Food news: Closing the farm-to-fork gap
Earlier this month, Ana Ros, named the best female chef in the world by the World's 50 Best Restaurants awards, spoke at the Food on the Edge symposium in Galway, telling the story of her life as a self-taught chef in Slovenia, a country not widely known for its food culture.
The Michelin Guide does not even cover Slovenia, but Hisa Franko, the restaurant that Ros and her husband, Valter, run in the beautiful Soca river valley in the north west of the country, just a few kilometres from the Italian border, features at No 69 on the list of the best restaurants in the world.
It's a remote place and, although the Alpine scenery is very different to the Irish landscape, it reminded me in many ways of parts of rural Ireland when I visited a few weeks ago.
Ros's food is hyper-local, in that she sources all the ingredients for her menu from the immediate area. The river is known for its marble trout, and the valley for its cheese-making. Almost everyone in Slovenia has a garden, and grows their own fruit and vegetables for consumption at home. Foraging for mushrooms and wild food has always been part of the traditional way of life in the area, rather than a trend, and this is reflected in the menu, which changes daily in accordance with whatever the restaurant's own forager collects on his travels.
Ros has forged relationships with local farmers, committing to buy their kid goats, cheese, apples, and she sees this as contributing to the social fabric of the valley, and as a way of encouraging young people to remain in the area rather than to migrate to the cities. "If they know that I will commit to take what they produce," she says, "then they can start to plan for the future."
Rural Ireland faces similar challenges in terms of depopulation, and perhaps our chefs and restaurants have a role to play in working to ensure that the communities closest to them get involved in producing the food that they need to feed their customers. And perhaps the rural post offices under threat also have a role as some class of distribution hub for small food producers.
'Local and seasonal' has become a cliche on Irish restaurant menus, yet outside the establishments trumpeting their credentials, we see the refrigerated trucks of the big food distributors pulled up, unloading boxes of imported produce. Irish chefs need to engage meaningfully with the food on their doorsteps and develop a modern Irish food culture that is authentic, rather than one that apes what is happening elsewhere in the world.
The art deco-inspired Tribeton in Galway has launched a Friday night supper club, with dinner for two and a bottle of wine priced at €69 between 6 and 8pm. Afterwards, stay on for live music and cocktails in what the Sky Bar Awards named Ireland's Best Gin Bar. tribeton.ie
The Intercontinental in Ballsbridge will be running a festive afternoon tea for the month of December, with all manner of seasonal sweetness including eggnog panna cotta and chocolate mini logs with Baileys cremeux. €38pp, with bubbles €8.50 a glass. Reservations (01) 6554000.
I SHOULD COCOA
James Cadbury is the great-great-grandson of John Cadbury, the founder of the famous chocolate company, so it's hardly surprising that he is following in his ancestor's footsteps with his Love Cocoa range of ethically sourced chocolate bars. €5.50, from Harvey Nichols Foodmarket.