IT’S an East Cork food festival, but not as you know it!
For 15 years, the Midleton Food Festival ran as a modest event in the heart of the town, then in 2017 reimagined itself as FEAST Cork to showcase the best food and drink East Cork has to offer.
Festival organisers, Réidín and Kevin Ahern, of Sage Restaurant, launched the 2018 Programme at Castlemartyr Resort. Events richly embrace the culinary heritage of the region, spanning farmlands, coastlines and forests.
“It’s about showcasing East Cork as a whole, as a collective; as a region of Cork that is as attractive to cooks and foodies as it is for visitors too,” says Kevin.
“Three years ago, we had a one-day festival that was centred around a grand market in Midleton. Now we have 33 different events on our programme across the whole of East Cork!”
The festival currently underway, runs until September 9, slightly overlapping the start of A Taste of West Cork, but Kevin and Réidín see it as a golden opportunity for the Rebel County.
“Food tourism is about showcasing the best we have: it’s not about East versus West. We see it as a celebratory month for Cork food in general — we want people to get excited about how much is happening in Cork. There’s not many places in the world that replicate what we have.”
A boom in new food and drinks producers has lit up the East Cork food scene in recent years: from Bertha’s Gin in Ballyvolane House, to Ballinrostig Cheese and Ballycotton Seafoods. A wave of innovative thinking from the Jameson distillery has also seen a reimagining of one of Ireland’s most recognisable heritage brands for a new generation. It’s exciting and buzzy and adds to an already impressive larder for East Cork’s chefs and restaurants.
“We were always lucky in that the larder was always there, but now we are more educated at seeing the things that maybe were missed before,” says Kevin. “As a chef, I’m reminded all the time that it doesn’t matter how good a chef you are/were in your 20’s, everything is down to experience: how to source and building great relationships with growers and producers.”
Irish Distillers, the producers behind Jameson, and synonymous with Midleton, are one of the festival’s big supporters this year.
“It’s really positive to see Irish Distillers/Jameson reconnecting with Midleton and East Cork,” says Kevin. “People visit the area for the distillery, so for Jameson to be actively promoting Midleton and surrounding areas, people become interested in what else there is here and will stay for longer, see and do more too.”
The Future of Food, on September 8, is an event Kevin believes will point the way forward for FEAST Cork.
Réidín was a school teacher for many years and Kevin has developed a Chef Apprenticeship at Sage — teaching is at their core.
“The future is about nurturing young talented chefs, producers, distillers and food engineers,” says Kevin.
A conversation chaired by Manuella Spinelli of Eurotoques Ireland will bring together some of these young minds and their fresh outlook to talk about what needs to come next to secure Ireland’s place on the international culinary map. The conversation will be followed by a special lunch.
“Matthew Stafford is my fourth year apprentice in Sage. He will be taking over the kitchen at Sage for the Future of Food Lunch. It happens to be his last day too, after which Mattie will be joining the team at the Greenhouse.”
No doubt a bitter sweet occasion for Kevin, who took Mattie on at just 17 years old after his father, a grower and long-time friend who passed away only a couple of years ago, approached him about the apprenticeship.
“I trust him, as you would anyone you have worked in close quarters with for four years. We have gone through a lot together — we have a good bond and a close relationship.”
‘East of East, Like’ on September 9 is Kevin’s collaboration with friend in arms Takashi Miyazaki. The event sold out in six hours and continues the long running theme of cultural collaboration, showcasing how the best of local food can be used to create a range of different cuisines. The seven course menu will dovetail together Takashi’s much lauded Japanese cuisine with Kevin’s 12 Mile ethos.
The full festival programme can be viewed at www.feastcork.ie. Here are some of the other highlights
September 3: Tasting Dinner at The Bayview Hotel in Ballycotton “Ingenuity & The Bounty”.
September 4: A Ballycotton Feast with Pier 26 celebrating local, wild and organic produce.
September 5: Coopering Demo & Whiskey Tasting with Jameson’s Head Cooper Ger Buckley and Blender Dave McCabe.
An evening of exquisite food and culinary insight at Ballymaloe House.
September 6: Ballyvolane House hosts a Bertha’s Revenge Gin Distillery tour, tasting and long-table lunch.
Family fun in The Square with Mick ‘The Lobsterman’;, Jack from the Granary Foodstore and Susan from Crafty Hands where wood-fired pizzas and Ireland’s best lobster rolls await.
Fiesta at Farmgate celebrating 35 years in the community with a one-off special tasting menu of their most popular dishes.
September 7: Explore the cocoa bean in the company of the folks from Rostellan Chocolate;
‘Straight from the Cask’ the SAGE Long Table Dinner, four courses by award winning chef Kevin Aherne and 2017 World Bartender of the Year, Andy Ferreira.
September 8: “The Big Day Out”: Starting with a specially extended tour of the famous Jameson Distillery the day continues with a street market, farmers’ market and gardening workshops run all day from Midleton Community Garden and GIY, plus the East Cork restaurant tent packed with chef demos.
September 9; Learn to identify and use sustainably harvested seaweed followed by a forage with marine biologist Frances Gallagher.
MEET THE PRODUCERS AT FEAST
Ballyhoura Mushrooms and Ardsallagh Goat Farm are just two of the fantastic regional food producers showcased during the Feast Cork.
Ballyhoura Mushrooms are Mark Cribbin and his wife Dr Lucy Deegan. They have been growing 13 varieties of mushrooms for seven years. Mark will be hosting an Autumn Foraging Event on September 8.
He said: “We supply direct to restaurants and shops across Ireland and also into the UK to customers such as Harrods and Fortnum & Mason.
“As well as fresh mushrooms we also sell wild Irish mushrooms and produce oils, vinegars and seasonings derived from our cultivated and foraged wild mushrooms.
“For the Autumn Foraging Event, we hope to educate on the do’s and don’ts of mushroom foraging; sharing some of the secrets of where to find mushrooms such as Ceps & Chanterelles and displaying edible and poisonous mushrooms so people can be made aware of what and what not to pick.”
Ardsallagh Goats Cheese is renowned for its exceptional quality goats’ cheese. Jane Murphy is head cheesemaker.
“In 1977 a travelling insurance salesman in Co. Carlow randomly gave me a goat so my children could have the milk, and I began to make cheese from the surplus milk as a hobby. In 1997 we had the opportunity to buy a herd of 420 goats and become a bona fide commercial enterprise. My husband left his smart-suit-city-job and became the herdsman and I made the cheese.
“Quite simply, I love making cheese - it’s magic. Even now, all these years on, I still feel a satisfaction lifting the tank lid in the morning and seeing the milk separated into curds and whey — the Ardsallagh cheese fairy had been overnight! We currently transform around 10,000 litres of a milk a week into cheese.
“FEAST Cork opens everything the region has to offer to everyone, and not just the ‘foodie’; people but for families too and if they only discover one new taste at the event it’s a day well spent.
“For the Meet the Producer event on September 4 I shall be in Colberts & Co, Midleton, where we will be looking for the perfect cheese match with some wonderful wines. People will learn the story of Jacobs Creek Double Barrel and its Midleton connection and also taste our new Romano style cheese, Ardsallagh Corabbey, which won Best New Cheese in Ireland at the last Irish Cheese Awards.”