[Photo: Maggie Beer, Yotam Ottolenghi, Darina Allen and Sami Tamimi – they were having so much fun I couldn’t get a photo of them that wasn’t slightly blurred!]
I have many food related excuses to go home to Ireland, and I am clucky, for some people travel from Australia, the US, and many other places to go to one of my favourites, the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Lit Fest, a smart and fun gathering of some of the worlds best food writers and chefs, who convene in a corner of East Cork to share their knowledge and to discuss pertinent matters in the world of food. The weekend is full of chat, talks and debate, there are cooking demos, and ultimately everyone ends up in the fringe festival in The Big Shed for some wine and a bit of a boogie later on.
Over two festivals, I have been to 3 hour cooking demos from Claudia Roden, Madhur Jaffrey, David Thompson and Ottolenghi, and as it is impossible to do everything (especially as I was in Toronto for half of last years festival), I missed demos from Diana Kennedy (who I am a huge fan of, and more so now as I saw her rocking leather trousers as she wandered the festival at the age of 91) and Maggie Beer. There are also terrific dinners cooked at Darina and Rory’s houses with these wonderful food writers and chefs which anyone can book, although I haven’t been to one of those, yet. I will do.
There are many Irish chefs and food writers involved, I attended a fun and engaging demo from Paul Flynn, Martin Shanahan and Catherine Fulvio at the Cookery School. If you are not local, and you likely are not, I highly recommend you go to these too, to get a sense of the local flavour and humour.
Last year, the highlight for most was when Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi demonstrated food from their wonderful best selling book, Jerusalem (see the Hummus Kawarma that I cooked from it, and get the recipe). This was deservedly popular and booked out very early too.
Last year, the Lit Fest expanded to include the Drinks Theatre managed superbly by Ballymaloe sommelier Colm Mc Can who hosted many tastings, two I loved were a whiskey tasting with Dave Broom, and a Taylor’s Port tasting from 1985 up to 2011.
The festival is packed with talent, the Allen family is so well respected in food (and deservedly so), that I am sure that Darina can get pretty much anyone to Ballymaloe to cook or speak. Despite this, they keep the Lit Fest small, and as it is tucked away in Ballymaloe, quite a distance from the nearest large town, most who attend stay nearby and hang out between talks and demos at The Big Shed. This is the heart of it all, decked out with a bar, music stage and street food stalls. People line long tables on benches throughout the day, and it is very sociable, becoming quite a raucous disco at the end of the night. And I love a raucous disco, so much fun.
The Lit Fest was intended to be every two years, but it was such a success, it is now annual and going into its third year instead of second. If you are wondering about bringing your kids, there is lots for families here too. The Lit Fest is all inclusive and is everything a food festival should be: inspiring, thought provoking, delicious and fun.
The Lit Fest this year is from May 15th – 17th, and tickets are on sale. There is still availability, however, be swift, as they do sell out. On my list for this year would be wonderful Sichuan food writer Fuchsia Dunlop, New York based chef and food writer April Bloomfield, Alice Waters of Chez Panisse (and I do love her books too), Alice Feiring (an internationally recognised authority on natural wine debating terroir, which should be very interesting), Sam & Sam Clark (best selling authors and owner chefs of Moro and Morito), and well, everything really, it is so tough to choose.
As to where to stay, you do need to plan this as options are limited if you want to stay nearby, which you should try to. Last year, I stayed at the five star Castlemartyr Resort, just a few miles away. Rooms are large, bright and so comfortable. The bar is excellent, with great cocktails, although you will probably be in the The Big Shed most of the time, unless you have a sharpener before you go. I recommend you do. Breakfasts are great, and the staff are endlessly helpful too.
I attended the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Lit Fest as a guest of Tourism Ireland. Photos of Castlemartyr Resort sadly aren’t mine, as my laptop decided to die shortly after. Bah!