As JP McMahon tells it, when he started Food On The Edge – a symposium of international chefs held every October in Galway – he had no idea if the concept would take off, or who would come. He needn’t have worried. Pitched somewhere between a TEDx conference and a foodie festival, the annual gathering is now in its fifth year and since 2015 has hosted scores of the world’s most celebrated chefs, from Spain’s Elena Arzak to Matt Orlando of Amass in Copenhagen. They come to debate and discuss the challenges facing chefs and producers globally, to give masterclasses and to share ideas on the future and culture of food. And at the heart of it all is McMahon, with his evangelical passion for Ireland’s world-class produce, showcased at his Michelin-starred restaurant Aniar in Galway.
No surprise, then, to see a cross-section of London’s foodies gathered in the spanking new Darbys restaurant for the international launch of this year’s FOTE. Food bloggers snapped the very Instagrammable canapés (all Irish produce, all delicious) while members of Les Dames d’Escoffier’s London chapter chatted with Irish producers, and a huddle of chefs, identifiable by their whites and tattoos, clustered around the bar.
Introducing the timely theme of this year’s conference – Migration – McMahon said, “We talk about different foods and their nationalities; ‘what is Irish food? What is British food? What is French food?’ But really when you break it all down, food is so diverse and we can’t stop it traversing different borders.” With that thought in mind, the setting and speakers struck just the right note. For decades, aspiring Irish chefs have beaten a path to London to further their careers, and a panel of the latest generation to do so talked about their experiences of that journey. Dubliner Anna Haugh – glowing with the achievement of her new restaurant Myrtle opening last week – talked about arriving in London 15 years ago. “When I first came here, I had no Irish community. There was Richard Corrigan, but he didn’t have time to be my friend. [Cue much laughter.] Now there’s this incredible support network and community, so that if you’re a young Irish chef arriving over, you can see what you could become.” Fellow chef Robin Gill agreed: “I’ve come full circle. Having gone from trying to learn about Mediterranean cooking, French, Italian, I’m now looking back towards my own country and seeing what’s there and how I can work with it.”
Indeed, Gill and his wife Sarah are the living embodiment of the new confidence around Irish cuisine, with their Clapham restaurant The Dairy a perennial London favourite and another, Sorella, awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand this year. Darbys, in the redeveloped Nine Elms area (the vast new US Embassy is a neighbour), sees them bring their imaginative, Irish-flavoured menus to a larger stage, in a huge, bright luxe-industrial dining room, with terrace and oyster bar.
Also speaking were veterans Skye Gyngell and Pierre Koffmann, but perhaps the most telling comment of the day came from Dubliner Kevin Burke, head chef at Fitzrovia’s The Ninth, who revealed that this summer will see him return to Ireland. “I’m really excited to move back home,” he said. “I feel that there are even more opportunities there than I can have in London. It’s a very exciting time to be an Irish chef – loads of doors are opening and I think it’s only going to get better.”
Food On The Edge takes place on October 21-22 2019 at NUI Galway. For a list of speakers and tickets, visit www.foodontheedge.ie.
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