off stage! Check out more of Mike’s amazing adventures here.
Saturday was the first full day of the Dingle Food Festival and the town was transformed as thousands of visitors arrived, sauntering through the closed streets to sample the food and drink on offer at every step. A huge market covered a few of the streets and then there was the Taste Trail with close to 80 offerings, some very inventive bites indeed. Besides there were craft workshops, demonstrations by top chefs, a farmers forum, special lunches and dinners and so much more, even a visit to the distillery for us.
|Pesto winners: Gold (left) and Bronze|
Time too for the Blas judges to visit the producers and see the products (now in their packaging). It was an anxious time for the Blas entrants as the awards were announced throughout the day. I had a lot of sympathy for the entrants in Spirits and Liqueurs, Beers, Ales, Lagers, Stouts and Cider as these were last on the list, scheduled for 5.00pm. A long wait!
At least they could relax on the Sunday as Blas had been put to bed for another year and the sun shone as the Food Festival, again mightily well supported, continued for another day. Well done Dingle! Again.
|Lots of talk about this Gold winner!|
|Sampling at the street market|
Driving the Dingle peninsula
Monday, October 12, 2015
Glorious Food, Drink and Scenery
Dingle has it all - glorious food, drink and scenery. It is a terrific visit at anytime and can be visited whether the sun shines or not. Nature doesn't have to perform at its best just because you’re on a visit. Indeed, sometimes Nature in a bad mood is as well worth seeing as it is on the days of calm and balm.
I was there for the Blas na hEireann tastings and the annual food festival and it was a marvelous few days. Tough enough start though on the Thursday with a full day of tastings for Blas in the Skelligs Hotel. Tough? Did I hear you say? Well try tasting nine blue cheeses in a row. Or, in the final session of the day, sampling 15 beers as the sun went down.
|Venturing out in Ventry|
But it has its rewards and the first came later that night in An Canteen when we sat down to a very local three course meal by the brothers Niall and Brian. Superb fish on the first two courses and those amazing savoury chocolates by Dovinia were a highlight. And I must also mention that excellent Connemara Pale Ale by the Independent Brewery.
Friday was largely a free day, so we headed west with the first stop at Ventry as the sunseekers were out in some numbers and, let me say, in their t-shirts. Also spent some time watching a group of kayakers getting ready and then sailing off into the haze. The weather had changed, duller and windier, by the time we got to Slea Head but we still got down to the sands and close to the rocks.
|Lunch at Blasket Centre: Baked potato, tuna, cheese|
The Blasket Centre is a great place to visit to get a feel for the peninsula and the islands and , as a bonus, it is a good spot to stop for lunch. Fueled up, we carried on and came to Clogher Head. Last time, our walk up here was stopped by a heavy shower but there was no such problems on this occasion. Great views out there, even if there was a little haze in the mid-distance.
On then towards Ballyferriter and a visit to Wine Strand before closing the loop - the sun was out again - and cutting cross-county back to Dingle. We were keen to see the Conor Pass while the weather was still reasonable. By the time we got up though, the clouds had taken over. Still we had a fine view down to Dingle and beyond.
|Ceann Sibeal from Clogher Head|
|Welcome to Wine Strand|
Then an hour or two was spent at the awards by the Enterprise Office from the various counties (details here) and after that it was time to think about eating again. We were joined by some of the judges (lots of laughs with Susan and Judith Boyle) in the Global Village who came up with a terrific tasting menu, very popular too as empty plates went back every time. This was a selection of the peninsula’s finest produce over six tasting courses. Highlights were the fish (turbot, seaweed and fennel) and the meat (wild boar, scallop and raisins).
Saturday was a reasonably fine day and we were soon out and about after a good breakfast at the excellent and friendly Benners Hotel, so centrally located. Garvey’s SuperValu had their line of food already in place on the pavement outside. I had a look inside and was impressed. Outside, the market stalls on the various streets were busy and we called to quite a few.
|Welcome to Dingle Gin & Vodka from Joe|
|Turbot at Global Village|
Saturday though was mainly about the amazing Taste Trail and you may read all about that here. Caught up on the news from the award ceremony for Blas and delighted for the winners, particularly for those that we know. Taste trail or not, we were still up for a meal later that night and had booked in to the Grey’s Lane Bistro. It was a good call and a lovely meal.
Took it easy on the Sunday morning and, after yet another good breakfast in Benner's, two happy punters checked out and headed home. Dingle, we'll be back!