Ballymaloe’s LitFest will not be back in 2018
The food festival, which created some great memories last weekend, is taking a one-year break
Darina Allen, festival co-director, hosting a cookery demo with Sunil Ghai from Pickle restaurant, Dublin. Photograph: Joleen Cronin
The shop closed signs went up on the Food and Drinks Literacy Festival at Ballymaloe in Co Cork on Sunday night. Festival director, Rory O’Connell explained the reasons behind the decision not to run the event in 2018: “LitFest is demanding – physically, emotionally, philosophically and financially, and the effort to keep the quality of what we do at a level that we are happy with is a challenge.
“So we are taking a break in 2018 – there is a baby to be raised [festival manager Rebecca Cronin is expecting her first child] and we need to regroup, recharge and research.
“We will be back in 2019 – in what shape and form, that is still to be determined. We will not be going away, and we will keep in touch. There is still so much to talk about and who knows what the future holds.”
We asked some of the participants to tell us about something that made an impression on them, or something that they learned at Litfest 2017.
DARINA ALLEN, FESTIVAL CO-DIRECTOR
Pat Browne, who assisted Jacob Kenedy of Boca di Lupo in London with his cooking demonstration, crystallised fresh young blackcurrant leaves by brushing with egg white and sprinkling with castor sugar – they were sublime and one of my highlights of LitFest 2017. Jacob said something that resonated. “Good quality produce gives much more than it costs.”
RORY O’CONNELL, FESTIVAL CO-DIRECTOR
I learned that Europe is where you are at any given time in Europe – not an abstract notion. We are all Europe. We all have a responsibility to make Europe what we want it to be.
RACHEL ALLEN, CHEF, RESTAURATEUR WRITER
I had the pleasure of hosting cookery demonstrations at the cookery school with Monika Linton from Brindisa in London and Sumayya Usmani, who was born in Pakistan and now lives in Scotland. I never realised that there is actually a word for that sixth sense we have while cooking. Sumayya cooked wonderful food and explained that in her part of the world that instinct is a gut feeling that tells you how something should taste, even if the recipe you're following tells you otherwise. It could be more spice that the food needs, or a squeeze of lemon juice, or perhaps longer cooking. But as Sumayya said, it's more than just using your taste buds, it's following that sixth sense.
ROBIN GILL, CHEF
At Litfest I was reminded of the importance of food culture and education. Being surrounded by food provenance, literally pulling potatoes from the ground to cook for lunch, it struck me how important it is for our generation to protect our rights to real food.
LORD DAVID PUTTNAM, FILM PRODUCER AND ENVIRONMENTALIST
First and foremost everyone is smiling at LitFest, and why wouldn’t they be. Experiences are being shared, recipes and magic tips are being generously exchanged, stories are being retold.
This is a life enhancing festival. A packed audience had the privilege to hear the most poetic food writer, Claudia Roden, telling stories from the time she was a refugee with her family fleeing from Egypt, reading recipes handed down from great grandmothers who shared their food that “like music, could make you cry”.
SALLY McKENNA, EDITOR McKENNAS’ GUIDES
I loved working with the Ballymaloe House chefs at the Fringe Theatre, where I learned how to make a perfect omelette; keep mussels plump while cooking, and use a decanter. The other joy was the map of Europe and the Middle East that’s in Claudia Roden’s head – no modern borders, just food and culture that goes back to the 10th century, which she can summon up in a name, a recipe or the smell of a spice.
BARRY FITZGERALD, CHEF
At the Farm of Ideas talk by Christian Puglisi, he highlighted the importance of understanding that a restaurant can't just be replicated in a different location. They should all have different and unique personalities but follow a similar set of values. He now runs a farm which supplies his various Copenhagen restaurants with organic produce, creating a strong synergy among his businesses.
JOHN BOWMAN, BROADCASTER AND WRITER
As happens at events like LitFest it was the chance encounter, the one-to-one talk with somebody, which I remember. On Sunday night I was beside Claudia Roden at dinner and she was so enlightening about how so much of our cooking has been revolutionised compared to what it was 50 years ago – how open so many people are to new spices, recipes, methods of preparing food. She has made her own contribution to that revolution, of course. But she was generous in her praise of others, Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, and Myrtle Allen who in this country has made an extraordinary impact. Many who might not even know her name are in her debt which is why I included her in my recent book on Irish life in the past century: Ireland: The Autobiography.
HELEN JAMES, DESIGNER
I loved discovering My Goodness kefir on tap in the Big Shed, with ginger, turmeric and apple. As someone who doesn’t drink alcohol, I am always looking for something interesting and this was a taste explosion.Another absolute highlight was the Sing Along Social on Saturday night – en masse karaoke singing to Abba and Fleetwood Mac, it was a great laugh.
ALISON O’REILLY, BBC MASTERCHEF FINALIST
I was quite overwhelmed by the amount of stuff happening ... so many wonderful things to see and do. I was amazed by the size of LitFest and by how much amazing talent it attracted.
While I was there, someone told me that they had recently changed the title from ‘literary food festival’ to ‘food literacy festival’ to communicate more clearly the idea that we all need to be more knowledgeable and aware of food-related processes and issues. This, for me, was a theme that filtered into everything I heard, and ate, and every person I talked to.
The food was incredible, and I was particularly impressed by the selection of Irish beers and ciders. I first gravitated to the Gaelic Escargot, out of curiosity, and they were delicious. By the end of the night I was getting stuck into fish and chips.
JACOB KENEDY, CHEF
I wallowed in the company of 6,000 people and not a single ego - a group united in their embrace of our responsibility to make food delicious.
SUNIL GHAI, CHEF
Litfest is not just a literacy festival, it is an institution where you can meet the legends of the culinary world and exchange culinary knowledge and ideas. Doing my demonstration with Darina Allen in the Cookery School was a real highlight; she’s my food hero.
LILLY HIGGINS, FOOD WRITER
Litfest 2017 was another eye opening, motivational and inspirational weekend. Greenhorns founder Severine von Tscharner-Fleming, chef Christian Puglisi and urban farmer Alice Holden all highlighted, for me, the reality that the gap is widening between farmer and consumer.
Ellie Kisyombe and Michelle Darmody of Our Table had an insightful discussion on the grim reality of direct provision. It is an inhumane, shocking way for people to live in modern Ireland, with no access to cooking facilities. Unimaginable as we sat in a breezy circus tent on a beautiful May day in Ballymaloe’s walled garden.
PAUL FLYNN, CHEF
At LitFest I had a reminder not to take commitment for granted – these things take a lot of work – and I am leaving with a touch of sadness because it is not happening next year. It’s a must-do in my year and I will miss the joy of being with likeminded people. I also learned that I should learn and remember the names of famous chefs’ wives (which I didn’t). Margot Henderson’s pop-up lunch was a reminder of beautiful, perfect simplicity
BRIAN McGINN, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER/DIRECTOR CHEF’S TABLE
At LitFest I learned that Rory O’Connell is a genius and Irish butter is really, really good.
RUTH HEALY, URRU CULINARY STORE
Hearing Dr Niall Smith, in his talk on Food From Space, emphasising the finite resources of the world in direct collision with population growth and temperature increase, was unnerving. Hearing other grocers’ commitment to the unique personality of their businesses and consequences of that was reassuring that we don’t all have to be made in the same image and likeness.
JOHN McKENNA, EDITOR, McKENNAS’ GUIDES
I love the way the Drinks Theatre has asserted its own spirit over the years, and how you need only sit there for a couple of hours and be transported all over the world of great drinks. Ger Buckley, the chief cooper at Irish Distillers, was a revelation: it’s one thing to take apart and reassemble a wine barrel, its quite another to do so while being enormously funny and wise.
JOE McNAMEE, FOOD WRITER
I had great fun hosting a discussion with young farmers, Paddy Frankel of Ballybrack Farm, in north Cork, Alice Holden, head grower at Dagenham Farm for Growing Communities in inner city London, and Severine Von Tscharner Fleming, of Greenhorns (US Young Farmers’ Network). The packed room had no intention of quitting, even as we ran half an hour over time – until thirst got the better of us all and we finally called it a day, sprinting for the bar
But the most powerful memory I take from LitFest is the humbling contribution of Ellie Kisyombe, a wonderful woman from Malawi who has ‘lived’ in Irish direct provision for eight years.
DAVID PRIOR, FOOD AND TRAVEL WRITER
From LitFest I take away the knowledge that Claudia Roden’s voice is more relevant now than it has ever been. She was the most inspiring speaker at LitFest. Also, I never knew Irish people loved Fleetwood Mac and ABBA so much.
CHARLOTTE PIKE, AUTHOR
My LitFest highlights were having the opportunity to hear Claudia Roden speak – that is so rare. I also enjoyed Monika From Brindisa talking so evocatively about Spanish food with Sheila Dillon, and Jane Clarke speaking talking so emotively about nourishing the vulnerable.
CAROLINE HENNESSY, JOURNALIST AND BROADCASTER
I loved what Peter Ward of Country Choice had to say during the Responsible Shopping talk: don’t proselytise, engage people through organoleptics and then explain why what they’re trying tastes so good and where it comes from.
I really admire how Ellie Kisyombe and Michelle Darmody of Our Table Dublin brought attention to an unfair situation – the lack of cooking facilities in direct provision, along with direct provision itself – by starting a food conversation.
BRYAN McCARTHY, CHEF
I learned about our artisan cider makers and what they are doing, from juice to cider to vinegar, and the difference in flavour of ciders made from the same apple variety but grown in different soils. The other thing I loved was how popular Eva and Eoin’s Gaelic Escargot stand was. My kids loved them (and they knew they were eating snails).
MAIREAD AND RICHARD JACOB, CHEF/CAFE PROPRIETORS
LitFest was a melting pot of likeminded people. A great talk by Karen Leibowitz about sustainability in [San Francisco restaurant] The Perennial, made us realise that we are really sustainable already, by using so many local suppliers because their product is great, not because it’s the thing to do .
The real highlight was a lunch with chefs and food producers where we spent three hours laughing and comparing experiences, a real food community.
EAMONN BARRETT, McKENNAS’ GUIDES CONTRIBUTOR
I had a great conversation with Sumayya Usmani, who was doing a cooking demo, about the positive impact that immigrant food culture can have on communities that are willing to embrace them. And Severine Von Tscharner Fleming was incredibly dynamic and knowledgeable. Her conversations about farming left little room for complacency.