Until a deluge split the heavens at lunchtime on Sunday, many were increasingly inclined to believe rumours that Satan was spotted somewhere east of Shanagarry bearing a bagful of souls, his part in a Faustian bargain that saw the 2016 Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food & Wine bask in an utterly improbable mini-heatwave while the rest of the country took to the lifeboats.
While weather conditions on Friday were as wet as anywhere else in Ireland when the festival was launched in the Ballymaloe Grainstore by broadcaster John Bowman, the party continuing into the night in the pop-up social hub, The Big Shed, those arriving to Ballymaloe on Saturday morning were greeted by clear blue skies and blazing sunshine that continued right through until lunchtime on Sunday.
The festival, now in its fourth year, is one of the world’s premier food events and over 60 speakers from the world of food took part in discussions, demos, debates, tastings and readings as well as cooking several fine meals, such as the wildly successful pop-up on Saturday night that saw the critically-acclaimed Mews restaurant transport their entire operation from Baltimore, in West Cork, to the Ballymaloe Cookery School for those privileged enough to have a ticket.
The Drinks Theatre, a farm shed specially modified for the weekend and hosted by Ballymaloe House sommelier Colm McCan, remained almost permanently packed for a huge range of beverage-based demos, tastings and talks, including a very well-received talk/tasting from the Irish Examiner’s own wine writer Leslie Williams, and so glorious was the weather, many of the ticketless were content to lounge around outside in the sun, hosting their own impromptu tasting sessions.
The Garden Tent, a part of the fringe festival, enjoyed its own healthy audiences, most especially when an absolutely rammed tent witnessed Riot Rye baker Joe Fitzmaurice attempt to outshout the elements after a PA failure just as thunderous rain began to drum down on the roof for a Real Bread Ireland event while the audience also roared their approval as Sandy Cole, of Broughgammon Farm, in Co Antrim, delivered a three-minute rap on the merits of veal and venison as part of Rants, Raves & Ruaille Buaille.
Legendary Argentinian chef Francis Mallmann began slow-cooking over an open fire at 3am on Saturday morning to have a fantastic meat feast ready for hungry punters late on Saturday afternoon, and Yottam Ottolenghi’s many fans continually ambushed the London-based Israeli celebrity chef for selfies while the temporary bookshop, retailing myriad titles from the many food writers and cookbook authors on the bill, was pretty much cleared out by Sunday evening over the course of a weekend that saw over 8,000 visitors to the festival from over 30 countries around the world.
Though slow to take off, one of the weekend’s most successful new elements was the introduction of Our Food: What’s the Story, a new rolling format of 15-minute segments in the Grainstore comprising talks, interviews, demos and short films.
It was a wonderfully mixed bag that saw, for example, star guests such as Food Tank’s Danielle Nierenberg discuss agricultural issues in Africa, Madeleine McKeever, of West Cork-based Brown Envelope Seeds, and daughter Holly demonstrate seed saving techniques and 12-year-old Milo McCarthy from Midleton, humble the audience with his simple remarks about the Syrian refugee crisis from a child’s perspective before lighting up the room with his joyous cover of a Kodaline song.
“Books have obviously always been at the heart of what is after all a literary festival,” explained Rory O’Connell, “but we are now beginning to evolve from books about cooking and chefs to a taking a broader view, looking at sustainability in food production and all the wider issues around that, it is truly becoming a festival of ideas as well as words and that is very much where we are trying to take the festival in the future.”
Jeanne Kelly of Kerrygold, sponsors of the LitFest, said, “Celebrating great tasting food made by Irish producers and sharing inspiring ideas and knowledge about food and wine makes the Kerrygold Ballymaloe LitFest an opportunity to connect with local and international audiences in a very real and genuine way.
“Showcasing the pure and natural Irish food and ingredients that have a unique taste and quality to the best and brightest chefs and food writers from across the globe, in the intimate surroundings of Ballymaloe once again makes this a really fantastic weekend.”
The rain’s return on Sunday afternoon failed to dampen spirits as festivalgoers repaired to the Big Shed, a splendidly upcycled barn housing a variety of food stalls to feed hungry punters, also well serviced by a homemade bar offering Irish craft beers, wines and cocktails and dancing continued late into Sunday night at the closing party as, stars and punters alike tore up the dancefloor at the end of yet another excellent epicurean adventure in East Cork.
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