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King scallop treated like royalty at island's seafood celebration

IT'S a product that's unique to the island and over the weekend more than 1,800 samples were dished out to visitors.

Valentia Island is so proud of its 'King Scallop' it decided to hold a festival in its honour.

Blessed with some of the most stunning scenery in Ireland in which to enjoy the local delicacy, the Co Kerry island this weekend invited a host of local chefs, and some from further afield, to put their culinary skills to the task of cooking the scallops on the waterfront in Knightstown -- the island's capital.

Foodies got to sample the variations of how each of the restaurants likes to cook the scallop.

The Lighthouse Cafe's marinated king scallops with chilli and sangria couldn't have been more different than the scallop risotto from Knightstown's Royal Hotel.

Meanwhile, Dublin's Washerwomans Hill restaurant, whose owners enjoy links to the area, cooked its pan-seared scallop with pancetta, pea puree and lemon foam.

"The scallops here are fabulous but they're so hard to get in Dublin because most of them are exported and a lot of Dublin restaurants have to get their scallops from France," said head chef at The Washerwomans, Matthew Hinde.

The king scallops were plucked from the seabed ahead of this weekend's festival and volunteers worked around the clock washing, peeling and prepping the shellfish in Quinlans' fish factory.

"The whole community has pulled together to make this happen," said organiser of the Valentia Island King Scallop Festival, Joanne Cahill.

Fellow organiser Miriam Lyne said the purpose of holding the festival was to attract more people to the island and extend the tourist season.

"We also have a unique product in the king scallop and we want to promote that. It's not something you can get anywhere else as it's unique to Valentia Harbour," she said.

"It's much larger than the standard scallop -- almost twice the size and it's peculiar to Valentia Island but something that we probably take for granted because it's on our doorstep," Joanne added.

Two years ago, they decided to do something about this and organised a festival to celebrate what the island can offer that's not available anywhere else.


"We export this product all over the world but we decided to hold the festival last year to make people aware of the wonderful product we have," she said.

No festival would be complete without a queen but Valentia Islanders have decided to go for a king instead and local men took part in a cook-off to find out who should be crowned Mr King Scallop.

The task of judging fell to John Casey, the owner of Casey's Kitchen bistro in nearby St Finian's Bay. "We're looking for attention to detail, simplicity and presentation of the finished product but the key was flavour," John said.

Festivities kicked off on Saturday morning with an open angling competition on the seafront, followed by a challenge cricket match hosted by the Valentia Island Cricket Club.

The island's pipe band signalled the start of the cookery demonstrations later that day and the Valentia Island RNLI lifeboat and the Irish Coastguard Helicopter gave a dramatic demonstration over the water.

Live music on the street continued into the night making sure the party atmosphere didn't set with the sun. The fun continued yesterday with a rugby blitz, junior triathlon and, of course, the crowning of Mr King Scallop last night.

The festival's purpose was to attract more visitors and organisers were happy on this score.

"All the B&Bs and guesthouses were booked out and we're delighted with how it went," Miriam Lyne said.

Irish Independent