Ballymaloe’s celebration of food

The second Kerrygold Ballymaloe Litfest of Food & Wine ended last night where it all began just 48 hours previously, in the ‘Big Shed’ at Ballymaloe House in East Cork.

Ballymaloe’s celebration of food

A crowd of revellers made up of performers, audience members, and festival staff whooped it up into the wee hours at the closing party for the world’s only literary festival dedicated solely to food and drink.

Despite some rain yesterday morning after a gloriously sunny Saturday, more than 8,000 people turned up on the grounds of the venerable old country estate to witness the 60-plus speakers in action at readings, food demos, tastings, talks, debates, and, of course, an awful lot of food, ranging from formal meals cooked by culinary superstars such as Yottam Ottolenghi to the bewildering array of casual grazing options in the Big Shed.

The festival began on Friday with the mother of all barn dances in the Big Shed, magically transformed by Ted Berner and Dublin-based Queens of Neon into the social hub of the festival, where crowds dined at food stalls or the pop-up restaurant, drank fine wines and Irish craft beer at a pop-up bar, or simply rested up between events.

The festival’s star guest, chef Rene Redzepi, of Michelin-starred Noma, currently top of the global gourmet tree as ‘No 1 Restaurant in the World’, brought his young daughter with him for the weekend, and the pair happily mingled with the visiting crowds.

The atmosphere even spread to the hinterland around Ballymaloe, with festival co-director Rory O’Connell emphasising the local aspect to the event, saying: “Our fantastic sponsors Kerrygold made it possible for us to really build, but equally important is the contribution and generosity of spirit of the local community.

“It just shows what people can do when they get together. This weekend has been all about making people happy and I think we have been very successful in that respect.”

Ballymaloe sommelier Colm McCan held sway over the very popular drinks theatre. where all manner of demos, discussions. and tastings flowed as freely as the featured fine wines, Irish craft beers. and whiskeys, including a very well-received talk/demo by Irish Examiner wine writer Leslie Williams as cooper Ger Buckley demonstrated the traditional art of barrel-making.

Other Irish culinary stars in action included Catherine Fulvio, Donal Skehan, Paul Flynn, Martin Shanahan, and Clodagh McKenna, while food writer and TV chef Simon Hopkinson, ex-Ballymaloe Cookery School Graduate and now renowned writer/restaurateur Thomasina Miers, US-Iranian writer Ariana Bundy, and the legendary writer and authority on Mexican food Diana Kennedy, now in her 90s, ensured the lineup was the premier gathering of culinary superstars to be found anywhere on the planet this weekend.

The formidable women of Ballymaloe were of course out in force, as Rachel Allen linked up with Michelin-starred chef Ross Lewis, of Dublin’s Chapter One, for a very lively and well-received cooking demo of recipes from Lewis’ cookbook, Chapter One: An Irish Food Story, while Rachel’s mother-in-law, festival co-director and Irish Examiner food writer Darina Allen appeared to have mastered the art of bi-location, popping up seemingly everywhere throughout the weekend.

Even the Grande Dame herself, Myrtle Allen, in this her 90th year and on the 50th anniversary of the opening of the internationally renowned restaurant and country house hotel, happily mingled with the crowds.

Festival manager Rebecca Cronin said: “Expectations were so high after last year, from those who attended to those who heard so much about it afterwards, that we were very worried we wouldn’t meet them but everybody — participants, sponsors and audience are all very happy — a phenomenal weekend.”

For Darina, the festival also has an the additional benefit of promoting Ireland as the Food Nation.

And of course, the burning question: Will Litfest take place again next year?

A laughing Darina said: “I know we talked originally about keeping it to every two years, but the reaction of everyone who comes here is just so incredible that it would be very hard not to do it all again next year.”

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