BY LIAM PORTER
DONEGAL is steeped in talent in the food sector and some of the best produce the country has to offer, it’s only a matter of time before people begin to realise it. That’s according to the county’s Food Ambassador Gary O’Hanlon who is head chef at Viewmount Country House in Co. Longford and winner of the ‘Best Chef’ award for Leinster in the Irish Restaurant Awards in 2013.
O’Hanlon was in Donegal at the weekend for the ‘A Taste of Donegal Food Festival’ when an estimated 35,000 visitors got a brief glimpse of the ongoing development of the food-sector in the county.
Over 100 exhibitors made use of the opportunity to showcase their products to the huge audience and according to the county’s Food Ambassador to have a festival of such magnitude in Donegal is an indication of the growing importance of the food sector here.
“To have a festival of this magnitude in Donegal is huge, I go to them all over the country, but this is fantastic for Donegal. In conjunction with the whole Food Coast and Food Strategy it’s giving all these producers that we keep trying to get out there into market, a big platform in their own county to see exactly how successful they can be.”
Carl Diver of Irish Natural Honey is one such producer. They launched their product ‘Active Irish Honey’ at the ‘A Taste of Donegal’ food festival last weekend and with huge interest from the public he was full of praise for the County Enterprise Board and The Food Coast for the help they had received in getting off the ground.
Joe Doherty of Inishowen Country Kitchen described the support from The Food Coast as core to their success.
“They have worked with us and invested in us and put in support systems to help us get our product into places like Tesco”
Declan McConnellogue of The Haven Smokehouse in Carrigart, another new Donegal food business described the artisan food course organised by Donegal County Enterprise Board as having been invaluable and similar sentiments were echoed time and again by food businesses exhibiting last weekend.
The county’s Food Ambassador, Gary O’Hanlon, said he is delighted that there is such investment now in food in Donegal.
“We are going into our second year now with the whole Food Coast and Food Strategy and Eve Anne McCarron has come on board, it is really starting to drive it. That’s just a whole department now within the County Enterprise Board and I tip my hat to them for investing and focusing upon food sector within the county.
At this stage we are starting to see more and more products developed and to see more and more businesses now come out the other end of it. Just look for instance at the O’Rourke brothers, Enda and Gavin, they have years of experience between the two of them and even they needed the help. Even chefs of that level and calibre still need the help and the County Enterprise Board is there, all the people are there now within the whole food strategy to drive that on.”
Community Chef Brian McDermott said he felt there is something happening and changing now in the county in terms of the food industry.
“There is a real unity now in Donegal, I have to pay tribute to the agencies and to the Good Food Initiative from the Enterprise Board. Everyone has got behind this now collectively, the chefs, the producers and we are showcasing now on platforms like the Taste of Donegal Food Festival. More importantly we needed that opportunity to do that. Maybe there’s a modesty around in Donegal in general but we are coming together and starting to shout and rightly so because we have some of the best produce this country has to offer.”
That assertion is one shared by Gary O’Hanlon who says the Good Food Initiative and The Food Coast will lead to fantastic food opportunities for businesses here.
“Donegal is steeped in talent, we have some of the best up and coming talents, we have some of the best chefs in Ireland – if not the best chefs in Ireland, we have some of the best food in the country bar none but no one has been shouting about it enough. All we’ve given them now with the whole food strategy is a medium for their product, and that can only be positive for the whole county,” he concluded.
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