Sweet taste of the culinary coast at the West Waterford Festival of Food in Dungarvan

Ray Ryan looks forward to the West Waterford Festival of Food, which promises to see a wealth of talent food producers gather in Dungarvan

Sweet taste of the culinary coast at the West Waterford Festival of Food in Dungarvan

IT is a deliberate thought-provoking question that is being increasingly asked by some people who are conscious about what they eat: “Is healthy food killing us?”

Some answers and presumably reassurances are likely to be provided at the ninth “professionally run, community driven” West Waterford Festival of Food, running over three days in Dungarvan next weekend.

Now, one of the country’s premier food festivals, with more than 90 events at multiple locations, it provides an outlet for foodies, foragers, and farmers. The Changing Kitchen is the apt title of this year’s programme, which is a showcase of the wholesome food and craft beverages on offer from producers, restaurateurs, and hospitality providers in Dungarvan and West Waterford.

Festival visitors can explore the region, learn of its rich food heritage and get hands-on learning from growers, brewers and chefs.

The Health Hub, a new addition to the festival for 2016 will be a dedicated space for talks, demos and discussions on the latest health and wellness trends.

A teaser of what might be in store during discussions at the venue is provided in the website for the festival.

“We are constantly bombarded with healthy eating messages – eat this, don’t eat this. Many people are constantly in search of the latest superfood that will cure all our ills.

“Yet, despite the vast amount of information available about healthy eating, diet related illness is still on the rise. How do we know what’s good for us, what stops us from eating it and whose fault is it?”

With nutrition now a hot topic for foodies, the programme at The Health Hub features a Sunday panel discussion with fitness expert Richard Kennedy, Blasta Healthfood’s Rob Whinnett, and food writer Dee Laffan on the rise of fad diets — and that tantalising question: Is healthy food killing us?

The festival involves more than 680 people comprising sponsors, local businesses, volunteers, schools, public authority, and community groups. West Waterford’s reputation for producing quality food and beverages has grown over the years and that is reflected in the weekend programme.

It is also linked to the region’s heritage with daily bus tours to food producers, using the clever marketing title of Busanna Bia.

A choice of three different routes has been arranged in the Blackwater Valley, the Gaeltacht and the Copper Coast. Linking locally produced food and beverage with the landscape and communities in which they are produced is positive and informative. One route is along the scenic Copper Coast, named because of the historic local copper mines, and featuring a recognised Unesco Global Geopark.

The itinerary includes a tour of Dunhill Eco Park followed by a visit to Tastefully Yours where the food being produced at the park’s Food Hub will be showcased.

During the tour to Ring Gaeltacht, there will be stop off at Dungarvan Brewing Company for beer tasting, followed by a visit Harty’s Oyster Farm and another to Sólas na Mara to learn about the health and nutritional benefits of seaweed.

Those opting for the Blackwater tour will follow the river to Knockanore and taste local cheeses on Lonergan’s farm, ice cream at Baldwin’s Farm and visit Barron’s Bakery, Cappoquin, where 17th century scotch brick ovens are still in daily use.

Waterford’s tradition of quality food goes back a long way and is particularly reflected in one of the festival sponsors, Flavahans, who have been milling oats at the family mill in Kilmacthomas for more than 200 years. Power for the mill came from the nearby River Mahon which at one time also powered four other mills. In those days, the mill was used for the contract milling of oats for local farm growers and oat growers.

This is where the farmer’s oats were milled and the oatmeal returned to him. He was charged for this service. A showpiece of the festival each year is the Sunday market at Grattan Square in Dungarvan. It is one of the largest in the country. This year, it will feature more than 90 stalls of local and national artisan producers.

Last year’s festival theme was ‘Generations in Irish Food’; this weekend will highlight the trends that are set to dominate the culinary world for the next 12 months. It will focus on fresh new talent and innovators and showcases some of the best producers, chefs, restaurants and food businesses in Ireland.

Peter Mulryan of Blackwater Distillery will hold a workshop on Friday where students can spend the day distilling a special festival gin to be delivered to Dungarvan in the evening.

Louise Clark hosts food waste dining on Saturday night, as chef Michael Quinn, journalist Joe McNamee and Dee Laffan come together in Nude Food to prepare a meal from rescued produce gathered from several stores in Dungarvan, which otherwise would have gone to landfill.

This will be supplemented with other local produce in a feast showcasing how off-cuts, scrag-ends and tired produce can be rejuvenated and developed into a gourmet meal.

As well as showcasing the region’s talent, the festival is again attracting a high calibre of visiting chefs to cook in local restaurants, entertain people with demos in the Town Hall Theatre or elsewhere, or simply to visit and stroll through the market on Sunday. One highlight will be a pop-up dinner in The Tannery by Dublin-born chef Robin Gill, who has opened his third restaurant in London.

The programme reflects the rich diversity of food and beverage producton in West Waterford with a new generation of talent, fresh flavours, interesting influences and good ideas.

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