At the cut­ting edge of food pro­duc­tion

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Food - Clodagh Finn

MICHE­LIN-STARRED chef JP McMa­hon is talk­ing about food and he hopes ev­ery­body will join in the con­ver­sa­tion.

To get the ball rolling, 50 in­ter­na­tional chefs will speak about what we eat and our con­nec­tion to it in Gal­way later this month at Food on the Edge, the two-day sym­po­sium founded by McMa­hon four years ago.

The event of­fers a chance to lis­ten to some of the great­est thinkers and prac­ti­tion­ers in the culi­nary world, but it is also de­signed to in­spire, in­flu­ence, and pro­mote dis­cus­sion on a range of top­ics, from food waste and or­ganic farm­ing to how eat­ing around the ta­ble to­gether can im­prove men­tal health.

McMa­hon got the idea of invit­ing high­pro­file chefs to speak in 15-minute Ted Talk­style slots af­ter trav­el­ling to sim­i­lar events around the world. He felt it was time for chefs to come out from be­hind the stove and be at the avant-garde of food ed­u­ca­tion.

His phi­los­o­phy of serv­ing the best of lo­cal, ar­ti­sanal, and sea­sonal pro­duce is al­ready fa­mil­iar to those who fre­quent the three res­tau­rants he runs with his wife and busi­ness part­ner Drigín Gaf­fey in Gal­way: The Miche­lin-starred Aniar, tapas restau­rant Cava Bodega, and Tartare Café and wine bar, which has just been in­cluded in the Miche­lin Guide 2019 Bib Gour­mand awards list.

With Food on the Edge, he hopes to gen­er­ate a wider de­bate about food-re­lated is­sues. It both­ers him that we live in an age when we pro­duce lots of great food yet there are still huge sec­tions of the pop­u­la­tion that can’t af­ford or ac­cess the right kind of food, he tells Feel­good.

At last year’s sym­po­sium, Isaac McHale spoke about the chip shops that sur­rounded Clove Club restau­rant in Lon­don where he works as head chef.

Bad food con­trib­utes not only to bad phys­i­cal health but also to poor men­tal health, says McMa­hon. This year’s sym­po­sium is ded­i­cated to An­thony Bour­dain who died by sui­cide ear­lier this year. McMa­hon wants to hon­our the celebrity chef who did so much to in­tro­duce food to a larger au­di­ence, but he also wants to shine a light on men­tal health.

He says it’s hard to over­es­ti­mate the of­ten-for­got­ten value of eat­ing to­gether around a ta­ble. Quot­ing food writer Michael Pol­lan, he says sit­ting down and spend­ing time over a meal is the way chil­dren learn best in the world.

He hopes to start a dis­cus­sion on how we can bet­ter plan our lives and our cities and bet­ter ed­u­cate chil­dren to put good food at the cen­tre of their lives.

Iron­i­cally, his own daugh­ters, Heather, nine, and Martha, six, are both picky eaters but that doesn’t stop McMa­hon bring­ing them along while he’s pick­ing seaweed. “They hate seaweed but, for me, it’s about try­ing to grad­u­ally ex­pose them to that kind of stuff. They will ap­pre­ci­ate it later. You don’t have to ap­ply the mes­sage with a ham­mer. If you treat peo­ple as in­tel­li­gent be­ings, you will get a bet­ter re­sponse.”

McMa­hon also hopes to ad­dress our at­ti­tude to fish, shell­fish, and seaweed — what he de­scribes as our true na­tional foods. “It’s tragic to see that they are more of­ten as­so­ci­ated with penance rather than cel­e­brated as they are in France and Spain. Grow­ing up, I have bru­tal mem­o­ries of fish. We are a lot bet­ter than we used to be, but you still meet a lot of peo­ple who just do not eat it.”

He can’t say enough about seaweed — an “amaz­ing re­source” that is read­ily avail­able all around us. He says the Ja­panese have turned it into gold and treat it with the same re­spect as we treat our beef.

As much as McMa­hon loves food, 18 months ago he cut sugar and starch from his own diet to lose weight. He shed two stone and six inches from his waist. He cooks very sim­ply at home us­ing good-qual­ity in­gre­di­ents: roasted chicken, roasted whole fish, Bolog­nese on cau­li­flower.

The only ex­cep­tion is break­fast (a dou­ble espresso and maybe a pro­tein bar), one of the very few times when self-taught chef JP McMa­hon is not en­tirely fo­cused on the very best food avail­able.

Food on the Edge takes place in Gal­way on Oc­to­ber 22 and 23. For more on speak­ers and tick­ets, see foodon­theedge.ie

Pic­ture: De­clan Mon­aghan

MOVE­ABLE FEAST: Chef JP Mc Ma­hon at the pro­gramme launch of Food on the Edge, which takes place on Oc­to­ber 22 and 23 in Gal­way.

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