Taste Mayo – Episode 1: Cong Food Village Festival
Cong Food Village started in 2015 and is now entering its 3rd year. The brain child of Chef Jonathan Keane (Executive Chef at the Ashford Lodge), this most Irish of food festivals, is growing from strength to strength. This year (2018), Cong Food Village will take place over the October bank holiday weekend to coincide with another local event.
The premise behind the festival is simple. Cong Food Village is all about good local food and community. Slow Food if you will. Jonathan came up with the idea of the village when he realised how great the food offering was in the area.
Today there are over 20 local producers who have become members of the Cong Food Village community. Some of these are regulars on my kitchen table, I’m looking at you Achill Island Sea Salt, Cuinneog Butter and Velvet Cloud sheep yoghurt.
Although Cong Food Village is a festival, is it first and foremost a tight knit community. The members take part in monthly get togethers and organise various activities. They give talks in local schools and teach kids how to forage and cook. They also get together regularly with the elder members of the community. Through sheer hard work and dedication, Jonathan and his team have quickly achieved a great deal of success in their endeavours.
Their manifesto is brief and to the point. It talks about the future (educating the kids of the area with regards to local food and eating simply but well) and it also talks about the present. Cong Food Village aims to elongate the tourist season and to create more jobs locally. The overall aim is to ensure Cong is known as a great Irish food destination.
Cong used to have two major attractions. The first is its breathtaking location on the shores of Lough Corrib, the second is that it is famed for being the filming location of a classic movie called The Quiet Man. It has now a third major attraction, Cong Food Village.
When I asked Jonathan what he needs to take the festival to the next level, he explained that some funding from Bord Failte or the local council would be very welcome. Cong Food Village is a not for profit organisation and as such the resources are tight. All the members have demanding full time jobs and are giving up the little spare time they have to keep it afloat. A budget to pay someone to help them with the admin side of things a few hours a week would make a world of difference.
Last week, you might have read that the Ballymaloe Litfest will not be coming back. The funding for the event has been cut and the festival directors have decided to call it a day. There was many a sad reaction on my twitter time line with people lamenting the loss of such a great festival.
I’ll be honest, the news left me indifferent. You might call it sour grapes if you will but I’ve never gone simply because of how inaccessible and expensive it was.
Yes, there was always a stellar line up in a magnificent environment but where was the benefit to the community? I know Darina Allen is involved in community work and often speaks for the need to welcome refugees and abolish direct provisions centres, and on that we agree. I doubt very much that the original idea was to make Litfest so boutique that it was, in fact, completely elitist but that’s how it ended up.
There is such a difference in the impact that those two festivals have around them. Litfest will empower great chefs to meet and swap ideas in the most delightful of environments. If these chefs are kind with their time, those ideas may trickle in the community through local lessons or talks. Cong Food Village is more of a “roll up you sleeves and get stuck in” kind of festival. It is a food event by and for the community. It is free and therefore so much more attainable.
There is of course room and appetite for both those kinds of events but in a country that has been quite slow in embracing its fantastic food potential, I feel strongly that funding is better placed in projects that have an immediate and direct impact on the community.
Cong Food Village is for the family, for groups of friends, for tourists and locals alike and now you know where you’ll find me for the October bank holiday. See you there!