Darina Allen: Busy days at Ballymaloe as Litfest gets underway

It’s crazily busy at Litfest HQ – the fifth Ballymaloe Litfest is underway.

This year we’ve changed the emphasis somewhat so the proper title is A Food and Drinks Literacy Festival at Ballymaloe.

We’ve continued to build on the previous years events which have by now been written about from New York to Sydney, Los Angeles to Capetown with well over 35 nationalities attending. They return to their own countries to spread the word of what’s happening on the Irish food scene and the fun and thought provoking events they attended at the Litfest.

Sommelier Colm McCan has managed to assemble yet another world class line up in the Drinks Theatre. Isabelle Legeron M W, a London-based wine writer and global crusader for the natural wine movement is coming along as well as many other luminaries from the spirit, craft beer and cider world. Garrett Fitzgerald and James Boland will discuss their book The Brother Hubbard Cookbook. David Puttnam will be in conversation with John McKenna ‘Living, Working and Eating in West Cork’, Trish Deseine, Irish food writer and cookbook author will give her perspective on Irish food culture - also unmissable.

Brian McGinn Ex producer of Netflix and series Chefs Table will be in conversation with David Prior International Editor of Conde Nast Traveller, they’ll both be keeping their eyes open for stories. The festival takes place at Ballymaloe House, Ballymaloe Cookery School, The Grain Store and the Big Shed. This year the humming Big Shed at the heart of the festival will once again be brimming with good things to eat and drink from some of Ireland’s finest artisan producers. There will be the sound of music ranging from the gentle during daylight hours to the more energetic when the sun goes down. Some of the weekend’s many free Fringe events will take place here and the Family Corner will ensure that festival goers of all ages will be kept happy and amused.

So what am I looking forward to at the Ballymaloe Cookery School? At last we’ve managed to tempt Clare Lattin and Tom Hill over from their restaurants in London’s Soho and Shoreditch to share some of their recipes. Readers of this column will know that Raw Duck and Duck Soup as two of my favourite London restaurants. Monika Linton from Brindisa who wrote the book I’ve been waiting for on Spanish food will teach a class on Saturday morning.

Then there’s Jacob Kennedy from Bocca di Lupo, back by ‘popular demand’ as is the beautiful and gracious Claudia Roden who will speak on both Saturday and Sunday.

Generous as always, Sunil Ghai from Pickle in Dublin will share the secret to many of the dishes that have made Pickle award-winning new restaurant so renowned.

But you may not yet have heard of Sumayya Usmani who’s really making waves with her Pakastani food. This is award-winning author’s first appearance in Ireland – don’t miss….

Charlotte Pike (former Ballymaloe Cookery School student) has already built up quite a following with her Fermented book but this time she will focus on her recently published book, Smoked and show us how to have fun at home, hot and cold smoking all manner of delicious foods.

Christian Puglisi of Relae, Manfred’s and Baest in Copenhagen can’t stay away. After his last trip to Ballymaloe he was so inspired by the farm, gardens and ethos that Mrs Allen had created that he is setting up the Farm of Ideas Project – he’ll tell us all about it on Sunday afternoon in The Carrigaun Room.

The Grain Store will host the symposium – a series of short talks and presentations on the theme - Our Responsibility.

The BBC Radio 4 food program, Sheila Dillon and Dan Saladino are coming over from London to record from the Litfest.

Want to go foraging on the seashore with Alys Fowler, garden correspondent of the Guardian? Or watch another of my food heroes, Margot Henderson of Rochelle Canteen will talk on the Joy of Cooking in the Grain Store on Saturday afternoon.

The pretty Garden Tent nestled alongside the scented rosemary bed is now an established and exciting venue over the weekend and will have a full programme of free events to which all are welcome. John Bowman from RTE will be back with his Questions and Answers as will Jim Carroll with his banter series.

There simply isn’t nearly enough space to mention all of the 64 speakers or events so go and check it out on www.litfest.ie.

Some events are already booked out but there are still lots of opportunities, so come along it’s still not too late to book. Maybe our biggest coup of all is Vytenis Andriukaitis who will speak in the Grain Store on Sunday ‘To Eat is a Political Statement’ and then there’s the Great Grocers and Joanna Blythman speaking on Nutrition – Really? and our own Professor Ted Dinan on Diet, Stress and Mental Health and even a session on Food from Space by astrophysicist Niall Smith – sure where would you get it!

And believe me all of the above is just a taste. Check it out, see you there and speaking of taste here’s what to come.

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