Thursday 19 April 2018

This is the season to give thanks for the fruits of land and sea

At harvest time, lovers of good food can tuck into fabulous fare all over the country, writes Lucinda O'Sullivan

We are winding down in August from our so-called summer into autumn. People are getting kids organised for school and college but, for the culinary community, this is the time when restaurants, artisan producers and dedicated foodies band together to celebrate the season of mellow fruitfulness.

On Wednesday next, the merry band that comprise the Tipperary Food Producers are having their long-table dinner in the historic grounds of Rockwell College at Cashel where the 30 members promise a 'gourmet's dream' to the 300 people sitting down to sample their products.

The Tipperary Food Producers, founded by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers in Clonmel, have been very successful in marketing all of their gorgeous fare as one group. Pat says that "for every €10 spent with local producers and businesses, €34 goes back to the local economy. For every €10 spent with large retail multiples, only €16 goes back to the local economy".

So all of these events are a great way of not only enjoying yourself but doing something worthwhile for the local economies. I have tasted most of the fare produced by these folk -- and I can tell you it is good -- so I guess you can look forward to Nora Egan's brilliant Inch House black pudding, meat from Pat Whelan and Crowe's Farm, great cheeses from Cooleeny and Cashel Blue Cheeses, breads and confectionery from Hickey's Bakery and The Cookie Jar. Tickets are €75 and it's not such a long way to Tipperary, so get down there.

The following day, the inaugural Dublin Bay Taste & Music Festival kicks off in the People's Park in Dun Laoghaire for three days, running from 12pm to 10pm daily. You can stroll through a boulevard of chefs from local restaurants such as Rasam and Caviston's in Glasthule, Seapoint in Monkstown, Fitzpatrick's Castle in Killiney, the Guinea Pig in Dalkey, and the China Sichuan in Sandyford, who will "cook up a storm of culinary delights" while you enjoy fabulous live entertainment including performances from Flash Harry, Bagatelle, Niamh Kavanagh and The Illegals, and Otis and the Elevators.

Budding cooks will also be able to pick up tips in the demonstration theatre where chefs Martin Shanahan, Kevin Dundon and Derry Clarke will be rattling the pots and pans. Daytime admission (noon to 4pm) is €8 with the 4pm to 10 pm session €12. After that food tokens are 10 for €10.

Having recovered from Dun Laoghaire, it will be off to the inaugural Westport Food Festival from September 2 to 4. The event kicks off on Friday night at 7pm with a celebrity cookery demo and Come Dine with Me-style dinner at the Wyatt Hotel at the Octagon. Fifteen of Westport's chefs, including Eoin McDonnell of the Wyatt, Seamus Commons of Knockranny House Hotel, and Jose Barroso of Sol Rio will provide the cookery demo followed by dinner for €35.

The festival committee in Westport is very conscious of keeping events affordable. There will be a live-feed video screen from the kitchen to the diningroom, a Q&A session, and jazz band Ain't Misbehavin will provide the musical interest.

Westport's Mall will be converted into a tented food village, which will see hotels, restaurants, and food producers hosting individual marquees where festivalgoers can exchange 'covey shillings' for food. At the food village tickets are €10 for samplings, with family tickets (two adults two kids) €20. There are lots of events for all of the family including a boy scout cook out, pick your fruit and a chocolate-making demo, mushroom foraging, and an Irish Distillers' free Irish Coffee Unit.

Waterford Harvest Festival takes place from the September 3 to 11 with a brilliant programme that includes slow food tours to artisan producers, a slow food France workshop and tasting session in the Theatre Royal, a big street barbecue gig, a girls' night out at Sabai restaurant, a fishy Friday cookery demo by Martin Shanahan and Amazing Grazing street market.

Waterford Institute of Technology is running artisan workshops but if you fancy learning to make your own pates, terrines and sausages book early -- places are limited. Oh yes, if you are footloose and fancy free, give the singles restaurant trail a lash! Twelve single men and 12 single women will dine in different restaurants for each course.

September 10 to 18 sees the good folk of Skibbereen hosting A Taste of West Cork Food Festival. It's a whole week of fun including an island-hopping event with starters and dinner on Heir and Sherkin Islands on the MV Mystic Water before returning to Casey's of Baltimore for dessert and music. A Celtic cook-off will see chefs from different parts of Britain and Ireland compete in a time and tasting competition. 'Fire and Ice' will be a surprise night of fun in Le Voyage restaurant.

Midleton, Co Cork, is a town with a great food ethos and lots of good restaurants including Farmgate, Finin's, Sage, O'Donovan's plus many more. On September 10, the Main Street becomes a walkway of food stalls and tents, buzzing with artisan producers and restaurants doing food galore including the Garryvoe Hotel which last year did great cones with fish and chips, Sage Restaurant in Midleton, Green Barn Cafe Bistro, Killeagh, O'Flynn's Gourmet Sausage Company, La Trattoria, Jack Cuthbert's handmade bread, Glanmire Ices, Green Saffron Spices, and Clonakilty Black Pudding.

This year, the Galway Oyster & Seafood Festival, which began in 1954 in the former Great Southern Hotel with only 34 festivalgoers in attendance, is returning to its original base, now known as Hotel Meyrick. From September 23 to 25, the city will be awash with oysters, seafood aficionados, and craic. It kicks off on the Friday with a Seafood Dinearound at 6pm in a number of prominent restaurants including Aniar and Matz at the G. Tickets are €70 and include a three-course seafood-themed dinner, two glasses of wine and entry to the national oyster-opening championship in the festival marquee. On Saturday, there is an Oyster Festival parade and the oyster-tasting and the world oyster-opening championship which promises to be a great afternoon of fun. Tickets are €80 and selling fast. That night there is the Oyster Festival gala ball at the Hotel Meyrick with tickets at €110.

The Dingle Food and Wine Festival and Blas na hEireann awards kick off on September 30, running over October 1 and 2 when the whole town becomes a veritable culinary trail as people move from venue to venue using vouchers to buy food. The festival will include a series of cookery demos, special menus in restaurants featuring local produce, a great food market and a cheese and wine exposition. Their culinary food trails twin retail shops and galleries with artisan producers, which highlights not just the food on offer but the interesting crafts you can buy in Dingle.

And so to Kinsale -- the original gourmet food festival which hosts its 35th gathering this year from the October 7 to 9. The event always launches in style with a champagne reception on the Friday evening at 6.30pm sponsored by Bollinger. Saturday is always great fun with the Mad Hatters' Taste of Kinsale kicking off at 11.30am when Alice, the Mad Hatter, March Hare and Fieldmouse lead a tour of four venues where the 12 members of Kinsale's Good Food Circle present wonderful dishes from their kitchens for tastings.

Tickets for this event are €90 but it is a great day. Sunday sees a pretty spectacular fruits de mer lunch. Tickets for this event are €75.

Savour Kilkenny Food Festival has settled in very well and celebrates its fifth birthday on the October bank holiday weekend, from October 28 to 31. The majestic walls of Kilkenny Castle form a spectacular backdrop to this event where they will be using the Parade Plaza for a tented food village with stalls where you can taste and buy the very best of food from Kilkenny food producers, restaurants, hotels, cafes and chefs. It will kick off on the Friday with a food camp with food bloggers, food lovers, chefs and producers discussing the theme of 'Defining Irish Food'.

Isn't autumn just great! You can diet in November.

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