00:00 Saturday 28 May 2011  Written by Nora Strong

Taste and talk

I spend much of my time wandering the highways and byways of County Cork visiting food producers and providers and a common cry from growers is, 'If only I can get the restaurateur or chef to taste my wares, I know they will want to use them to enhance their reputation for setting gourmet dishes in front of their customers - it only takes a taste and you can recognise the quality'.

Helen McDaid, Manager Food, Hospitality and Innovation, Fáilte Ireland, has been listening to these cries.

The West Cork Food Steering Group, supported by Fáilte Ireland, have therefore decided to get food producers, chefs, hoteliers and restaurateurs all together at the Celtic Ross Hotel, Rosscarbery, on May 31st for just that - a chance to chat, to taste, to listen as well as generally have an enjoyable evening and make contact with each other.

Right behind this event is Majella O'Neill, owner of the Riverside Café in Skibbereen. She is firmly convinced that by letting her customers know that the food they are eating comes from local farmers, growers and producers who have a passion for their products, they appreciate their food more. 'They see growers selling their products at the Farmers' Market and then they come to us and taste the delicious dishes our chef prepares from this array of lovely, fresh, healthy, raw materials.'

Head Chef at the Riverside Café in Skibbereen, Alex Petit, a young Breton, told me what passion Majella shows for the quality of the ingredients he has to work with. 'When she finds a new producer she sends them straight to me so I can taste the food they bring. On many occasions we will integrate their products into our menus - and that is how is should be,' he beamed. 'Dave Bushby's Rosscarbery Strawberries are an example. They are so fresh and tasty and all equally ripe. There is no waste either as every one of those strawberries is perfect'.

Fanatical

Dave Bushby and his wife came to Ireland in 1989 having been farmers in England. Now they serve over 80 outlets from Durrus to Cork City with their delicious strawberries, between them driving over 1,100 miles a week to bring their fruit in peak condition to the providers. 'We are fanatical about quality,' he said, as he and Alex chatted on the terrace at the Riverside Café.

Fáilte Ireland's Helen McDaid adds that 'while many food producers may not view themselves as part of the tourism sector, their input adds huge value to the experience of both local and international visitors'.

Eugene Scally from the prize-winning SuperValu in Clonakilty and also a member of the West Cork Food Steering Group says, 'Fáilte Ireland's vision for food tourism is that Ireland should be recognised for the availability, quality and value of our local and regional food experiences, which bring with them a unique sense of Irish culture and hospitality. West Cork has all the ingredients to deliver on that promise. This event will provide local food businesses the opportunity to meet, with a view to working together.'

Along with producers like Dave Bushby, there will be a wide range of local, artisan and speciality food producers showcasing their products at this event. This is an ideal opportunity for one-to-one interaction between new and established food producers and food providers like Alex. John McKenna is the guest speaker.

The event takes place at 5pm on May 31st in the Celtic Ross Hotel, Rosscarbery. If you produce or provide good food, you should be there. Contact: Christopher Byrnes cb@celticross.com

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