“We had so many Irish visitors this year, which was great because Aniar had become, much like any gastronomic restaurant, really a destination for foreign visitors. I hope we’ve turned a corner and now we have people from Dublin who are eating in Aniar for the very first time after 10 years of opening."
Food On The Edge is trying to change the perception internationally of what Ireland’s food culture is, but more importantly, it’s trying to change how Irish people see it themselves.
“I think sometimes, and it may be an unpopular opinion, but I think we aim for the middle in Ireland and yes, you can get a gorgeous pint and really nice food, but I always think that we need to aim higher. I mean there’s no reason why state bodies can’t be looking at the main tourist sights like the Cliffs of Moher and Newgrange, these places get millions of visitors every year, and they should have gastronomic restaurants on-site, as well as catering for tourism. There’s no reason why not.
“We’ve always depended on private enterprise. If you look at the likes of Aimsir, those guys aren’t from Ireland but they decided to make Ireland their home and to investigate the food here, but development through private enterprise is haphazard and it could be another ten years before we get another two amazing people to come over and set up a restaurant in Ireland."
Ireland has long had a complicated relationship with food. There’s a deep-rooted mistrust of food that is too good, or too refined. It’s the legacy of 800 years of colonialism and oppression that saw Ireland used as a breadbasket for the British Empire while the natives were pushed into subsistence farming and living from hand to mouth. You could say that until Ireland fully realises the potential of its own food culture it won’t realise the potential of its own society.
“That’s another aspect of social gastronomy,” says McMahon. “It’s a hangover from The Famine, where eating well was almost frowned upon as decadent, it was seen as something Protestant. We are trying to reconcile it though. In my own book, The Irish Cookbook, I include recipes for venison. People might think that that’s not an Irish thing to eat, but I have friends whose fathers grew up hunting because they lived in the countryside and we can’t say that that’s not part of Irish culture. So we have a long way to go in unravelling some of our own identity.”
Things are changing though, and there is a lot to be excited about. You can see the effect Food On The Edge has had and where Irish food is going.
“Chefs like Cúán Greene, he’s an amazing chef who spent time in Noma and Geranium, he’s speaking at FOTE again, I hoping he’ll be part of what will be the third wave of Irish cuisine,” says McMahon. “Aniar is the first wave, Aimsir is the second wave, and these young chefs will be the third wave with more and more refinement and with a closer link between Irish food, Irish textile and Irish design. If you bring all of that together, you can make it world-class.”