Food earns its place on tourism map
These days, the current Kinsale Good Food Circle chairman Liam Edwards (of Jim Edwards gastropub) is also chairman of the Restaurant Association of Ireland — having been an RAI council member for the last five years.
The new role has definitely added to his knowledge, says Edwards.
“It’s been great to see what’s out there, especially all the new initiatives, the new food networks such as the Burren Food Series, the Sligo Food Trail, the Boyne Valley Series, and to see the amount of work they are putting into it. Kinsale is just one place with a food reputation, connecting all the dots around the country. First and foremost, I’m a foodie and I love my food and I love what Ireland is producing at the moment.
“Surveys of tourists used to say they were coming for scenery and the craic agus ceoil but food is creeping up the ladder all the time. As a nation we are becoming a food destination.
“Tourists are surprised at how good food is around the country and I don’t think there should be a surprise. We have the best ingredients and the cooking is good and always improving — we are changing the perception. The Wild Atlantic Way initiative is not all about food, but it has been massive for the hospitality sector. Fáilte Ireland have upped their game. The ingredients were always there; we just needed to highlight it.
“It has been quite a revelation. It’s the networking part is that I like — and keeping track of the rest of the country and the amount of hard work that the groups are doing.
“Without being arrogant, food was a huge reason why people came to Kinsale but there are now areas on a par with us and some areas that maybe even have bypassed us a little.
“It just goes to show, no area or town can become complacent and we need to always be looking to shift a gear in Kinsale. We’re doing that anyway, if you don’t keep it going you’ll definitely fall behind. It doesn’t matter what area of the country, if they make the noise about what they’re doing, people will travel and Kinsale might be skipped.
“When we started the Good Food Circle, no one said ‘food tourism’ but that’s Interview: Joe McNamee
what we were doing — our gourmet festivals were ahead of their time, no one was having them anywhere else really. Now we sit down and talk about ‘food tourism’, there are initiatives we are trying to get up and running. For example, Suzanne Burns’ food tours have been a good plus for Kinsale.
“A bit like the country, we’ve had our ups and downs and keeping together over 40 years was never going to be easy. At the moment, enthusiasm is back in town and in the Circle.
“Philip Horgan’s [of Man Friday’s] son, Dan, has taken over, he brings new ideas, new enthusiasm— family names might be the same but there is new blood coming in all the time. It’s all very forward thinking at the moment — just because we are in Kinsale, people are not just going to come to your door. We still have to get them here.
“For the 40th festival we looked at bringing in local artisan producers, we had people like Blacks craft beer brewery, and we all came together to showcase what Kinsale is all about and the local cookery school at Ballinacurra House came on board — head chef and teacher David Rice is doing great work out there.”
One great former friend of the festival who is still greatly missed is the late, lamented RTE broadcaster and bon viveur, Derek Davis, who for years acted as MC and, in his own words, ‘Chief Headcase’ for the festival in a town he loved so dearly.
“It’s still tough to think of the festival without Derek,” says Edwards, “he was the chairman’s best friend and made my life very easy. He was just like a local, and we treated him the same, just gave him his job and he got on with it.
“At the last festival, we invited all the family. He’ll never be forgotten and, in time, we’ll do something for him, he was a foodie ahead of his time, talking about food tourism.”
Liam Edwards, chair of the Kinsale Good Food Circle and Council, a group established in 1971 to promote the town’s eateries and food standards nationally and internationally. Jim Edwards Bar and Restaurant is famous for its seafood dishes and has won numerous awards for its food and service. Picture: John Allen
Bill Finn with Aidan and Jamie Edwards picking a lobster for their fathers’ restaurants — John Finn from Finn’s Table and Liam Edwards from Jim Edwards — at a special Father’s Day event, all lobsters were €20 in Kinsale Good Food Circle Restaurants. Picture: John Allen