Between them, the collected works of the presenters at the inaugural Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine, taking place from May 3 to May 6, would constitute the beginnings of a library, or at least a very impressive cookbook collection. Darina Allen, arguably Ireland’s most famous cook and visible advocate of its food culture, has lured many of the world’s most revered and prolific food writers to attend the three-day event outside the Irish city of Cork. This is an international food festival with a difference. Far from being staged in the usual hotel ballroom or university lecture hall, it will take place among the bucolic surrounds of Ballymaloe, the family estate made famous first by Myrtle Allen’s seminal country house restaurant, and then by her daughter-in-law Darina’s cooking school and picturesque organic farm.
“There are already plenty of festivals focused on celebrity chefs and restaurants,” Allen says. “I wanted to create an event that celebrated the art of food writing.” She called in favors from friends across the culinary world to bring together what she calls a “difficult-to-assemble group of beloved writers who have never been in the same place at one time.” Legendary figures including the Mediterranean food expert Claudia Roden, the Indian specialist Madhur Jaffrey and the Australian cooking doyenne Stephanie Alexander will share the stage and reflect on their influential works. From the grand dames to the modern cult classics, David Thompson, the Bangkok-based chef of Nahm and author of the meticulous tome “Thai Food,” will demonstrate recipes from his books as will the eccentric D.I.Y. food activist and author of “The Art of Fermentation,” Sandor Katz. Journalists as well as cooks are well represented with a lecture by the respected wine writer Jancis Robinson, and with panel discussions like “The Tyranny of the Deadly Deadline” and “Food Writing for the Digital Generation.”
Beyond the usual talks and cooking demonstrations, the organizers have endeavored to curate unique experiences that engage both the food and wine literati and the wider community. David Tanis, The New York Times “City Kitchen” columnist and ex-Chez Panisse chef, will lead a picking tour through the estate’s famed greenhouses, while Skye Gyngell, formerly of London’s Petersham Nurseries and the writer of “A Year in My Kitchen,” will host an afternoon tea in the stately Ballymaloe House. Allen has ensured that the events will be informal so that visitors who “want to meet the writers that they share their kitchens with every day will be able to do so, without egos and entourages.”
© T: The New York Times Style Magazine, April 24, 2013, Photography Credit: Ballymaloe House