Darinas soft spot for West Cork revealed at Skibb food fair launch
Darina Allen, food aficionado and doyenne of Irish farmers' markets and the slow food movement, revealed she had a "soft spot for West Cork" when officially launching the 2007 programme for the A Taste of West Cork Food Festival which takes place from September 20th to 23rd.
Fulsome in her praise of the food movement, peculiar to West Cork, Ms. Allen spoke particularly of local supermarkets that had been at the forefront of promoting local produce. Speaking of her recent first visit to Skibbereen Country Market, which is held each Friday in Abbeystrewry Hall, she said there were absolutely tons of wonderful produce, which many take for granted. She said the people in the country market were treasures because they have kept the traditional food culture alive and were passing on skills lost in so many places.
Ms. Allen said, "Most people do not realise how fortunate you are to have what you have in this area. I come from the Midlands and they would kill for what you have here. I am contacted by journalists from all over the world every week, who want to tap into this incredible grass roots movement and meet the people who have created a global reputation for West Cork.
"I love East Cork, but I am very envious of what you have here and people really realise what an impact this area has. Locally we have it in spades here, and at long last we are beginning to recognise the treasures that we have here under our own noses.
"It cannot escape anybody at this stage that something is going radically wrong with food production at some levels, so basically, for us to be able to get really good naturally produced fresh local food in season, is a real blessing that we must not take for granted. It is putting West Cork and the whole Cork area on the global market as people are coming from all over the world to get a bit of what we have here."
Explaining her hopes for the future, Ms. Allen said she would love for the West Cork area and for all of Ireland to make connections so that when people stayed in a hotel, B & B or ate in a restaurant, what was on the menu reflected the locale. She said, "If I have meat, I would like to know that it came from a local farmer. I would like to see the name of the person who grew the vegetables and the name of the person who supplied the eggs." Ms. Allen added, "There should be a virtual triangle between the producers, the farmers and the fishermen, out to the restaurants, hotels and B&Bs so that everyone is singing from the same hymn book about what everyone has in spades in this area and what they would kill for in other parts of the country.
People are craving for good fresh food and any area that has the wisdom to realise the treasure we have can capitalise on it. Ms. Allen concluded by congratulating everyone involved in the food festival, the people of the town and West Cork Leader who had the vision to do something like this for West Cork.
Earlier in the evening, Mrs. Catherine O'Keeffe presented some of her home grown vegetables to Ms. Allen and Eilis Cohalan presented Ms. Allen with floral bouquet in appreciation of her launching the festival programme.
Emily O'Sullivan, chairperson of Skibbereen Business Association gratefully acknowledged the support of Kevin Santry, Ian Dempsey and Ivan McCutcheon of West Cork LEADER Co-op Society Ltd. and the ongoing support and sponsorship of the members of the business association. She declared, "We want to make Skibbereen the food capital of Ireland. We have the food artisans, we have an abundance of talented chefs and a place situated in the most idyllic part of Ireland."
Ian Dempsey congratulated Skibbereen Business Association and everyone on the committee for taking up the challenge and working very hard to progress the food festival. He elaborated on the broader issues of community development and long term benefit the food festival would be to the town and surrounding community.
He spoke of the food conference being hosted in the West Cork Hotel, which would, through a well respected and informed list of speakers look at food though the broader prism, how it is produced, consumed, respected and the culture it surrounds. West Cork LEADER Co-op will have increased funding until 2013, and it is hoped this will assist in creating opportunities right through the West Cork area.
Skibbereen Mayor, Mr. Brendan McCarthy, firstly extended apologies on behalf of town councillors who were unable to attend the launch. Speaking on a more personal note, Mr. McCarthy said he was delighted to be at the launch again and finally to meet Ms. Darina Allen, who, for three months had taught his wife at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. Of the festival, he said it was excellent, growing each year and unique on the island of Ireland. He thanked everyone for their support, mentioning particularly Terri Kearney and her staff for the use of Skibbereen Heritage Centre as a venue for the launch, wished the festival continued success and promised town council support for the event.
A Taste of West Cork Food Festival has an extensive programme this year with full details available in brochures available around town, or log on to www.atasteofwestcork.com for further information. The final of the 2007 Schools cookery competition takes place on Friday September 14th at Mercy Heights Secondary School. A two-day food/culture conference with a distinguished international and national expert panel will be held in the West Cork Hotel from Thursday September 20th. Other events over the four days include in-store food and wine tastings in local supermarkets, the festival banquet, held in Liss Ard House, healthy eating workshops, country market, historical walk, South African cuisine; Traditional Greek night, chocolate and coffee tasting evening, Abbeystrewry Church Harvest Thanksgiving, children's story telling in Skibbereen library, farmers' market, traditional Irish breakfast, family fun day, mini food trails, street barbecue, jazz brunch session, ten island tour aboard M.V. Mystic Waters, guided walks, mystery dine out, open air food and craft market and a wild and organic lunch.
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