The Things We Learned at LitFest
It was another memorable weekend at the fourth Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine, with another sell-out crowd in excess of 8,000 in attendance. Marie-Claire Digby asked some of the participants to tell us about something that made an impression on them, or something that they learned at Litfest.
The Timing of Fires was the title of his talk at Litfest, and that meant a 4am start for the Argentinian master of cooking with fire Francis Mallmann (above right), with Fingal Ferguson. Photograph: Joleen Cronin
The Big Shed at Litfest with installations and design by Queens of Neon and This Is What We Do. Photograph: Joleen Cronin
YOTAM OTTOLENGHI, AUTHOR, TV PRESENTER AND RESTAURATEUR
"The pop-up dinner by the Mews crew [from Baltimore] on Saturday night made a big impression. It had a wonderful clarity of flavours, showcasing superb Irish produce. And I learned, from Darina Allen, that blackcurrant leaves make a great sorbet."
FRANCIS MALLMANN, RESTAURATEUR AND AUTHOR
"I was impressed by the democratic, high spirited and romantic language of the team, kitchens and delicious food of Ballymaloe. It's a matter of global pride. I learnt that fresh organic products taste better when they are produced and chosen by people that hold in their hearts, like in Ballymaloe, freshness of heart and soul, day in day out."
PAUL FLYNN, CHEF, THE TANNERY, DUNGARVAN
"It’s the people that you meet – I ended up dancing with [chef and TV food presenter] Matt Tebbutt last night, one of the nicest people you could meet. I was up buying a pint and bought a spare one – you never know who might need it. Matt’s wife Lisa eyed it up and I gave it to her, then Matt turned up, and we ended up bonding for an hour – I was like a One Direction fan. Litfest at Ballymaloe makes me like a giddy teenager, which I am not, of course."
DAVID TANIS, CHEF, AUTHOR AND NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST
`"Litfest is impressive in every aspect, not least for the seamless interlocking of all its lively moveable parts. The event is marvellously inclusive, welcoming everyone from food professionals to amateurs to local folks looking for a day’s outing in a beautiful spot. This was my fourth visit to Ballymaloe Litfest and each time I’m amazed to see how Rory and Darina manage to collect such remarkable talent under one roof, and to pull it off with grace and generosity."
DARINA ALLEN, FESTIVAL DIRECTOR
"Francis Mallmann’s cooking over fire was just one of the events at this year’s Litfest that was particularly memorable. Observing him cooking over a woodfire and on the plancha really resonated with me and reminded me of the joy of cooking outdoors. He inspired many aspiring young chefs to start a conversation about cooking with fire in their restaurants.
"What was particularly evident at this year’s Litfest talks was that there are a growing number of people wanting to know how the food they are eating is produced and where it comes from. There is a grass-roots revolution well underway in food. There is a particular revival of interest in fermentation and a increasing interest in the connection between gut health and and our well-being."
PRUE LEITH, WRITER
"However busy and big the Litfest gets, it retains that Ballymaloe mix of friendly informality and professionalism; that made an impression on me. I learned how to barbecue a yard-long veggie sausage with the open fire king Francis Mallmann."
JEREMY LEE, CHEF, QUO VADIS, LONDON
"It is impossible to choose one thing. It is the extraordinary companionship, bonhomie and camaraderie at this wonderful place that stands out ... and the best breakfast in the world, too. It’s all about folk and getting them to table in a convivial way. I learned that the plancha over wood is the most wonderful cooking device. Utterly delighted with such."
RORY O’CONNELL, FESTIVAL DIRECTOR
"I learned that bringing people together and creating a convivial space for them to eat and chat is a mighty powerful starting point for some great initiatives. The young, new wave of Irish cooks, growers and farmers with inspirational ideals to produce and cook beautiful health-giving food moved me deeply. These people impress me and inspire me."
ERIC WERNER AND MYA HENRY, HARTWOOD RESTAURANT, MEXICO
"The weekend was filled with great food, incredible people and so much pride. We are very grateful to have been apart of it. We learned that everyone from around the world is striving for a more sustainable approach to cooking and life and Litfest gives us an opportunity to come together and learn from each other in one of the most beautiful cookery schools in the world."
AOIFE CARRIGY, FOOD WRITER AND CHAIRPERSON OF THE IRISH FOOD WRITERS GUILD
"I was impressed by the food and drink on offer at the Big Shed, especially the papusa (ground corn tortilla stuffed with black beans) and fermented nettle soda from My Goodness, the fermented gorse tonic from America Village Apothecary and the brilliant choice of Irish craft beers and ciders. One thing that I learned this year, communicated with great conviction by Kamal Mouzawak when discussing his latest book, Lebanese Home Cooking, is that tabbouleh should never, ever feature couscous but only ever bulghur (and only a smattering of it at that, being essentially a salad of parsley)."
JANCIS ROBINSON MW, WINE WRITER
"I was impressed by how talented and unusual the brewing Boyle sisters [Susan and Judith of Two Sisters Brewing] are."
CLAIRE PTAK, VIOLET BAKERY OWNER, STYLIST AND WRITER
"I learned nothing about cooking with fire from Francis Mallmann . . . because it can’t be taught in three hours, but I met a wonderful and poetic man who has inspired me in myriad ways. And his food tasted transcendent. What a gift."
BARRY FITZGERALD, CHEF, BASTIBLE, DUBLIN
"At the Sheridans cheese talk I was impressed by the the bravery of some of the pioneers of the artisan cheese movement in Ireland. With little experience, but a lot of enthusiasm and determination, many of them gradually perfected their craft whilst on the job."
LESLIE WILLIAMS, WINE AND FOOD WRITER
"I learned that Irish Times drinks writer John Wilson’s goat milk kefir is a perfect hangover cure, especially when it chases some of his kimchi – I think it was the mix of sourness, the light fizz, the umami flavours and the chilli. I also learned that a Bellini cocktail can be creamy and subtle, with amazing texture, if made by Nick Strangeway, and how diverse the Monastrell/Mourvèdre grape can be when grown in different climates."
LILLY HIGGINS, FOOD WRITER
"I had an hour between talks on Sunday afternoon and wandered into the Garden Tent to find one of my own food heroes, April Dannan of Rebel Health, setting up to do a free talk about the vinegars and ferments she creates using wild yeasts. We were all enthralled with April’s stories and advice, from adding chickweed, dandelion and nettles to bone broth, fermenting rhubarb to make yeast for bread baking, foraging, how to create your own vinegar mother, scobys and natural remedies. It was one of the many highlights of my weekend."
LOUISE BANNON, CHEF
"I learned about use of fire from Francis Mallmann and Fingal Ferguson. My most lasting impression was seeing Mallmann’s set up and how he controlled the cooking of all the different meats."
KAMAL MUZAWAK, WRITER AND FOUNDER OF SOUK EL TAYEB, LEBANON’S FIRST FARMERS MARKET
"I met wonderful individuals with great achievements ... Francis Mallmann, strong as a mountain; Skye Gyngell, sweet and fresh; young dreamers from Bar Tartine and Hartwood in Mexico ... and wonderful people eating, laughing and living. The thing thing that made an impression on me was the same thing that always make an impression on me everywhere in Ireland ... happy people."
NICK LANDER, RESTAURANT CORRESPONDENT AND CONSULTANT
"I learned [at Prof Ted Dinan’s presentation A Gut Feeling] how important everyone’s gut is."
CAROLINE HENNESSY, FOOD WRITER AND BROADCASTER
"From the inspirational Kamal Mouzawak, I learned that food can bring people together. At my Cookbook Chronicles event, I learned that everyone has a cookbook story. I was impressed by what Katie Sanderson had to say at Women in Irish Food – compete and measure success on your own terms – which tied in very much with what Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s said about defining your own success."
JP MCMAHON, CHEF, ANIAR
"I love the Big Shed and all its artisan producers. It’s such a great representation of the burgeoning Irish food scene. Food, family and friends. Francis Mallmann made the biggest impression on me. Cooking over open fire is such a wonderful way to really connect with our own humanity. Fire is an incredible thing."