Ballymaloe LitFest has been tipped by Condé Nast Traveller as one of its favourite festivals for 2016. Ahead of this weekend’s festivities, Ballymaloe’s head pastry chef JR Ryall shares a few highlights from the bill…
This year’s main festival will take on a new format of short, thought provoking talks and presentations on the theme Our Food – What’s The Story? Topics as diverse as food in a warzone to the truths and myths about olive oil will be debated. It creates a space for conversation, for sharing ideas in an exciting and cosmopolitan way. Guests mix with friends and culinary heroes alike.
All the food festivals and symposiums I have attended over the past few years have touched on sustainability issues in the food industry, and I’m really looking forward to hearing what the great minds at this year’s LitFest will have to say on the topic. Talks will open and close with Dr Alessandro Demaio from the World Health Organisation (WHO) discussing the connections between food, climate change, global health and the social contract.
Prue Leith will chat about her life in food, Kevin and Seamus Sheridan are talking cheese with John McKenna, and Mark Dianco of Otter Farm shares the herbs he can’t cook without. There will be Q&A sessions with the speakers at the end of each session.
As always, there will be a fringe festival of fun, informal events that anyone is welcome to attend free of charge. Incredible food will be on offer in The Big Shed – the beating heart of the fringe festival and a comfortable place to meet, eat and soak up the atmosphere.
The restaurant hosts two special guest-chef lunches during the festival – this year, Skye Gyngell of Spring and Joe Trivelli of The River Cafe, both in London, will each be cooking the food they are famous for. Meanwhile cookery demonstrations, garden tours and preparation for the pop-up restaurant at the cookery school will be in full swing.
Towards the evening, the fringe festival moves up a gear with a party in The Big Shed that is sure to keep me up late. It’s the perfect way to finish a busy day, catching up with friends and speakers over natural wine, craft beer and special festival tipples.
There are often a few speakeasy-type events during the weekend as well that you can only find out about by coming! I’ll never forget meeting Diana Kennedy, the world’s leading authority on Mexican food, at LitFest 2014. She called me out of the kitchen to compliment my puff pastry and I told her that I hoped to visit Mexico soon. She extended an invite and I booked a flight. The following January, I found myself in her Mexican home, cooking with her for a week.
There is nowhere on the planet I’d rather be during the lead-up to LitFest than East Cork. The whole locality buzzes from the thrill of bringing food and wine luminaries of the world to our little corner of Ireland.
The Kerrygold Ballymaloe LitFest runs from May 20-22, litfest.ie
Photos Courtesy of Joleen Cronin