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Festival Food, by Caroline Hennessy

All the best places to eat, shop and stay in Ireland. A local guide to local places.
  • Three Chefs

Music festivals were never about food. The Trip to Tipp was Bryan Adams, Extreme and vinegar-soused chips from a van. Witnness had Badly Drawn Boy, The Flaming Lips, Nina Hynes and more of the same in the edible line. Oxegen was a step up. The Darkness, PJ Harvey and Snow Patrol soundtracked my first taste of festival noodles and spicy falafel.

Come August 2012 and there was a Theatre of Food running in parallel with the music on festival stages all around the country. Cookery demos? Yes, but these were demos with attitude. It was touch and smell and taste and interact, all calmly curated by Catherine Kehoe and the VSC Events team, with Sally McKenna – distributing wine tastings, serving up brownies and basically being in half a dozen places at once.

At Liss Ard there was Sunday roast on offer: Chris Hedges stuffed chunks of spice-rubbed, spit-roast roast lamb into rolls outside while Ross from Tong was on stage extolling the virtues of Irish dried beef. Toby Simmonds talked buffaloes and mozzarella; his partner, Jenny, passed around trays of cheese toasties. There were mushrooms from Ballyhoura and the inimitable Veronica Steele transformed a pot of milk into the beginnings of a new festival cheese.

Bigger and much more boisterous, Electric Picnic saw everything moved up a notch. Three days worth of food happenings, a bigger tent to play with and the L Mulligan Grocer pop-up cafe outside the door (with real seats. And tables. And - be still my beating heart - proper TEAPOTS!). The McCarthys brought blood and guts from Kanturk, Ed Hick had people chewing gum and holding their noses, Mei Chin’s Asian-Irish fusion food fed a tent-full of Very Happy People and Leslie Williams passed around teeny cups of rather potent aged elderflower champagne.  

In the middle of two music festivals, ToF made a flying visit to Dublin’s Tall Ships event. Lily Ramirez-Foran’s cooked cochinita pibil, not wanting an animal rights situation on hand, Derry Clarke pre-killed his lobster before the demo and hungry crowds demolished Natasha Czopate's raw chocolate cake in record time.

And then there was beer. Irish craft beer to be precise. I rocked up at each event with my wheelie suitcase packed full of chocolate, butter and Knockmealdown Porter from Eight Degrees Brewing, whipped up three trays of dense chocolate brownies using the beer, did talking, tasting and beer/food matching while they baked and had the still-warm-from-the-oven brownies to eat with some porter at the end. Phew! Claire from Dungarvan Brewing Company was on hand at EP to give people an idea of just how different craft beer from different breweries can taste. For me, it was about thinking Irish when it comes to the bottle that you’re opening with food, taking the time to savour beer, about discovering and supporting your own local craft brewery.

It was all about the Theatre of Food.

Oh, and there was some music too.
Caroline Hennessy

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