At the cutting edge of food production
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
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.