I've been thinking back over the many things that I experienced over the last year and never got around to writing about for the blog. The big omission is the Food Camp that happened in Kilkenny, way back in October. This post has been sitting half written ever since as it seemed very difficult to capture in text the atmosphere of the day and the enthusiasm and passion displayed by all the participants but I've given it a go anyway and I hope you'll forgive the lateness. Apologies also for the blurry pictures, but I had a serious case of shaky hands that day and these were the best of what I took.
On Friday 22nd October, myself, several other food bloggers and many people involved in all levels of food production (and appreciation) in Ireland descended to the Ormond Hotel in Kilkenny for the very first Irish Food Camp as part of the Savour Kilkenny Festival.
My journey to Kilkenny had begun very early in the morning as I packed up my back seat with bags of goodies to be eaten at lunch (more about that later) and then drove off to pick up the lovely Deirdre of thefood.ie, before heading west towards Kilkenny.
We arrived in Kilkenny ahead of schedule and after leaving our bags at the front desk we went out into the city to have a look around and cup of coffee. Kilkenny is a remarkably busy town with a wealth of cafes to choose from, we picked a little place up a set of stairs and sharing space with a ribbon shop. I only wish I had noted the name of it, as the selection of delights on offer was amazing, as you can see from the picture below. (If anyone one recognises it, can you let me know its name please!) It was a lovely way to start our day.
After that we headed back to the hotel to collect our bags and mingle with the foodie people before the first of the day's talks started. It was great to have a chance to get reacquainted with some of the food bloggers that I had previously met at the day out in Bord Bia.
The day was divided into several 45 minute sessions of mini presentations from passionate people who had something to say about food. These people had put their names forward to speak, not for promotion but to share ideas and engage with others about what they found important about food and the food industry.
There were four of these presentations in the morning with four different topics running simultaneously, I only wish I could've politely managed to move between them, as there were several I had to miss, but would have liked to attend. These morning sessions were followed by lunch and a panel discussion and there were then another two sets of four presentations scheduled for the late afternoon.
The first session of the day that I attended was Wendy Kavanagh talking about the next generation of farming and the difficulties that they will face. It was great to hear about the enthusiasm and interest shown by her son and his friends in farming. It was interesting to learn just how much of a difference to the lives of farmers and artisan producers to would make to have a household spend just €20 a week on local produce. I know make even more of an attempt to buy local.
The next talk of the day was definitely an interesting one from the bloggers as Caroline Hennessey of Bibliocook and Kristen Jensen of Dinner du Jour announced their latest project; The Irish Food Bloggers Association.
They set this up as a way for the Irish food blogging community to connect and communicate after seeing just how many food bloggers there were at the Bord Bia day in May. There are now 127 members and it's an incredibly useful resource for those of us food blogging as it has information on upcoming events, links on how to take great food pictures and the occasional competition. If you're a food blogger and not already a member, I urge you to sign up today.
The final session before lunch was given by Sally McKenna of the Bridgestone Guide and Donal Doherty of Harry's Bar and Restaurant, discussing the use of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. They both emphasised how important it is when using these platforms to properly interact with your customers, and not just spout press releases. They gave special mention to Lorraine of La Cucina restaurant in Limerick as an example of a business who is using these platforms in the right way.
After a stimulating morning of information and ideas it was time to eat and we all trooped off to the main room, where people were busily unpacking their dishes.
When signing up for the Food Camp, you were asked to bring a "lunch box" or something to share with the other people attending. I decided to bring my smoked salmon tart, kanelsnegle and tebirkes.
There was so much food! At least 4 different types of quiche, pastry parcels fills with various fillings and more brownies then I have ever seen in my life. I, and everyone else, ate far too much. I'm really annoyed that I didn't get picture of the laden tables but the Daily Spud has a couple in her post on the event.
After the epic lunch it was time for the panel discussion titled: "Digging Ireland out of the recession - Artisan produce, Food Innovation and Guerrilla Marketing". This was lead by John McKenna of the Bridgestone Guide and involved Dr Susan Steele of Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Helen Finnegan of Knockdrinna Cheese, Una Fitzgibbon from Bord Bia, Margaret Jeffares from Good Food Ireland Paul McCarthy from Teagasc and Rozanne Stevens, a chef.
This discussion was very interesting and covered how in the last few years local has gone from meaning "from the Republic of Ireland" to "from my local area" in the minds of consumers, how farms and local pubs need to start marketing themselves as brands and just how much of our produce is exported.
The things that really caught my attention were the information that Bord Bia is working with Failte Ireland now to promote Ireland and a food destination and (on a completely different topic) that a lot of artisan producers are experiencing growth in their business despite the recession, as they offer a good quality product.
After the discussion we all split up again to attend the afternoon presentations. I went to the intriguingly named "I'll show you mine, if you show me yours" where Gary Gubbins of Red Nose Wine was talking about the Tipperary Food Producers Network. This is a group of local food producers who have come together to share ideas, resources and to promote themselves as a regional brand.
They are also running the Food Connect Programme where Transition Year students are paired with a local producer and spend a week getting to know how their business operates. They will also complete a project on behalf of the producer. The idea behind the project is to help the students connect where the food they eat comes from.
There was enough time after Gary has finished his presentation to sneak in and catch the end of Philip McCabe's talk about honey as a natural medicine. He told the most amazing story about seeing a lady have her MS symptoms relieved through the application of bee venom. I am sorry that I missed the rest of his fascinating session.
Even though there was one more session, it was time for me to head home. I had some more lovely company in the car in the form of the Daily Spud and Steph and the discussion of food continued for most of the journey home.
All in all it was an amazing day and it was wonderful to meet so many people who were so passionate about food in Ireland and how best to promote it.