RUTH Healy is owner-proprietor of Urru Culinary Store in Bandon, the gateway to West Cork.
She is a second generation grocer, Cork born and raised and, well, knows her apples, so to speak. A champion for people experiencing little vignettes of foodie heaven daily, Ruth ensures Urru is a cornucopia of culinary treasures from artisan food producers the length and breadth of the country.
She has been a Fáilte Ireland Food Champion for many years and has been a stalwart for her community as a place of gathering, learning and epicurean hideaway. But apparently, all of this isn’t enough to wear her out!
Ruth’s latest venture has her all consumed with promoting the characterful cafes across Cork as community centred gathering places. Of course there is food — the best of local ingredients served simply.
“If it’s a ham sandwich, make it the most delicious ham sandwich you possibly can,” says Ruth; but more importantly is how these cafes can contribute to the local communities that they are nestled within.
“Individually, there is only so much cafe owners can do with hosting events without it taking huge amounts of people, time and money, but we certainly aren’t lacking enthusiasm and vision.
“By banding together under the Cork Character Cafes Initiative, we are creating a community where you and find great local food, quirky places, interesting people and great hospitality for locals and visitors alike,” says Ruth.
And she makes a valid point. When I’m travelling abroad or even to just another part of the country, I’m on the lookout for that hidden gem cherished by locals; or a chance encounter with someone who can give you the low down on the best spots to eat, drink, view and visit? So it makes sense, as Cork continues to flourish as a tourism destination, to harness the power of local knowledge to add that touch of local colour for people visiting our Rebel County.
And for local people? These cafes become a centre for community activity and a much needed base for those that can easily feel isolated: the elderly, stay-at- home mums, carers etc.
Ruth explains: “We want Cork Character Cafes to be thought of as being the start of a community and a conversation as opposed to a network and an experience. There are some things that can only happen in a community space and that’s what we want to encourage.”
So where does food fit into all of this?
One of the main tenets of the Cork Character Cafes’ Initiative is to get to grips with what makes Cork food Cork in three layers, as Ruth explains.
“Our first layer in the mutual support of all the participating cafes: recommending each other, what happens in each location and in each town or village, something that will grow organically over time.
“The second layer is our Theme Weeks. We showcase an iconic Cork food producer, product or even a season and build a theme to be celebrated for the week. Each cafe can opt in as they choose and decide for themselves what they would like to do and how to do it, so it really opens up a space for people to get creative. We have had two Theme Weeks so far: Milleen’s Week celebrating the most famous of all our cheeses, and a Summer Bounty week.
“The third layer are the Pop Up events where a few of the cafes participate in serving a multi-course lunch at venue’s across the region that can capture people’s imaginations. Our most recent pop up was with Lettercollum Kitchen Project of Clonakilty, The Stuffed Olive of Bantry and my own Urru of Bandon. We hosted an event at the recently renovated and reopened Nano Nagle Place on Douglas Street in the city for a summer lunch with a tour of the new facility as part of Cork Heritage Week. It was a huge success!”
If you are a Cork cafe owner and would like to find out more about the initiative and how to participate, contact Ruth via their social media @CorkCuisine on Facebook and Twitter.
WHAT IS ON OFFER
Organico, Bantry: Always a pioneering community focused space, Organico offers weekly knitting groups, breastfeeding and mother and toddler groups; environmental and health talks, exhibitions of local artists work, in-store tastings, cookery demo’s and pass-the- hat gigs so that kids can enjoy music during the day.
Urru, Bandon: Urru encourages customers to leave their coppers in a tin, the total of which is matched every year by the store and hosts fundraising events at Christmas combining everything together and distributing it out to local community groups. Over four years, €8,000 has been raised in this way.
Nash 19 & The Farmgate Cafe, Cork City: Just two of the cafes that join forces for the annual Cork Long Table Dinner on Oliver Plunket Street. This event showcases Cork’s culinary credentials and the ability to bring people from all walks of life together over dinner for this very special event.
October: Harvest Festival
December: A Celebration of Cork Spiced Beef
Cork City: The Farmgate Cafe, Nash 19, Idaho Cafe, On the Pigs Back, Ali’s Kitchen, Crawford Gallery Cafe, House Cafe at Cork Opera House.
North & East Cork: The Old Blarney Post Office, Ballymaloe Cafe, The Stephen Pearce Café.
West Cork: Toonsbridge Cafe (Macroom), The Lemon Leaf (Kinsale), Diva’s Boutique Cafe (Ballinspittle), Urru (Bandon), Lettercollum Kitchen Project (Clonakilty), The Sticky Bun (Clonakilty), Kalbo’s (Skibbereen), The Stuffed Olive (Bantry), Organico (Bantry), Budd’s (Ballydehob), Manning’s Emporium (Ballylickey).