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.
Galway City Council turns down Mad Yolk Farm site
An application to retain farming-related development on a site in Roscam has been turned down by Galway City Council.
The local authority has refused to grant retention permission to applicant Brian Dilleen for subsurface piping to be used for agricultural irrigation at ‘Mad Yolk Farm’ on Rosshill Road.
It also refused permission for the retention of a bore-hole well, water pump and concrete plinth; and two water holding tanks for 6,500 litres; and other associated site works.
In its written decision, the Planning Department at City Hall said: “The proposed development, would if permitted, facilitate the use of the site for the provision of sixty 15.5m high seed beds, which have been deemed by the planning authority not to be exempted development.
“Therefore a grant of permission for the proposed development would facilitate the unauthorised development and usage on the site, contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.”
The site has been the subject of enforcement action by the local authority.
A lengthy Appropriate Assessment Screening report, submitted with the planning application, concluded “beyond reasonable scientific doubt, in view of the best scientific knowledge, on the basis of objective information and in light of the conservation objectives of the relevant European sites, that the proposed retention and development, individually or in combination with other plans and projects, has not and will not have a significant effect on any European site”.
A borehole Impact Assessment Report concluded that the proposed retention development “on the hydraulic properties of the aquifer is considered negligible”.
It said that there was “no potential for significant effects on water quality, groundwater dependent habitats or species associated with any European site”.
Six objections were lodged by neighbours, including one from the Roshill/Roscam Residents Association, which argued the Further Information submitted by the applicant did “little to allay our concerns” about the impact of the development on an “extremely sensitive site”.
The applicant has until June 29 to appeal the decision to An Bórd Pleanála.
NUIG student accommodation firm records loss
The property company which operates student accommodation on behalf of NUI Galway recorded a €3.4 million increase in turnover in 2019.
However, Atalia Student Residences DAC (Designated Activity Company), which is owned by the university, recorded a loss for the year of €6,300.
Accounts for the company for the year ended August 31, 2019, show that while there was a loss, retained profits are at more than €1.6 million. The accounts are the most up to date available from the Companies Registration Office.
The previous year, the company made a profit of more than €460,000.
Atalia Student Residences operates the 764-bed Corrib Village apartment complex and the 429-bed Goldcrest Village.
The figures show that the company’s overall turnover jumped by 52% – from €6.4m to €9.8m.
Turnover for accommodation services was up from €5.2m to €8.4m; and from conferences and events was up from €850,000 to €1.1m. Turnover from shops was down from almost €328,000 to €290,000.
Outside of the academic year, both complexes are used as accommodation for conference delegates, while Corrib Village is also used for short-term holiday lets.
The accounts show fixed assets – including fixtures and fittings, plant and machinery and office equipment – valued at €1.5m. Its current assets were valued at more than €7m, including ‘cash at bank and in hand’ of almost €6.9m (up from €5.6m last year).
The company owed creditors €6.9m, including €5.2m in deferred income.
It employed 38 people (which includes its five directors) last year, up from 31 the previous year.
As well as operating the student accommodation complexes, the company also markets conference facilities and services on behalf of the university.
It pays rent to NUIG but the figure is not included in the company accounts. In 2018, the rent figure was just over €2.25m.
In Corrib Village, a single bedroom with a private en suite for the academic year costs €5,950. For Goldcrest Village, the figure is €6,760.
Call for two-way cycling under Galway City outdoor dining plan
Bike users want the local authority to examine the introduction of two-way cycling on one-way city centre streets.
Galway Cycling Campaign has again called for cycling to be allowed both ways. It comes as Galway City Council prepares to cordon-off parts of city centre streets to traffic, and make Dominick Street Lower one-way, to facilitate outdoor dining.
The cycling organisation said that the proposed pedestrianisation plan at the Small Crane, and the one-way system on Dominick Street, will result in lengthy diversions for people on bikes.
It has pointed out that school children and their guardians who cycle along Raleigh Row, and turn right towards Sea Road, will probably continue to do so even when the Small Crane is cordoned off to traffic, because the alternative route – via Henry Street – is too long a detour.
Similarly, it has been suggested that food-delivery services on bikes are unlikely to go the ‘long way round’ via Mill Street and New Road to get from Bridge Mills to restaurants on Dominick Street and would be tempted to cycle the ‘wrong way’ down the proposed one-way street or on the footpath.
Shane Foran, committee member of Galway Cycling Campaign, said now would be an ideal time to introduce two-way cycling on some one-way streets.
“It’s not controversial,” insisted Mr Foran. “It’s a general principle in other countries, if you are putting in new traffic arrangements, you would try and keep access for people on bikes.”
The regulation is contained in the National Cycle Policy Framework 2009; and a specific objective was contained in two of the most recent previous City Development Plans.
He said a former minister and Galway West TD, the late Bobby Molloy, had the vision to change the legislation in the late 1990s – but it hasn’t yet been embraced here.
“Bobby Molloy, who couldn’t be classed as an eco warrior, changed the law in 1998, so that it is available to local authorities to put up a sign granting an exemption from restrictions for people cycling on one-way streets.
“The road stays one-way for cars, and two ways for bicycles. Clearly that’s not going to be a sensible to do everywhere, like Merchants’ Road. In those situations, you might need a cycle track or lane to segregate people from traffic.
“But if it’s a low traffic street, with low speeds or relatively lower volumes of cars, then it should be possible for people on bicycles to cycle in both directions and still have it one-way for cars, without it being a major safety issue. It works in other countries,” said Mr Foran.