At Ballymaloe Lit Fest of Food & Wine, Mark Graham happily eats humble pie along with some very fine fayre
Regular visitors to this corner of papier real estate will know that it wasn’t a complimentary heads-up I extended to the Ballymaloe crew last week. My inverted snobbery got the better of me, not for the first or last time. On Saturday afternoon a call came through from a trusted compadre de carnavales, telling me that I “needed” to be in Ballymaloe. The coordinates for Ballycotton were punched into Wanderly Wagon’s warp console, and with hyperdrive kickin’ in, I imagined the Ballymaloe House croquet lawn making a perfect halting site for the night. And surely they knocked out a daycent desayuno.
As I settled the van on a level patch of grass, avoiding wickets, stakes and hoops, I passed a flashy motor that boasted “Audi – official partner car of the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine”. It needed to be a big car to fit all that on the side. My barrio bias began to bubble towards the surface again, but it was shortlived. The Allen universe is populated with the most beatific Borg and I was about to be assimilated.
Folks from the Fumbally Cafe in Dublin merrily mingled with Galway’s Ard Bia massive. Gail Porter of LizzieMay’s displayed her sweet treats and discussed disco biscuits. Happily drifting, grazing and posing for pics was Yotam Ottolenghi. Mary Nally took time out from organising this weekend’s Drop Everything, getting sucked in by the Ballymaloe buzz for a day longer than planned. The colourful creations of The Ticket’s own Aoife McElwain of Movie Bites fame filled the barn’s big screen, and she gave a yelp of joy to see her terrier, Daffodil, pop up on the telly. Musician Brian Deady managed to bind the haute hip mix with some Lykke Li doo-wop.
“This is heaven for me. These guys are my rock stars. Here I get to see them in person, and then they come to drink and dance with us,” said Luca from the Fumbally, nailing the scene. It would’ve been perfect if only Ottolenghi had stuck around ’til closing-time to knock out some kebabs.
A celebratory sense of community filled the air like the pungent aroma of a ripe Roquefort. It’s a world I know little about, but the über-friendly crowd were there to eulogise scrumptious scran in sumptuous surroundings, and they epitomised festival spirit. I’d already been turned, but spotting the Rocket Man in the house sealed the deal. I’d first happened across this fella when he set up his salad stall outside the gate of an over-priced food festival, giving out his wondrous fayre for free. “It’s good promotion,” he told me as he handed over a miracle assembled from beetroot, pomegranate seeds, bulgar wheat and yoghurt. Not only does he bang out the most astounding beets, pulses and leaves, he’s probably one of the nicest blokes to ever rip a romaine or slice a shallot. His salads are only an angel’s hair away from transubstantiation. I propose de-caping Donal Skehan and making the Rocket Man our superfood super-hero.
Food will be an important part of the arty smorgasbord at Drop Everything on Inis Oírr this weekend. It’s a “contemporary cultural biennial” and not a festival, but that didn’t stop me loving the first one. Life, Fastnet Short Film, Wicklow Arts, Baltimore Wooden Boat & Seafood and the final furlong of Dublin Writers’ Festival should all be worth checking out too, but you should take everything I say with a pinch of salt, a dusting of cayenne and a drizzle of rosemary-infused olive oil. The opinions expressed here may occasionally be ill-informed, hastily hatched and cut with a dysfunctional sense of social righteousness. If I’m wrong, I don’t mind eating humble pie, especially if it has a green saffron aloo gobi filling and gets washed down with Dan Kelly’s cider.
In the meantime, if I get peckish, there’s always the large chip on my shoulder. Pass the vinegar.
Safe travels, don’t die.