As the Food on the Edge (FOTE) team take a much-deserved breather after running another successful and hectic year of the two-day international chef and food symposium in Galway, we asked some of the speakers and attendees about their thoughts on this year’s event.
JP McMahon, culinary director of EatGalway Restaurant Group and symposium director of FOTE
“We have just tried to build upon the event and what we’ve done from year one. It is a slow process, from when we first started planning in 2014 for the first event in 2015 and trying to bring chefs of a high calibre to come to Ireland to celebrate Irish food culture and talk about it,.
That’s why we also bring some of the same speakers back year on year, so that they can get more familiar with the food and see how it’s changing, but to also create a big network and community around that. I think that is what’s different about it compared to other symposiums where the line-up changes every year and it’s different people each year, with FOTE it’s about a continual layering up of people from around the world, who will come back and know it and to start friendships from it that go beyond it. We’ve seen that already.
On the one hand you have chefs coming here and inspiring us and talking about the food issues that are relevant, that’s 50 percent of it, and the other half is about meeting Irish food producers, from oysters to cheese, and I think it makes a difference when you have an international chef telling a producer here that there product is amazing; it gives them a boost of confidence. I already know that the products are incredible, so it’s just about continue that process on to others outside of the country.”
Niamh Shields, food writer (Eat Like a Girl)
“What struck me most about Food on the Edge was the discussions on food as a tool for social change. It is a subject that is very close to my heart, from the importance of educating children about cooking and food to better food in institutional environments like hospitals to utilising food and education around it to improve the conditions of the people of Nunavut.”
Sasu Laukkonen, chef/owner of Ora Restaurant, Helsinki
“There have been a lot of highlights, but Ross Lewis speaking about Myrtle Allen, oh man, it was highly intensive. I think he had everyone on their knees and not a dry eye in the house, not even himself. It really cut to the bone, incredible; he was so honest.
Apart from the evident themes and all of the big guns who are always interesting, we’ve had chefs like Norbert [Niederkofler] coming on stage and saying, ‘I’m cooking in these mountains, and yes I had two stars, but I wanted to get to know my own region and cook with what I have, and then he suddenly goes to three stars, and everyone takes notice of this.
I think it’s fascinating how Albert [Adrià] thinks, he is a genius. He says on stage, ‘I’m just a cook’, and he is, but he really makes a difference. It’s that humbleness, the hard work and ideas, it still makes you a chef. He’s really setting a crazy good example, I really hope that people tag along to this way of doing things. You can still be humble and be the best in the world.”
Lars Williams, co-founder, Empirical Spirits
“I think Food on the Edge is a great chance for a bunch of chefs to get together in what’s an amazingly deconstructed construction of an informal event. Chefs get a chance to interact in a way that isn’t really possible in a lot of other symposiums. Aside from the amazing talks and lectures and things that are really inspirational, it’s about a lot of those side conversations that everyone can have, whether it’s the speakers, the attendees, and also young chefs who come up to you with lots of questions and you have amazing interactions with them… that’s been one of the most positive things for me.”
Diana Henry, food writer (Sunday Telegraph) and cookbook author
“This is my first time at FOTE. I didn’t know what I expected really and I guess I thought it might be more about growers and food producers, but it is predominantly chefs speaking. I do think there are not enough women represented; there was a lot of talk about sustainability, but I didn’t hear much about gender balance! But overall I think there have been incredibly moving and thought-provoking talks, especially today (Tuesday), the guys from Kadeau restaurant have just been speaking about how they have been talking to old people about old ways of cooking or things they are cooking that are not so modern now, and that is what it’s really about.
I get such extreme feelings when I come to these sorts of things because on the one hand it is about chefs talking about the new and pursuing things differently, and on the other hand it’s about, what is food but just a continuum really and that’s what cooking is about.
I interviewed Robin Gill recently and he said the same, he said, ‘let’s go back to the stuff that we dig up out of the ground!’ And I’ve always thought that really. I mean I am very interested in technique in a nerdy kind of way, but it’s not really – and I hate to say this – that important. I think it is about where food comes from and it’s about flavour and what you can do with things, but not in a complicated way.
So, while I was surprised that FOTE was quite chef focused, I have been really inspired by lots of the talks. There was another couple speaking about how to feed children and that was very moving. Those kind of small, quiet talks, are the ones I really kind of enjoy. That’s what it’s about.
I also listened to Vladimir Mukhin from the White Rabbit in Moscow and he’s just a genius. I mean not only that, because lots of chefs are very, very clever, but he also wants to completely change the way things are in Russia and deciding – I mean, René Redzepi and Claus Meyer did it in Scandinavia – that you are going to try and change things in a place that has 15 different time zones? That’s phenomenal! He is just driven to change his homeland, he really cares about Russia, and they are the people I respect incredibly and I want to get behind and it’s a complete thrill that he was here.”
Nathan Outlaw, chef/owner – Restaurant Nathan Outlaw
“I think it’s brilliant, the talks have been really good, a really good mix of people. I mean, I’ve not heard of everybody who is here, I know of some of the bigger names, but to be honest with you it is the ones you don’t know that you come and are surprised by the most. In particular, I liked Joshna Maharaj, who spoke about food projects she’s undertaken in hospitals and schools, and also vegan restaurant owner, Shannon Martinez from Sydney in Australia; they were really interesting. I just love learning, even at 40 years old and I’ve been cooking for ages, I still want to learn.
Everyone is talking about sustainability and we should just be doing it as part of our daily lives, but you need things like this [FOTE] to remind people, especially chefs!
I don’t need much encouragement to come to Ireland and try the food here, I love it. If I wasn’t so rooted in Cornwall, I would definitely live here. Galway in particular, it’s my fifth time being here, and everyone is just so nice and hospitable, it’s something people here should be proud of.”