Monday, September 27, 2010

EAT Cork: the disappointments and the surprises

I ventured into Cork City this Sunday to check out the inaugural EAT Cork festival, the city's first ever food festival.

My hopes were high. Cork is reputed to be Ireland's culinary capital. It's home to the English Market (a place that has always expressed pride in Irish produce: The city also has fabulous restaurants. (I love Café Paradiso, Isaac's and Jacques - reviews to come.) And then there's the city's hinterland; a rich countryside and bountiful seashore which has inspired food producers such as Gubbeen cheeses and cured meats and Sally Barnes' Woodcock Fish Smokery, among many others.
Alas, I was disappointed. When I arrived in the city at 1.30pm, very little seemed to be happening. There were supposed to be workshops being held in the English Market - sausage making, cake baking, shopping on a budget and more - but the doors were closed and the place was in darkness when I peered in.

There was a street market but it was much smaller than advertised. And it wasn't very diverse. There were several hot food stalls selling gourmet hot dogs, savoury pies and spicy kebabs. There was a coffee counter. And there were lots of stalls selling sweet things: cupcakes, brownies and all sorts of cakes.

Is it just me or do you agree that markets should be based on more than this? I want to buy food to bring home. Fruit, vegetables, fresh pasta, meats, fish, olives, breads; where were they all? It just didn't seem like a real market to me.

The day wasn't an entire disappoinment though. I met two lovely food producers who make their own peanut butter and other nutty products:

Glór Peanut butter is produced in Killarney by Oliver Heffernan. It's nutty. It's rich. And it tastes completely natural.
And so it should because Oliver learned how to make it while volunteering in Zambia five years ago. He uses the recipe he learned from Zambian women - pure peanuts mixed with a very small amount of salt and some peanut and walnut oils. You really can taste the goodness.

I bought the plain peanut butter. They also do one with added chocolate chips and another with honey. I'm planning to have it in my porridge tomorrow morning (the first bowl of porridge of the winter as it's suddenly become very cold) as well as using it in satay sauces and maybe even in a white chocolate and peanut butter blondie.

I also drooled over some of the items on offer on the Heaven's Cakes stall. This Bandon-based bakery produces fabulous French-inspired cakes and they also have a regular stall in the English Market.
These two stalls, especially my conversation with the peanut butter makers, made up for the disappointment of EAT Cork. I was hoping I was also going to get lucky and nab a table at the special pop-up restaurant being created by Ross Lewis of Dublin's Chapter One in the Cork School of Music that night. But I couldn't get through to anyone who knew anything about booking a table, despite ringing the relevant numbers and contacting the right emails... Grr.

Was I unlucky? Should I have visited on a day other than Sunday? Did anyone else have a more positive experience?

My final verdict is that - judging on my experience - Cork and its fabulous food producers deserve a much better food festival than this.


  1. i Sharon,

    I think you missed a trick here -

    The market on the sunday was billed as a street food market. Which meant street food - that is what we had there, big bites, small bites desserts and great coffee.

    I have been running markets for over 6 years now and on a sunday you just can't get produce at them (what I mean by produce - meat,fish, eggs, veg, fruit etc).
    These traders work very hard during the week and will not under any circumstances work on a sunday.

    The workshops were on all day on Sunday (from the Princes street side) Booking was essential for these and we had workshops run concurrently from 11.30 through to 4pm - the response from those who participated in these was outstanding and special thanks goes to those proactive butchers, sausage makers, bakers and fish mongers who got out of their bed after a busy week last Sunday and gave people an extremely informative afternoon. If you noticed on all literature - booking was essential for this and most were well booked out by last week a reply was sent to all who booked in.

    Ross Lewis did not do a pop up restaurant in the School of Music - that event was a very carefully managed once off dining experience which was organised by EATcork with Pat Kiely (the best chef in Cork in our humble opinion) Pat's Wife Soizic and Ross Lewis of Chapter One - I replied to an email which you sent at 12 midday the day before the event (i'm assuming it is the same Sharon -please correct me if I am wrong).
    stating that the tickets for this event have been sold out for a week at that stage.

    There was also a lot more to EAtcork than you realised - it was not just Sundays events - we had an initiative called Grow Bake Cook - where we will be giving a prize of culinary mentorship to the winner (gookies) we had foodie on foot tours through the amazing producers we have in the city.

    We had 8 venues selling local cork produce in them on friday and saturday night (just cork city produce).

    Augustines held a a tasting and toasting menue on friday night - where nearly 100 diners had a six course tasting menu in this amazing restaurant along with wine tastings at each course.

    And market lane restaurant ran a special eatcork menu for the whole week in conjunction with the traders in the english market who were participating in the workshops in the English Market.

    EAtcork is organised by two people who love food. We had ZERO budget and spent months organising this festival and to get such a negative blog (which you are entitled to make -agreed) but with no appropriate foundation is really disappointing.

    If you are going to remark on marketing and information etc - all I can say is that we did not have a marketing budget - this area costs a lot - we relied on local papers to promote the festival and local media - we got a small bit of funding from Cork City Council so we could get a flyer printed - but everything else was managed myself on Facebook.

    I am very disappointed that you think that the cork producers deserve a better festival than this because a lot of people in the food business in cork worked very hard on this festival and spent a lot of time on ensuring it's success.

    Best Regards,

    Rose-Anne Kidney

  2. well I did attend the workshops, thankfully - they were pretty packed - I learnt alot about fish prepping and it was a fantastic opportunity to get into the market on a sunday. The street food market was yum and as cork has so little on its streets it was great to have something to bring the kids too...unfortunately they managed to empty my pockets for cakes. I was also fortunate enough to get into the one night only dinner as I had a friend book for me a few weeks previous. I didnt think I was going to get enough to eat or drink but there was plenty and more by the end of the night and my wife, friends and I had a ball. I know how hard it is to get anything off the ground. Everybody has an idea but few make it happen. Doing it without support is even harder and takes alot of graft and often walls, barriers and obstacles get in the way. So I'm afraid I disagree with you totally Sharon and to Eatcork, well done I had a delicious weekend and I hope next year you get more support for your efforts. Oh and just to note I suggest you talk to the producers involved in the festival before you begin talking for them.

  3. Rose Anne and Moray,
    As I explained in my post, I was basing my opinion on my experience in Cork on Sunday. I said that there was a chance I had been unlucky in my timing and from what you both have said, it seems as though I was.
    I certainly never meant to denigrate anybody's attempt to organise the event. I realise just how difficult it can be to create something from scratch and anyone who tries to do it should be commended, not criticised. I hope EAT Cork goes from strength to strength and I for one will definitely be checking it out in the years to come.
    However, I'll only be doing so when it's easier to find out what's going on. I found out about the festival late in the week when someone suggested I check out the Facebook page. I was intrigued and tried to find out more but could only find this:
    Saturday's events sounded great but as I couldn't be in Cork on the day, I thought Sunday's line up sounded good too. After all, a street market and free workshops can't be bad, eh?
    In the meantime, I asked friends in Cork if they had heard anything about the festival and nobody seemed to know much about it. I did email Rose Anne but actually never got an email back so perhaps it got lost somewhere in the ether...
    Anyway, it does sound as though I was unlucky as Moray (and I'm sure many others) obviously had a great time.

    I wish EAT Cork all the best and if you want help publicising your event in future, I'd be totally willing to help. (I work in the media and have helped many friends organise and publicise events in the past.) I love food and - as my post suggests - I think Cork deserves a great food festival

  4. Hi Sharon,

    What a pity you were so disappointed with the festival, when so many others were delighted with the programme. I am co-founder of the Eat Cork concept with Rose-Ann Kidney. Our aim was to give everyone who came to experience the weekend a positively memorable time. I'm sorry you didn't manage to get a table for the One Night Only Event - it was not a pop up restaurant - far from it - and it was not possible for anyone to 'nab' a table at the last minute. We created a top class dining experience with two highly acclaimed chefs in a site specific space, not designed for the occasion. It was planned with precision, over weeks. And I'm sure if you say you are a 'foodie' that you will understand the complicated logistics of this. There was never going to be an opportunity for people to walk in at the last minute - we had a waiting list for tickets for weeks beforehand. I'm sure you'll understand that with chefs of this calibre. In regard to you not being able to find out what was going on over the weekend, all our events got publicity in the local press every week, prior to the festival happening. This was how the word was spread so fast, along with 5000 EATcork brochures distributed in the city well in advance. These had all details for bookable events, and the one night only and workshop spaces were snapped up almost within the week they were publicised. The EATcork facebook page was up and running weeks in advance as well, with all contacts etc. Our email address was manned from 8am till midnight all week and weekends prior to the festival, in order to respond quickly to enquiries and take booking details. I assume you did not get your hands on a brochure or read any of the press coverage beforehand. That's a pity. Also full details were available in the English Market from participating stall holders. So we are very happy with the way the marketing went considering we had no budget, and appreciate there is always going to be someone who says they did not hear about it. Such was the positive response to this year's festival, we are already in the planning for 2011. Keep a look out on our facebook page for updates from time to time. WE hope next year you have a more positive experience, and that you might appreciate, from the responses to your blog, the effort that went into this year's programme. I am perturbed you end by saying you think Cork 'deserves a great food festival'. We think Cork GOT a great food festival this year - the first of it's kind, created by two independent people who love food and have years of experience working within the Cork food scene. There were many industry people involved also in the planning, and we were supported by many influential media food people like John McKenna, and Regina Sexton to name two, plus many media contacts in the food press in Ireland. EATcork will grow and grow year on year - with our dedicated hard work and effort to make it the best food festival in the country.

    Best regards,

    Dianne Curtin

    All the best,

  5. Diane,
    Thanks for taking the time to respond. As I explained to Rose Anne and Moray, it does appear that I was unlucky - for all sorts of reasons that had nothing to do with the organisers of the actual event. I'm glad that Cork has started to hold a yearly food festival to celebrate its culinary traditions and I wish it all the best in the future.
    Good luck to all of you in organising it.