Thousands expected to attend Litfest events at Ballymaloe

‘I love the build-up to it,’ says Darina Allen Chefs as writers and food experts arrive

No one told the weeds in the kitchen garden at Ballymaloe to stop growing so staff could set up for the thousands of people expected to arrive at the Cork farm this morning for the annual Litfest. So there was an element of business as usual yesterday as the gardeners were quietly weeding the herb beds.

“I think they’re growing even more vigorously,” one of them muttered as she passed with a full barrow.

Chefs, writers and food experts from all over Ireland and the world arrived in sunny east Cork yesterday. The Larkins from Limerick were relaxing over lunch outside the cafe after their son Aidan's wedding on Thursday. They hadn't been to Ballymaloe for years, but were pleasantly surprised to see it buzzing with activity. "Is the Noma guy here?" asked dad Colm Larkin, impressed.

Sue Green and her husband Edwin were sitting on a bench, smiling in the sunshine. They arrived from London to work as volunteers. "Have you eaten here?" Edwin asks. "When we first ate here a waitress was clearing away the dinner plates and she asked us, 'Would you like a little more?'"


Ringo Starr was staying at the time. They were hooked and have been returning with friends in the years since. Edwin, an accountant, will man the box office. Journalist Sue will welcome people when they arrive.

Darina Allen seemed relaxed. "I love the build-up to it," she said.

René Redzepi arrived with his eldest daughter at 3pm. By 6pm, Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi had arrived with his Irish partner, Karl Allen (no relation), and their toddler son, Max.

Thomasina Miers, Masterchef winner and founder of the Wahaca chain of Mexican street-food restaurants, arrived at the Grainstore launch party. She gives a talk tomorrow about chillies. Isn't it all about the macho "how hot can you go" approach?

"I did that when I was 18 and travelling round Mexico, " she said, but now she's interested in the kinds of flavours you can get from chillies.

Her talk will cover nine different chillies, including a variety called chilhuacle that featured in a Diana Kennedy recipe which started with the instructions, "You'll need an outside fire, a stone clay pot and four people."

Kennedy, the 91-year-old author of that recipe and an expert on Mexican cooking, will give a demonstration today and join a panel discussing forgotten skills, as well as giving a talk tomorrow.

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests