Thursday 21 May 2015

Litfest 2015

I don't think I understood what Ballymaloe was until I got the amazing chance to spend 3 months there. While the course was intense, being able to live there and learn from amazing people was one of the best things that have ever happened to me. It is really a place like no other, I was very lucky to be there.

When I was down there at the start of the year during one of the lectures Darina Allen said 'Sometimes, it's good to give back'. This stuck with me and I thought a small way to give back would be to volunteer at Litfest 2015, so I applied and convinced Mr. FFID to do the same. After all Ballymaloe took me away from him for 3 whole months and even if I don't think you can fully understand how special it is without having spent a little bit of time there I wanted to give him a little taste.

The Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine has been running for the last 3 years now and seems to go from strength to strength. I was very sad to have missed it last year when Ottolenghi was there so there was no way I could miss this year. It's basically a celebration of well-known food and drink legends and cookbook authors. There are cookery demos, pop-ups, talks and tastings taking place across Ballymaloe cookery school and Ballymaloe house, as well as a fringe festival which is spread over the grounds of Ballymaloe House.

Amazing people like Alice Waters from Chez Panisse (she's the equivalent of Darina Allen in the States), April Bloomfield, Fuchsia Dunlop, Roger Philips were just some of the incredible people on this year's line-up.

We got to the school on Friday afternoon, it was so weird to be back 6 weeks after our farewell dinner. Jeni one of my classmates was there to volunteer in the kitchen and I saw a few of the teachers, it made me miss it all. I had a glimpse through the window of the demo room and saw the new group of students who are attending the 12 week course at the moment and kind of thought I'd do it over again if I could.

On Friday night after the volunteer meeting in the Carrigaun room of the Grainstore in Ballymaloe House, I headed to the opening night party in the Big Shed. 

There was a stage for live music and demos, a bar, plenty of food vendors and producers as well as the Kerrygold cookery demo kitchen led by brand ambassador Sophie Morris (who did the course a few years back). 

I was working in the welcome tent most of the weekend which was great as I got to say hello to many (like a crazy amount) of people I knew. It was also funny because many people asked me if I was French Foodie and gave me some lovely feedback on my blog which is always great to hear. I got to see some of my Ballymaloe classmates who all work in food now and it seemed like we all already missed that special place that is Ballymaloe.

I didn't get to see as many talks as I wanted but my highlight was listening to Jack Monroe from the blog 'A Girl Called Jack'. She spoke about her life and how she ended up losing pretty much everything and had to feed her son on a budget of £10 a week, a very inspirational and moving story indeed. I also attended two talks from blogger David Lebovitz an American living in Paris. To tell you the truth I wasn't sure if he liked French people by listening to him and he was quite different from how I imagined him. 

I also attended a discussion on what's happening in Irish food. The members of the panel were all men (Jp McMahon - Aniar and Cava Bodega, Alain Kerloch and Stephen Toman - OX Belfast, Kevin Thornton - Thornton's, Tim Magee and Tom Doorley in conversation with John McKenna) which caused a stir on social media. I absolutely loved listening to Kevin Thornton talking, he was the best speaker and I could have listened to him all day. 

One of my favourite events was Susan Boyle's show A Wine Goose Chase during which she tells the history of Irish wine as well as leading a wine tasting at the same time. She is an utterly charming performer and the show was excellent. I was also honoured to be asked by Jim Carrol to take part in Banter in the garden tent and shared my experience of the best meal I've ever had, which was fun!

Foodwise, everything I had onsite was delicious, I mean seriously. I wish all festivals had standards like this one.

  Gubbeen had the most amazing hot plates of BBQ food which would beat Bison in Dublin any day.

French man Laurent from Boeuf a La Lolo had scrumptious steak sandwiches, raclette and crepes. The salads from the Rocket Man (former Ballymaloe student) were wholesome and tasty. I had the most amazing marshmallows from Cloud, I mean come on, salted caramel marshmallow is like the best thing on earth! I loved the Indian street food stall from Angus Denoon, his chopping skills were pretty impressive and the snack was perfectly washed down with a cold Irish craft beer.

It's difficult to describe how the festival is but for any cookbook addicts or food lovers this is what heaven would look like. The grounds of Ballymaloe are stunning, you see legends roaming around, the food is top notch and the atmosphere is buzzing: it's Electric Picnic for the gourmands. See you there next year!

Kerrygold Ballymaloe Litfest