Saturday 26 May 2018

Taste of Dublin: Why Ireland's biggest food festival is still tickling tastebuds 10 years on...

Taste of Dublin is a decade old but foodies still flock to this unique event

Pukka chef: Jamie Oliver has appeared at Taste of Dublin.
Pukka chef: Jamie Oliver has appeared at Taste of Dublin.
Gary Rhodes at the launch of Taste of Dublin 201
Chef Anthony Worrall Thompson and RTE's Grainne Seoige
Chef Oliver Dunne in 2007
Chris de Burgh and his daughter Rosanna Davison at Taste of Dublin 2010

Claire O'Mahony

Nowadays, it seems that everybody is a foodie. Between the Instagramming of our dinners; our food TV show addictions and extensive cookery book collections, as well as the revering of rock star chefs, we've become a nation obsessed with deliciousness.

Culinary festivals have become a staple on the Irish summer calendar and Taste of Dublin, which opens this weekend, is certainly one of its highlights.

Now in its tenth year, this gastronomic celebration of Irish food and restaurants, featuring talks, demos, tasting plates, top chefs, and artisan producers, pulls the punters, with over 30,000 people attending last year.

Ostensibly they come to eat, drink and be merry, but it's also a chance to soak up the atmosphere in the relatively intimate environs of Iveagh Gardens, to potentially brush up against a celebrity chef like Jamie Oliver or Neven Maguire outside a demo tent; to sample the wares of restaurants you might never ordinarily think of visiting, while deciding on your preferred way to spend your florins (the Taste currency with one florin equalling €1) and - fingers crossed - soaking up the sunshine as you sit on the grass, glass of Prosecco in hand, listening to 1980s tribute band Spring Break belt out the tunes.

You don't need to be a dyed-in-the-wool foodie to enjoy it; all you really need is to come armed with is a healthy appetite.

Since its first year, Taste has grown in size, although it still retains a 'boutique' feel. Whereas 15 restaurants participated in the 2006, 21 are taking part this year.

As ever, the big name chefs in attendance are one of its biggest draws. Over the years this has included everyone from Jamie Oliver to the Allens and Richard Corrigan, who this year receives the Taste Icon Award for his pioneering work, championing quality Irish produce and ingredients.

Ross Lewis, of Michelin-starred restaurant Chapter One, is a Taste stalwart having been involved since the beginning and returning every year. His recollection of the inaugural Taste is that of great bonhomie, with the frisson of customers being able to interact with some of their favourite restaurants.

"I'm not saying it was because it was the first, but it was one of my favourite memories of Taste of Dublin," he says.

"It's obviously grown to be something more diverse and more appealing and caters for larger numbers, but there was something unique about the first year.

Pukka chef: Jamie Oliver has appeared at Taste of Dublin.
Pukka chef: Jamie Oliver has appeared at Taste of Dublin.
Gary Rhodes at the launch of Taste of Dublin 201
Chef Anthony Worrall Thompson and RTE's Grainne Seoige
Chef Oliver Dunne in 2007
Chris de Burgh and his daughter Rosanna Davison at Taste of Dublin 2010

"I suppose it was the excitement of 'Will it work, won't it work?' and everyone was so delighted with it from that perspective, everyone could see that this was going to be a runner."

Personal highlights for Lewis over the last decade at the festival include encountering Michel Roux, the Michelin-award winning French-born chef, and the Chapter One dessert bar last year, which was a departure for him in comparison to other years where he was doing more usual savoury restaurant fare.

"There's a nice social dynamic and when the work is done you can kick back," he says. And he's noticed the evolution of Irish palates over the decade. "When Taste first started, the formula was you put the piece of protein on the plate and some veg and potatoes with it and a sauce.

"The structure of how you serve food is just very different and the thing that you have to have potatoes with everything is long gone, so it's lighter cuisines and more integrated and less traditional."

Kevin Dundon is another chef at this year's Taste, who has been involved with the festival from the outset. Like Lewis, he has extremely fond memories of Taste and recalls 2012 as being a standout year for him at the event. "Myself and Derry Clarke were on the barbecue station and we cooked bacon and cabbage on the barbecue, the craic was mighty as one would say, and the bacon and cabbage was lovely!" he says.

For Dundon, Taste gives him the chance to catch up with other chefs, and to find inspiration.

Model and food blogger Roz Purcell is another regular, having had her first Taste experience when she modelled at one of the fashion shows happening at it six years ago.

"I could not wait for my breaks to run around and try as many things as I could. I couldn't get over the crowds - sunshine or rain, there was huge numbers."

This year, Purcell is doing a food demonstration in The Skillery inspired by Irish dairy. "I'm really looking forward to it, I love being around food and haven't the opportunity to talk about it, it's where I feel most comfortable," she says.

And of course there's the very sociable element to Taste that she also enjoys. "It's the perfect place to meet friends for a relaxed and fun evening."

Part of the perennial aspects of Taste's appeal is the possibility of discovering something new - a delicious wine you've never heard of before, or a high-end burger made from kobe, the specialty Japanese beef. For Kevin Dundon, the role that Taste plays in informing people about the variety of extraordinary food now available in Ireland is immeasurable. "It gives a lot of people the opportunity to sample dishes from some of the best restaurants in Ireland," he says. "It also allows producers from around the country to showcase their premium food and drinks and it's a great social occasion for like-minded people to enjoy what's good in Irish food today. We take food seriously in this country and it's great to see such an interest."

Taste of Dublin takes place June 11-14;

10 years of Taste of Dublin facts

50,000 children have attended

100s of tonnes of extra gravel and another 100m of ground protective trackway had to be laid after heavy rainfall the very first year

20,000 rain ponchos given out

80 types of sauces served

200 hours of sunshine enjoyed

2,000 restaurants and producers showcased

250,000 people who have attended in the last 10 years

10 Michelin stars associated with this year's festival

400,000 glasses of Prosecco poured

1m sample dishes eaten at Taste of Dublin

Irish Independent

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