Changes afoot at Ballymaloe LitFest
Food festival to place new emphasis on sustainability and responsibility rather than literature
LitFest director Rory O’Connell with Darina Allen and Rachel Allen at the Ballymaloe Cookery School
The Big Shed, home of the fringe festival at the Ballymaloe LitFest
The Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food & Wine, widely regarded as one of the best food festivals in the world and which attracted an audience of more than 8,000 people to the cookery school and hotel in Shanagarry, Co Cork last May, is to undergo a radical overhaul in 2017.
From next year, the event will be known as the Ballymaloe Food & Drinks Literacy Festival, or LitFest – as in previous years – but with an emphasis on food literacy, responsibility and sustainability, rather than food and drink literature.
Rory O’Connell, director of the three-day festival, which will run on May 19th-21st next year, describes food literacy as being “about knowing about the food that you eat – where it came from, who produced it, it if is good for your or if it is bad for you”.
Explaining the thinking behind the departure, O’Connell said: “The festival has moved with what’s happening on the planet, and we realise now we’re between a rock and a hard place, and if we don’t start to do something about it, we’re going to be in trouble.
“The conversations at the festival started, year one, specifically about recipes, writers, beautiful prose about food and drinks. Then we started to think, well that’s all very lovely, and we’re very lucky and fortunate people, but you know what, we need to get to the nitty gritty here. We need to know how we are going to be able to sustain the beautiful things that we are lucky enough to eat and drink.”
The symposium in The Grainstore at Ballymaloe will once again involve a daily programme of talks, panel discussions, and contributions “from both the published and the not yet published”, with responsibility as the theme.
“When we go shopping, we have a responsibility, we need to know where the food came from, who produced it, how it was produced, if the producer got paid enough, how far it travelled, all of those things,” O’Connell said.
Despite the change in emphasis, there will continue to be a food and drink literature strand to the festival, and the cookery school will again host demonstrations by well known chefs and writers.
“We will still have lots of fabulous writers, we will still talk about books,” O’Connell said. “But as festival director, I can’t justifiably put on a festival now which is just about gorgeous recipes and beautiful books. I’ve got to tell the story around all of the ingredients that are involved in those books.”
Programme of events
The full programme for the 2017 event, the fifth staging of the festival, will be announced in early January and tickets will go on sale on Monday, January 9th.
Pop-up lunches and dinners, among the most popular tickets at the festival and which sold out in minutes when the booking office opened in January of this year, will be hosted by Dublin-born, London-based chef Robin Gill, Margot Henderson of Rochelle Canteen in Clerkenwell, and Jacob Kennedy, chef patron of Bocca di Lupo in Soho.