Appetite for change

Chef JP McMahon: “We need to think about how we spend our money. We have no problem spending it on alcohol but not on food,” he says. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Lifestyle – Galway chef and restaurant owner JP McMahon wants us to rethink our approach to food. As he prepares for the third Food on the Edge Symposium, he tells Judy Murphy why.

I’ve been told you have to play the political game. But at some point, someone has to stop playing that game and say it as it is,” says chef JP McMahon, who has done more to change the face of food in Galway than any other individual. As he prepares for the third Food on the Edge Symposium which will see 45 of the world’s top chefs and food journalists gather in Galway’s Black Box Theatre next week for a two-day conference on the future of food, JP is happy to speak his mind.

The chef-patron of the Michelin-starred Aniar restaurant, who also owns Cava Tapas Bar and the recently opened Tartare Café and Wine Bar, has landed himself in trouble before for that trait.

Most memorable was the year he decided to close Aniar during the Galway Races Summer meeting after several no-show bookings left him with empty seats in the tiny restaurant.  Some people felt he was right, but there was criticism too about his comments on the behaviour of some Racegoers.

However, while JP’s detractors may regard him as arrogant and outspoken, others praise his vision, his passion for food and his generosity. Diners at Aniar talk about being sent home with freshly-made bread, while they now get the recipe and a poem by Brendan Kennelly entitled Bread.

These gestures reflect JP’s attitude to food, which is that we need to stop seeing our “top-quality beef, shellfish and dairy produce” as commodities for export and instead see them as part of our own culture.

“Food is often an after-thought but it’s probably the most important thing we need,” he says.

His aim with Food on the Edge (FOTE), which he founded three years ago, is to have people in the business “up their game”, with a resulting influence on the larger community.

Chef Dylan McGrath has described FOTE as being like “Electric Picnic for chefs” and it’s a good analogy.

Speakers this year range from Michelin-starred chefs to those who specialise in street-food, or come from areas of conflict. They include new faces and previous participants.

The stars of the Netflix series Chef’s Table, Nordic chef Magnus Nilsson of Fäviken, and Slovenian chef and winner of 2016 Best Female Chef in The World Ana Roš of Hiša Franko restaurant will attend, as will Niki Nakayama, owner of the groundbreaking n/naka restaurant in Los Angeles.

Leading Irish chefs taking part include Robin Gill, Niall McKenna, Anna Haugh, Cúán Greene and the Euro-toques Young Chef of the Year finalists.

Speakers will talk for 15 minutes on the topic of Action and Reaction and there will be panel discussions on themes such as Finnish cooking and on Creating a Better Food System.


For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.