Food Glorious Food
What makes a destination exceptional? There’s the landscape, the people of course. There’s atmosphere, a ‘vibe’. Then there’s culture, art, food. When all these things come together well – you’ve got yourself a very rare, and very precious mix. A magical, elusive quality. San Francisco has it, Berlin has it. And the West of Ireland is brewing its very own particular type of magic at the moment. It has all started on a very grassroots level. Take a handful of innovative chefs who have opened up their own restaurants, and trained some more great chefs, who are now going on to run their own restaurants, and the food movement along the coast is spreading like wild-fire.
The food scene along the coast is thriving right now. In Galway, restaurants such as Aniar, Kai, Ard Bia and Loam are leading the way in this exciting food movement. Fáilte Ireland Food Ambassador and owner of Michelin-starred Aniar restaurant, JP McMahon, is one of a group of talented chefs who are making it happen. “Galway has a very cosmopolitan and relaxed sense of itself; it doesn’t take itself too seriously. And when you combine all those things together, you get a nice, funky culinary community. I’d love Galway to be like San Francisco. While it doesn’t have the population, it has the food and the people producing the food. There will be so many culinary tourists along the Wild Atlantic Way, and there are so many good food places.”
JP, who also owns EAT gastro pub and renowned Spanish restaurant Cava Bodega, believes wholeheartedly in working closely with the local producers, not only to produce great food, but also to give momentum to the whole local food movement. “You have to believe in it (the local food movement) in some capacity, as it doesn’t make any financial sense. Why would we The Wild Atlantic FEAST buy chicken from Ronan in Athenry when it’s more expensive than buying from Germany? To understand the whole local food movement, you have to see it as more of a long-term thing. It’s about understanding a community. I believe that if you follow through on that from a business point of view and you can educate your customers, there’s going to be a shift in attitude.”
And that’s exactly what the self-confessed ‘obsessive educationalist’, who has been behind some of the most innovative food events in the country in the last number of years, has done through Aniar. The only Michelin-starred restaurant in the West of Ireland, Aniar is a unique terroir based restaurant, where the menu depends on what local produce is available at the time. “We make food based on the products of Ireland. So we don’t use lemons, we don’t use black pepper, we don’t use chocolate. If you remove ingredients from chefs, they need to get creative. So if you don’t have any spices, you end up foraging for wild plants or you dry different vegetables to make powders. That’s what I love about Aniar. It’s extremely simple but it’s also extremely creative. For me, the biggest learning curve was learning about pickling and fermentation. It’s a challenge to tap into those practices of preservation, but tone it back enough so that it becomes a really interesting part of a dish.”
Because the West of Ireland has an abundance of great, naturally-produced ingredients on its doorstep, JP believes it’s all about infusing all the aspects that make a place special, to create something bigger and better. JP’s vision for Galway is an eclectic mix of the arts culture of Berlin, the fine dining of Copenhagen and the colour and street food of San Francisco.
“I’d love to take the best of Berlin, which Galway has a lot of affinity with because of its funky arts culture. Mix it with the fine dining of Copenhagen; we have all the key points of Nordic cuisine because we’re on the same latitude so we have all of the same herbs, all the same food, so we can engage with that in terms of fine dining. Add the colour and street food of San Francisco and you’ve got the perfect mix.”
The vision is steadily gaining momentum and coming to life along the coast, where dozens of young dynamic chefs are hosting more and more pop-up restaurants. Street food is gaining momentum, and of course, there are the consistently great gems that deserve their place at the top of the restaurant food chain. With young, innovative, creative and fearless innovators such as JP at the helm of the food movement in Ireland, an exciting future of culture, colour and taste awaits the discerning food tourist.