Now in its 17th year, the Irish Food Writers Guild (IFWG) Food Awards were originally conceived to promote and reward the indigenous, independent producers that are the lifeblood of the food industry in Ireland. In these days of hugely hyped awards (in which, I should declare I’ve played my part!) and elaborate voting systems of the “more mates you have, the likelier you are to win” ilk it’s worthwhile stressing the integrity of the IFWG awards. To show you what I mean, here’s the Judging Process:- No company or individual can submit an entry for these awards. Every member of the Guild (a group of around 30 of Ireland’s significant food writers) is invited to nominate products they believe are worthy. The products must be produced in Ireland and the main ingredient must be home produced. The producer must be trading for at least three years. Products are bought and paid for and a formal tasting meeting is convened. After all products have been tasted members vote, using proportional representation. The producers nominated would have absolutely no idea; the winners would only know shortly before the award ceremony – principally because we like them to have product at the reception for guests to taste. Also because the chef responsible for the awards lunch needs to be familiar with the winning produce as they will be incorporated into the menu on the day.
Everyone involved can be proud of these awards.
This year’s awards went to Janet Drew for Janet’s Country Fayre Beetroot Blush (Wicklow); Brian and Lindy O’Hara for Coopershill House Irish Venison (Sligo); Pat O’Neill for O’Neill Foods’ Dry Cured Rashers, Bacon and Ham (Wexford), with a special Environmental Award going to John Flahavan of Flahavan’s (Waterford). Artisan baking innovator Derek O’Brien received the Guild’s rarely-awarded Lifetime Achievement Award. Derek, a former head of the Baking Department at DIT and head of the Baking Academy of Ireland, was honoured for so successfully passing on his passion for bread-making and his considerable skills to the next generation and helping ensure the survival of traditional craft baking in Ireland.
At the award ceremony, held again at L’Ecrivain, IFWG Chairperson Orla Broderick said, “Now, more than ever, we need to be supporting our local producers, many of whom are suffering as a result of rising costs; cheap, low quality imports and the obvious fact that our economy has contracted significantly. If retailers fail to make room on the shelves for our indigenous producers and if we, as consumers, fail to support them, we will in a short space of time witness the demise of dozens of small and medium-sized producers, who will simply be squeezed out of business.”
Saying that we should recognize “an opportunity for Ireland” Darina Allen, standing in for IFWG president Myrtle Allen to present the awards, commented, “Ireland is one of Europe’s largest dairy and beef exporters, and home to several world-class firms and hundreds of food artisans. All this comes at a time when the global demand for food is projected to increase by 70% over the next 40 years. The affluent world is demanding locally grown, non-polluting, traceable, transparent food, which is exactly what we in Ireland can produce.”
ABOUT THE WINNERS
Flahavan’s is one of Ireland’s longest privately-owned, family-run businesses and has been operating in Kilmacthomas, Co. Waterford for over 200 years. It is the only remaining oat mill in Ireland. The company has invested heavily in environmental initiatives: water power from the mill stream and state-of-the-art energy efficient dryers and boilers (fuelled by chaff, a by-product of oats), generate energy for the production process and heating for the mill and offices; A €500,000 investment in a 4,000 ton storage unit for organic oats; sourcing oats from local growers and persuading them to increase their acreage of organic oats are amongst the other environmental benefits that have been implemented to save air and sea miles. Flahavan’s is now close to realising its ambition of sourcing 100% of its organic oats in Ireland and of being 100% self sufficient in energy. Flahavan’s received an environmental award for its impressive array of ingenious initiatives thatenhance the environment.
Reinventing herself from art historian in the National Gallery of Ireland to artisan producer of a fine range of chutneys, relishes and sauces, Janet Drew has created something truly special with her Beetroot Blush relish. A rich-coloured, delicate flavoured, sweet sour relish made from the humble Irish-grown beetroot and Irish apples, Beetroot Blush is infinitely versatile and has proved a bestseller everywhere. Working from her base in Rathcoole, Co. Wicklow, Janet is responsible for the product production, in-house design and label printing, storage and distribution of all Janet’s Country Fayre products.
Lindy and Brian O’Hara have been rearing fallow deer on the 500 acre estate of Coopershill House, situated in the beautiful unspoilt countryside of Co. Sligo, since 1995. The deer lead a natural, free range life, grazing on hilly land which features soil that is either marl (clay) or a little boggy. The land has been in grassland for fifty years, encouraging a variety of natural herbage which contributes to the unparalleled quality, complex flavour and tenderness of Coopershill House Irish Venison.
Pat O’Neill produces hand-crafted, dry-cured, tender, well-flavoured bacon and ham, low in salt, with no phosphates and no added water – just pure tasty bacon. It’s a world away from commercially wet-cured bacon. Pat supplies to many leading chefs in the south-east including Eugene O’Callaghan of Kelly’s of Rosslare, who was recently awarded the Georgina Campbell Hotel Breakfast of the Year. Output has grown by 10% every year. Pat has not increased his prices for over five years and the product offers real value for money.
Derek O’Brien’s journey began with an indentured apprenticeship and a signed agreement between his father and his master baker stating that, “he would be an excellent worker, a good time keeper, would not frequent wine taverns, or consort with loose women.” Since then he has graduated through the ranks of Johnston Mooney & O’Brien, Marks & Spencer, studied his craft in the UK and Germany and was for a number of years, the Head of the Baking Dept. at DIT. Derek now runs the Baking Academy of Ireland in Palmerstown and is as dedicated as ever to ensuring hand-crafted traditional bread baking is kept alive in Ireland.
Michelin star restaurant l’Ecrivain again played host to the awards where Sally Anne and Derry Clarke treated Ireland’s food press and leading industry figures to a special menu, created using the winning produce. The one-off menu was complemented by a selection of wines from Gleesons incorporating Gilbeys and Tipperary Natural Mineral Water, an Irish product now in its 25th year of production.
Derry’s menu comprised:
Derek O’Brien’s Bread Basket
Whiskey cured smoked salmon with Janet’s Country Fayre Beetroot Blush and citrus mayonnaise
Coopershill House Irish Venison loin with pumpkin purée and a black pudding filo cigar
O’ Neills Foods Dry-Cured Bacon salad with figs and an apple & honey dressing
Flahavan’s mille feuilles flapjacks with lemon cream
Thanks were also expressed to Bord Bia for their continued support of the Irish Food Writers Guild Awards and for the loan of their kitchen for the tasting meeting.