An Irish Food Festival in Kilkenny

Kilkenny, in southeastern Ireland, might be the next Irish food capital

Savour Kilkenny

Other well regarded local establishments include Rinuccini, a popular Italian place; Zuni, which serves meats and seafood from the region along with such "new Irish" specialties as warm chile chicken salad with cashews and sweet potatoes and seared tuna with sesame seeds, bok choy, coriander rice, and pickled ginger; and Sol Bistro, where the specialties include Cashel blue cheese bruschetta with plum and mango chutney, and roast Irish chicken with Indian spices and toasted couscous. Savour Kilkenny even concocted a "Blasta [tasty] Trail" map of restaurants, pubs, and hotel eateries that serve small dishes, otherwise known as, yes, "local Irish food tapas-style".

Besides the open-air market and a number of cooking demonstrations at several venues — among the featured chefs, besides Garrett Byrne, were Donal Skehan (pictured), a sort of young Irish Jamie Oliver, whose

Kitchen Hero is a popular show on TV here, and Mary Carney, who won first place on the first season of Ireland Masterchef — the focus of Savor Kilkenny was Foodcamp, a daylong program of seminars and presentations at the city's Newpark Hotel. Speakers addressed such topics as "How our shopping basket affects Irish food producers and our health" and "A Bloggers’ brainstorming session for what’s next," conducted by the Irish Food Bloggers Association. Other programs concerned community gardens, the importance of "free-range" and "non-GMO," and an appreciation of a "dying food product," boxty — the northern Irish potato pancake, typically made with leftover mashed potatoes and raw grated ones. (Photo courtesy of Pat Moore)

The last event on Saturday was billed as a "food fight" on the theme "Traditional Irish Cuisine — an embarrassment of riches or just an embarrassment?" John McKenna, who edits the Bridgestone Irish food guides with his wife, Sally, moderated the panel discussion of what turned out to be something of a straw man of a topic. The Swedish-born, County Clare-based salmon smoker Birgitta Curtin, Irish Times food writer Catherine Cleary, and Kevin Sheridan of Sheridans Cheesemongers, Ireland's best-known cheese shops, were supposedly "speaking up for all that is good about [Ireland's] food heritage," while the "just an embarrassment" position was to be held by author and journalist Suzanne Campbell, food historian Regina Sexton, and myself.

The problem was that none of us were willing to say that Ireland's food traditions were an embarrassment. We were all more or less on the same side. I did allow, however, that I thought it was slightly embarrassing that more young Irish chefs didn't seem to know much about their island's culinary heritage. I read a few brief accounts of meals eaten in 19th-century Ireland, and specifically mentioned some 1840-vintage recipes I'd found for pickled salmon, lettuce braised in lamb stock with sorrel and onion, and "oyster rolls" made with toasted French rolls filled with oysters in cream sauce (Irish po' boys?). I'd wager nobody in the room would have even identified these as Irish — yet they came from estate papers I once found in the National Library in Dublin, the estate in question being Ballytobin, about 15 miles from where we were sitting.

For information on next year's Savour Kilkenny, check early in 2012.