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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.
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|