GastroGays' guide to Ireland's thriving food scene
GastroGays is a food and travel blog founded by Russell Alford and Patrick Hanlon. The Drogheda-based duo focus on crafting honest and informative features on food products, trends and restaurants, with some tasty recipes thrown into the mix. They also produce the popular foodie podcast, Chew the Fat, which celebrates all the wonderful things that are happening in the Irish food scene.
Russell and Patrick are passionate about food and supporting local producers. Naturally, the GastroGays have teamed up with SuperValu to promote the new ‘All Things Considered, it’s SuperValu’ campaign. The aim of the campaign is to encourage consumers to make smarter food choices and look at the real value that SuperValu offers its shoppers not just within the trolley but value that goes beyond the till. It wants shoppers to ‘Consider Something New’ this week and every week for six weeks.
Maybe you’d like to support more home-grown producers (SuperValu gives over 1,800 small producers shelf space) or perhaps you want to shake up your food repertoire by learning to cook a new dish? With SuperValu’s ‘Consider Something New’ campaign it’s easy. We spoke to Russell and Patrick about exciting trends in Irish food and why it’s so important to ‘Consider Something New’ when shopping.
What’s been the most exciting development in Irish food in recent years?
The sheer number of new producers and innovations in the food scene is mind-boggling. Irish people are so enterprising. SuperValu Food Academy has been instrumental over the past five years in helping people with hardly any experience or knowledge of business, and retail in particular, to create products that stand alongside the big household brands on supermarket shelves. Working with these producers to streamline operations, develop their brands and scale up – that's the key. Consumers, in turn, are then getting access to much more Irish produce, therefore getting better value and supporting local.
Do you think Irish food is in a good place at the moment?
Absolutely! Ireland is one great big larder filled with amazing producers. Consumers are more discerning with what they're eating and they’re celebrating Irish produce more and more – the supermarkets are also leading the way. Just this weekend, SuperValu, won 110 Blas Na hEireann awards at the annual awards ceremony in Dingle, 30 of those awards were for its own-brand range of products (with 12 of these being Gold awards), while their Food Academy producers went home with 79 awards. The ceremony rewards the very best tasting Irish food and drink products on the market so SuperValu's success at the weekend is confirmation that own-brand ranges offer consumers great quality at affordable prices.
Look at SuperValu Food Academy and the small food producers they support. Coffee House Lane in Waterford, one of the best roasters in the country, they've gone from strength to strength [thanks to Food Academy]. Similarly, SynerChi Kombucha from the Donegal Gaeltacht has become extremely popular with SuperValu customers Jo of Absolute Nutrition is selling her energy balls and paleo snacks in SuperValu. It’s wonderful to see. Bord Bia and the Local Enterprise Offices have to be commended on this partnership too as they are always working tirelessly to fly the flag for Irish produce.
What are the latest food trends that are exciting you?
Less of a trend and more of a movement. We're seeing more and more appreciation of seafood in Ireland which is such a positive move. We see the likes of Niall Sabongi of Klaw restaurants and Sustainable Seafood Ireland (SSI) in Dublin, Gaz Smith of Michael's restaurant in Mount Merrion, Stefan Griesbach of Gannet Fishmongers in Galway, the Harty family of Harty's Oysters in Waterford, Birgitta Curtain of Burren Smokehouse in Clare, Mag Kirwan of Goatsbridge Trout in Kilkenny, Frank Hederman in Cork, and countless others across the country truly flying the flag for Irish seafood.
What do you think will be the next big trend in terms of Irish food?
We've hoped to see street food become a bigger thing in Ireland for years, but it's a slow process and there's so much red tape – it's something that London is so well-known for, the likes of Borough Market, Broadway Market, Brockley Market are the places everyone goes to get fresh produce at weekends, meet local producers, eat proper street food and it's always a brilliant atmosphere. The food festivals across Ireland are getting there, but we see a real gap in Dublin for that.
In terms of products, continued innovation – we've seen so much but expect so much more. In terms of restaurants, it's all about local produce, authentic experiences and value – just look at the amount of Bib Gourmand restaurants. Neighbourhood bistros serving the most perfect plates of food for the best prices and using sensational Irish produce. That's going to continue and is already putting Ireland on the map as a culinary destination – which makes our job of shouting about Ireland and its cuisine so much easier.
What three restaurants in Ireland would you recommend to anyone?
We're Drogheda-based, so we have to shine a light on our local favourite, Eastern Seaboard. Always inspires and delights us, and what Jeni Glasgow and Reuven Diaz have going has truly transformed the town and they are champions of our own local producers. We're huge fans of Etto on Merrion Row- one of those places we're always happy in, and adore every morsel of food that we eat, especially those red wine prunes! So looking forward to Uno Mas when it opens!
Finally, we'd have to say Las Tapas De Lola for something a bit more exotic. It's right on the casual dining microcosm of Camden/Wexford Street and it's a little authentic taste of Iberia served with Irish charm and hospitality. Anna and Vanessa talked all about Lola in a recent episode of Chew The Fat and their passion is infectious – it's one of the most-listened to episodes we've done.
What can people expect next from GastroGays?
We're launching series two of our podcast Chew The Fat later in October. We're also doing lots of different events, for example Savour Kilkenny on October 29 which we're excited to be doing for a second year. We're also developing a potential food product with an Irish brand which could be on shelves over the next year – who knows. We never went in to any of this with a plan, so we still take each day as it comes and whatever comes our way we're open to.
SuperValu are asking the nation to ‘Consider Something New’ - something that’s always been on their to-do list but that they haven’t got around to doing yet. It could be buying own brand products to save money, making healthier food choices or picking up one or more Irish products to support your local food producers because - All things considered, it's SuperValu.
All things considered, its SuperValu. For more information on SuperValu’s #Allthingsconsidered challenge visit their website.
Since the programme’s inception in 2013, Food Academy graduates, supported by their Local Enterprise Offices, have sold €78 million worth of produce in SuperValu stores and the 329 suppliers involved have grown to provide approximately 1,500 jobs