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Donegal's Food Strategy starting to show real Results

"Donegal is steeped in talent in the food sector and some of the best produce the country has to offer and it’s only a matter of time before people begin to realise it!"

That’s according to the Donegal county’s official Food Ambassador Gary O’Hanlon. Gary, originally from Ramelton, is the head chef at Viewmount Country House in Co. Longford who won the ‘Best Chef in Leinster" award at the 2013 RAI Irish Restaurant Awards.

Gary O’Hanlon, Donegal’s Food Ambassador for The Food Coast, in full flow
during an exhibition at the 2013 Taste of Donegal food festival 

Gary was in Donegal recently for the weekend of the ‘A Taste of Donegal Food Festival’ where an estimated 35,000 visitors came from all over Ireland to get a glimpse of the on-going development of the food-sector in the county. Over 100 exhibitors from county Donegal and also from around Ireland, made use of the opportunity to showcase their products to the huge audience and according to the county’s Food Ambassador having a food festival of such magnitude in Donegal is an indication of the growing importance of the food sector in the county.

“To have a festival of this magnitude in Donegal is great, I go to food festivals all over the country, but this is fantastic for Donegal" said Gary. "In conjunction with the whole Food Coast and Food Strategy it’s giving all these producers that we are 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 A Taste of Donegal food festival 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.

Active Irish Honey
Members of the Active Irish Honey team are joined at their exhibit by the Lord Mayor of Donegal
and Mayor of Donegal Town. L to R: Carl Diver; Patricia Callaghan Mayor of Donegal Town; Mayor of Donegal, Councillor Ian McGarvey; Austin Duignan and Conor Daly of Active Irish Honey

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.”

Joe Doherty of Inishowen County Kitchen keeps the visitors happy with his salads and desserts

Declan McConnellogue of The Haven Smokehouse in Carrigart is another new Donegal food business which only began operations commercially in the last year. He described the artisan food start-up course, organised by Donegal County Enterprise Board, as having been invaluable and similar sentiments were echoed time and again by local food businesses exhibiting over the festival weekend. Declan smokes his salmon with hand-cut Donegal Turf which gives it a totally new and unique flavour.

Declan McConnelogue of The Haven Smokehouse, in Carrigart,
offers a sample to a customer at the Taste of Donegal Food Festival last weekend.

As 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 as a driving force for the plan, and she really is starting to drive it! There's now a whole department within the County Enterprise Board concentrating on growing Donegal's food reputation and I tip my hat to them for investing and focusing upon the food sector within the county."

County Donegal is starting to see more and more new food products being developed as a result of the food strategy, commissioned in July 2012 by Donegal County Enterprise Board to built up a better infrastructure assist new Donegal food businesses to get established. The O’Rourke brothers, Enda and Gavin, have many years of experience between the two of them. Enda owns the Village Tavern in Mountcharles and Gavin is the Executive Chef at Harvey's Point Hotel near Donegal Town. 

"But even chefs of that level of skill and calibre still need help when developing new food products for a commercial market" said Gary. "The Donegal County Enterprise Board and their strategy group are all behind them helping to drive these new food entrepreneurs on.”

Eve Anne McCarron and Jack Stein from The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall,
join Enda O’Rourke of The Village Tavern in Mountcharles to sample his new chowder recipe.

Brian McDermott who runs The No Salt Chef, 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 and I have to pay tribute to the agencies and to the Good Food Initiative from the Donegal County 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 the opportunity to do that" said Brian. "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.”

Brian McDermott (The No Salt Chef) pictured with Gary O’Hanlon
as he judged the Donegal Chowder Cook off at the Taste of Donegal food festival 

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 in the county. “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 also have some of the best food in the country but no one has been shouting about it enough. We have given them, with the Food Coast Strategy, is a medium for developing their product and that can only be positive for the whole county of Donegal.”

There were many many more local Donegal food & drink producers exhibiting at the A Taste of Donegal Food Festival over the August 23rd weekend and you can read more about it here.
with thanks to Liam Porter

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