A taste of West Cork and the idea of wonderful food

IN the same way that Bordeaux is associated with fine wine, the name West Cork evokes the idea of wonderful food.

A taste of West Cork and the idea of wonderful food

That, at least, is one of the key aims of the organisers of A Taste of West Cork, a food festival that knows how to throw a party — an impressive 230 events will take place in 36 towns and on eight islands this autumn.

It’s quite a line-up, but then West Cork has a lot of “magic ingredients” to celebrate, says festival chairwoman Helen Collins.

She goes on to list what is special about all that is happening from Bandon to Beara. There’s the superb food and seafood; the stunning land and seascape; fascinating islands; great art and craft, and, of course, the people.

However, one of the main goals of this singular festival is to promote the West Cork brand and to ensure that people immediately think ‘wonderful food’ when they hear those words.

The festival has been running for more than a decade, but the idea of spreading it throughout the entire region is relatively recent.

Four years ago when Collins took over as chairperson, she decided to try to unite and engage the entire region and present it as a single brand. This year, it has expanded to include more events in Macroom and Dunmanway.

“Every morning I wake up, I am so grateful to live here,” she says. She was born and raised in Clonakilty and Inchydoney, left to work abroad and travel the world, and now she works in Skibbereen and lives in Baltimore.

Part of what makes the area special, she believes, is the synergy between those who came to West Cork in the 1970s in search of an alternative way of life in a clean environment and the people who were already there.

A Taste of West Cork is designed to help people appreciate the range of experiences that have developed as a result of that union of local and international talent. And what a range — the festival programme ran to eight pages four years ago, it now needs 33 pages to summarise a staggering array of events that will take place from September 8-17.

There will be medieval feasting at Dún na Séad Castle in Baltimore; visits to the Garden of Eden project in Skibbereen hosted by the local Grow It Yourself Group; a walking food tour of Clonakilty with food blogger Kate Ryan; and a food and heritage skills day at Bandon Farmers’ Market.

Con McLoughlin of the Lettercollum Kitchen Project will be hosting a special dinner at the Michael Collins’ Centre in Clonakilty. That has a particular resonance for Helen Collins as she is Michael Collins’ grandniece. She imagines that the Big Fellow certainly enjoyed his food and recalls that his brother’s second wife, Nancy O’Brien, was a terrific cook.

Seaweed is in the headlines at the moment and if you want to see some of the 640 different kinds of seaweed up close, book yourself on one of the ‘Seaweed Discovery by Kayak’ trips, which are being run by Atlantic Sea Kayaking.

Jim Kennedy of Atlantic Sea Kayaking tells Feelgood that A Taste of West Cork is really just highlighting what has been in the area for years. “There has always been great food and great chefs in West Cork but the festival has brought them all together and made people aware of what is out there,” he says.

His wife Maria is the seaweed expert and she will introduce visitors to the world of seaweed and sea vegetables and explain how they are harvested and used in food and cosmetics.

Another aspect of the festival is that it invites chefs to come to West Cork to cook. This year, there are 33 guest chefs, including Neven Maguire and Derry Clarke, but it is hoped that number will increase in the years to come.

“We want to create a bit of excitement about coming to West Cork to cook. We have great produce and we hope chefs will want to come,” says Collins.

It’s likely they will. The demand from the public has meant that next year’s programme is already taking shape and this year’s events are booking up fast.

  • To book and for the complete programme, see atasteofwestcork.com.

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