Posts Tagged ‘darina allen’

I got to the Terra Madre conference in Waterford on Friday last to offer my tuppence worth to the debate. Before I get on to talking about our workshop, I must congratulate the organisers, particularly Donal Lehane and Darina Allen, who really stuck their necks out in driving this and who also really pulled it off. Aside from the excellent conference, I have heard that the banquet and farmers market were also superb.

Our workshop was called Food and the Future of Rural Communities and was an amalgam of two that had been proposed on the Ark of Taste and Rural Development. There was a good number at it, some 20 or so, quite healthy considering that there were nearly 40 other workshops running concurrently. Aveen Henry from UCC and the Commissioner of the Ark made a fine job of steering the debate towards a few tightly defined recommendations. I think it was a pity that the Ark itself was sidelined as the discussion threaded its way through bigger picture issues  – particularly difficulties that small artisan food producers face in dealing with regulators and the problems for farmers in getting a decent price for their produce. To my mind we never quite bridged the gap between these two. My own hobby horse of strengthening our food culture, particularly through education and local initiatives, seemed a hard sell to farmers who realistically are getting the same price for milk now as they got 20 years ago and have faced massive cost increases in the meantime and anyway 90% of their produce is exported. Likewise, as one contributor from Midleton pointed out, people don’t just switch over to paying more for quality local produce once they’ve been enlightened on the subject. She pointed out that between the high profile farmers market and the strong profile of the Allens in the area, awareness of quality food is high in Midleton. Yet since the farmers market has opened the town has seen the arrival of a huge 24 hour Tesco, Lidl, McDonalds and Aldi, all of which are flying. We came up with 3 requests – firstly, a national database, secondly, funding for local iniatives, patricularly to build relationships and educate each other and finally, dedicated agency staff trained to deal with and understand the small food sector. I’d like to have seen something about below cost selling and some balance to the power of retailers but couldn’t articulate any solution.

After lunch we all assembled in the large conference hall, which really felt like a piece of the Turin event – huge, colourful, bedecked with nice photos and graphics and full of an amazing array of people from all elements of food and agriculture. It was only when I got into the hall that I realised the scale of the event – there were close to 1000 people assembled. Prof Kieran Byrne, director of Waterford Institute gave an inspiring speech about getting back to what we do well in the years ahead. Then each workshop got to present their conclusions to the two ministers – Trevor Sargent and Michelle Gildernew, from the North. These 2 in turn then responded – both speaking very positively and indeed reassuringly – Min Sargent gave a firm guarantee that Ireland will be safeguarded from GM crops and animals. Then President McAleese arrived and then warmth of her relationship with Darina Allen was very evident – she actually has her own vegetable garden and hens at the Aras – excellent! Unfortuately, we didn’t get to hear from Carlo Petrini, he was clearly not feeling the best.

Then it was over and we dispersed and if I’m honest I feel a little dissatisfied. Yes, it was a superb event and yes, we all got listened to. But I’m not convinced that talking to the Green Party Minister for Food about the problems in food and agriculture is going to fix it. So many of the problems we discussed about food and rural development are enmeshed in other issues and the solutions are incredibly complex. Most of all they are hard to articulate and require the co-operation of many different parties – it’s not all about food culture.

If you’d looking for a  fuller picture Caroline Hennessy at bibliocook has compiled all of the recent posts about Terra Madre Ireland here.

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A new Clonakilty Market is due to be launched this Friday but it seems that not everyone is happy about the proposed location.

The first I heard about the new market was this message from Giana Ferguson:

YOU ARE WARMLY INVITED TO THE LAUNCH OF CLONAKILTY MARKET BY DARINA ALLEN On Friday 8th August 2008 –  at 12.30 in Spiller’s Lane Car Park (by The Credit Union)

The Friends of Clonakilty Market have arranged for you a list of some of the very finest Local and Seasonal foods: 
Organic Vegetables, Fresh Fish, Locally Baked Breads, Gluten free or traditional,
Rashers and sausages, Olives, dips, sun-dried tomatoes, jams, chutneys, sushi
Farmhouse Cheeses, freshly brewed coffee and lemon juice… and much more….
(Trader’s 7.30 – Market begins from 8.30 – OFFICIAL OPENING AT 12.30)
Gik on 087 6775600 or 023 58800
Now it seems that the town council has not approved the use of this location and instead suggested moving to the car park by the Community School (they were offered 6 parking spaces). I think most people would agree that this would be a step down. The original market on Thursday has been taking place in the courtyard of O’Donovans Hotel for the last 2 years which is just over the wall from the proposed Spillers Lane location. It has definitely fallen a long way from the dizzy heights in reached in 2004/05 before Mahon Point market opened and personal conflicts came to a head. At that time it was located on McCurtain Hill. The original Clonakilty Farmers Market has been a great launching pad for quite a number of local producers and in my view has great potential to benefit the town as well. I’m surprised at local business traders objecting, I thought that this whole argument about the benefits of market to towns had been won. Furthermore the market stallholders have agreed to pay a licence fee of €10/day to the town council, which more than covers their contribution in rates.
Anyway, it sounds like Friday is going to be interesting as the market group appears intent on going ahead with setting up at Spillers Lane car park and invoking trading rights from 1613AD. Please come along if you want to support the market and lets try to get it off to a fresh start.
Correction 07/08/08:
I had previously thought this was a relaunch of the original Clonakilty Farmers Market, but in fact this is a new market. My apologies to the traders involved in the Thursday Clonakilty Farmers Market for giving the wrong impression. The Thursday Farmers Market will continue to operate in O’Donovans courtyard.

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Richard and Jane Graham-Leigh

Richard and Jane Graham-Leigh

West Cork

‘s enviable reputation for food is often traced back to pioneering producers that set up here in the late 70s/early 80s. These businesses are still going strong but in the meantime many more have joined them – often with a very different proposition. The success of the first generation was based on selling outside West Cork, in cities where their products found a critical mass of people with money and “sophisticated palates”. At the same time we have had food businesses in West Cork that catered for a more local market. A typical example is the small confectionary bakeries producing traditional buns, cakes, scones and soda breads. They compete on freshness and service. Many have developed from home baking operations and simply scaled up to offer local shoppers a taste of home.  For all its merits, however, it’s fair to say that this baking is not fancy and does not rely on developed palates. RGL Patisserie in Dunmanway, run by Richard and Jane Graham Leigh, is not one of these. True, they have also built a business that is based on a local market. But this is business that wouldn’t have been sustainable before now and their success is an encouraging sign for the culture of food in West Cork.


RGL Patisserie has been described by Darina Allen as “the best bought confectionary you are ever likely to find”. Richard and Jane produce classical French patisserie and biscuits using the finest ingredients, like couverture chocolate and free range eggs. Everything is made from scratch, there are no shortcuts. Richard told me that the critical ingredient that sets them apart is butter, which apart from adding an additional cost is also demanding to work with. Butter pastry doesn’t tolerate being warmed up or it will crumble, so it can only be worked by hand. This is time consuming and the skill level required makes it difficult to scale up easily. But it is worth it – “What we do is a blend of physics, chemistry and art,” says Richard, “fat is flavour, we have to whisper that but it’s true, butter melts at 15˚C degrees, which means an almost instant flavour release when you bit into it, literally melt in the mouth”.


Like with many others Richard and Jane were drawn to West Cork for lifestyle reasons. They left London in 1998 where Richard had been working as a chef entertaining clients for a posh firm of solicitors. They love West Cork, particularly their home in hills above Dunmanway but admit to being busier than they intended to be. They started the business in 2002 – “Like a lot of the people we know, the farmers market in Clonakilty was what made it possible for us.” says Jane, “We saw the start up notice looking for producers. Richard started baking in our own kitchen and I took it to the market to try it out. That is how we found out what worked and we also learned that people needed to be encouraged to try things out if they were going to pay the extra price. We don’t produce specifically for an Irish palate and I’m not sure that there is such a thing anyway. People’s tastes change all the time and with experience and exposure they become better able to detect the differences between foods. The market was brilliant for that because we could talk to people and if they liked pear and almond tart, for example, because they’d had it before, then we could suggest one with berries. Our biggest customer is Urru in Bandon and Mallow, they are very good at encouraging people to try new things and educating their customers about taste. When we first arrived I don’t think that there would have been enough demand for what we do, but the markets, fine food shops and restaurants are changing the appreciation of food.”


RGL Patisserie cakes and biscuits are probably not for everyday, they are a rewarding treat or a special occasion indulgence. However, that West Cork can sustain a fine confectionary business like this, which has plans for further growth, sends out a very positive message about our food culture.

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