Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Disco divas, political protests and festive foodies: a weekend in Dublin

A trip to Dublin always leaves me with lots of food for thought. This past weekend's trip was no different, except that I crammed in so much that my thoughts may have been fed more than usual...

Goldfrapp played the Olympia on Friday. I'd only seen her once before at the Electric Picnic where she'd played a frenetic set full of theatrical flourishes so I had high expectations.
She more than delivered. Alison Goldfrapp is such a disco diva. Her bleached blonde ringlets, demonic eye make-up, a sparkly leggings and tottering platforms combo, a wonderfully ethereal white net and harlequin ensemble and stonking beats had the crowd enthralled from start to finish.

(I coveted those leggings and platforms. I firmly believe that if I had them, my social life would improve by a factor of infinity.)

Here are some pictures of the show:

Saturday was a day of protest. Thousands came from all over Dublin and from across the country to voice their anger. There were OAPs and children, trade unionists and the unemployed.

From what I gathered from people's banners, from talking to those around me and from listening to the speakers outside the GPO, the general sentiments were disillusionment, disappointment, disbelief and, in many cases, despair. How could we have fallen so far so quickly? How could we have been so let down by those we trusted to lead us? And why were they refusing to listen to us now that we no longer trusted them?

I was expecting such feelings but what I wasn't expecting was the lack of an alternative, of new voices. Everyone spoke about the need for change and how imperative it was to oust Fianna Fáil from government. But nobody could suggest a better option for the future. Everybody agreed that we needed a new way forward but there was little consensus as to what that way forward should be. (I know the likes of Fintan O'Toole are suggesting options but he seems to be far from winning popular support, for now at least.)
We need to have a national conversation. What do we want Ireland to stand for? How do we make it a fairer place for all?
We need new voices to be heard, younger, more idealistic voices, voices that come from people who are not born into politically-affiliated families. Where are they? I want to hear them.
After the protest ended, we switched to bourgeois mode at the Taste of Christmas in the National Convention Centre. I'd been looking forward to this as Heston Blumenthal was appearing at it and I love his playful attitude to food. But - hmm, how shall I put this? - the event didn't quite live up to my expectations.
My heart sank when I saw Hector Ó hEochagáin. I know lots of people find him hilarious but his exaggerated persona (almost a stage Irishness) rankles with me. He was MC for the show.
His first act was to call on celebrity chef Gino D'Acampo. I had only heard of Gino before I saw him on Saturday so I don't know what he is like on TV. On stage, however, I found him quite offensive. He really played up the idea of the macho Italian male - grabbing his crotch as he mentioned Italian meat, choosing good looking women in the audience and kissing them lingeringly on the mouth and inviting a pretty woman up on to the stage and instructing the camera to zoom in on her bum (something she was obviously uncomfortable with).
Most of the audience were laughing heartily at this so I'm obviously in the minority when I say that I found this offensive. Do you think I was being oversensitive?
Gino cooked spaghetti with homemade pesto sauce and was then joined on stage by Kevin Dundon who told us how to prepare the perfect turkey with two types of stuffing: sausage meat and breadcrumbs with sage. I like Kevin so this part didn't make me grit my teeth!
Next up was Franc of 'Brides of Franc' fame. I can laugh at Franc because he is so knowingly camp. His take on a festive table setting was sparkly, shiny and completely OTT - just as you'd expect.

Then it was Heston's turn. He didn't cook but instead he spoke about how he first became interested in food and what/who influenced him - a family trip to the south of France, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Provence, crickets chirping, fields of lavender and food being one element in a multi-layered sensory experience all featured in the tale.

He spoke carefully and seriously and I could have listened to him all day. But next in line was Oliver Dunne of Bon Appétit and Malaysian chef Jennie Cook who created unusual Christmas desserts. Jennie prepared a sticky spicy fruit kebab with coconut and pandan leaf while Oliver created a concoction of cookies, chocolate, cream and booze.

The show ended with a performance from two barmen who make cocktail shaking into an art. I can't remember what they were called but we were told they were from Manchester and that they'd provided the drinks at Simon Cowell's 50th birthday party. Judging from their juggling and jiving while they mixed the drinks, it must have been one hell of a party.

After the show, we wandered around the various stalls and sampled some food. A particular highlight was a crab creme brulée with pickled cucumber and toast from The Tannery. The creamy richness of the crab was offset by the tangy sourness of the pickle and the crunch of the toast - perfect.
However, there was something about this whole event that didn't ring true with me. I felt as though it fetishised food too much. Everyone was ooh-ing and aah-ing over the tiniest morsels of culinary perfection and salivating over the latest kitchen gadgets but somehow it felt distanced from what food really is. There wasn't any sense of food as sustenance, something that brings people together and something that is actually quite simple. This event felt too competitive, too stressful and too try-hard - everything that I think food shouldn't be.
By the end of the day, it was snowing, something that rarely happens in Dingle so here's a picture of me enjoying it.

I know there's not much that's food-related in this post but as I said at the beginning, this trip to Dublin certainly left me with a lot of food for thought.
(By the way, most of the photos here are by my boyfriend, Richard Smallwood - the REAL photographer of the family.)


  1. I know what you mean about those food shows. They do try too hard and a room full of chefs (celebrity chefs, even) is a competitive mine field!! Since it was a Christmas Food Fair, perhaps what was missing was the regional favourites that real people sit down and eat with their families, FEAST food.

  2. From what I have read on the blogs, everyone agrees with you (on the Taste show) - particularly about Gino.

    You really fit in loads in one weekend!

  3. Sharon (KerryFelter),
    I'm not quite sure what it needed. I just thought it was too slick. I hated the VIP/non VIP separation (always creates a bad feeling, I think). Basically, it was missing a sense of heart and community.

    And Brownieville Girl, thanks for sharing that about Gino. It's good to know I'm not alone!