On Sunday many chefs and journalists from all over the world will travel to Ireland for an event created by JP McMahon and his team. Food on the edge (FOTE) is a symposium that gathers the world food scene in a dialogue that is aiming to making the world a better place. For me, it will be my third FOTE. After I attended it once, I return there every year. Most people do, because stories we hear inspire each of us and raise our awareness, while at the same time we build friendships with each other.
I had a quick chat with JP about this year’s event and the plans for the future…
A: What are for you personally the highlights of this year’s FOTE?
JP: Alex Atala and Ben Sherwy would definitely be big highlights for this year’s Food On The Edge. We have been inviting them since the beginning of the symposium, and it is great to finally bring them to Galway. They are both very influential in terms of their kitchens, but they have also really put the cuisines of Brazil and Australia on the map. Another highlight for me will be Ebru Damir from Turkey who works with refugees on Turkish-Syrian border. I am also really looking forward to Leonor Espinosa’s talk. As well as being a chef she is involved in education in Columbia in the wider sense. She won the Basque Culinary World Prize for the social activism that she’s doing. She is a great barometer for what chefs can be.
A: This year’s theme is migration. Why did you choose this and how do you see it?
JP: Migration is such an important issue of our time, in particular migration from the Middle East into Europe, and Central America into the United States. But the migration of people is only one half of the equation, and food is the other half. When we think about food it often isn’t acknowledged how the migration of food has contributed to the development of certain cuisines. It is an important metaphor for how we define people and food – “from here” and “not from here” – but really it is not that black and white. Example here in Ireland are cinnamon and nutmeg. They have been in Ireland for 800 years, but does that mean they are part of Irish food or are they just food used in Ireland – where do we draw the line?
A: Now after FOTE has happened a few times, what do you think is the legacy it left in Ireland and worldwide?
JP: It is difficult to define legacy, but Food On The Edge has really brought an international focus on food in Ireland and a recognition that we’re serious about food and that we care about food. I suppose already you can see its legacy even in a small sense in the recognition that Ireland received from Michelin this year. You can see how events like Food On The Edge can influence food culture in a wider way – recognising food as an important part of our culture.
A: What are you most proud of?
JP: Bringing everything together each year. Food On The Edge is a year-long project which requires a lot of hard work and a large number of volunteers. It takes a long time to bring 50 speakers from very diverse parts of the world together.
Diversity has been very important to us in the last few years, moving beyond just the ‘celebrity chefs’. While of course big name speakers are important, we make a conscious effort to seek out chefs who are relatively unknown but are doing amazing work. While people may come for Alex Atala or Ben Shwery, they go away with so much more than that.
A: Plans for the future?
One never knows. Each year is challenging due to financing and sponsoring the event, but really it is changing people’s perception of the event that is challenging. Some people see it as a privileged space or an elite event because of the high profile chefs but it is really far from that. We want more and more chefs from all different backgrounds coming to Food On The Edge. It’s important to take two days out each year and think about food and then go back in the kitchen with a year’s supply of ideas.
One of the many things that I like about FOTE is also the ethical approach. Even if sponsors are more than needed to support such an event, JP keeps focused on taking support of the companies that are doing business in a way acceptable to his own ethics and offers lots of space at the event to the small local producers, giving them a chance to be discovered by the chefs and food writers. Financing FOTE that is growing every year (as most people want to come back and new people join) is hard, so maybe we should think how can each of us support him to keep this amazing event gong and growing? I am sure JP will be grateful for your support.