Volunteering for Galway Fringe Festival 2019

The Galway Fringe Festival ran for two weeks from 15th to 28th June 2019 alongside the Arts Festival as it has for nine years, promising to give emerging artists, productions, demos and plays from here and abroad a platform and support, as part of over 200 Fringe programmes all over the world. This year there were some award-winning shows and local debuts. There were creative writing readings, music and film incorporated into one-person theatre events, visual arts and pottery fairs.

What is surprising is that, although the Fringe usually provides a mix of appealing, intimate events without the pressure of the mainstream, more commercial festivals, this year saw some cancellations and it appeared that there was not enough attendance by the public. This is a shame as we should support the acts that come to town, even the lesser known ones, and give them an audience. The rather smaller variety of 2019’s line up compared to previous years can only be improved by continuing to support the festival with ticket sales, public volunteering and contributing acts. The acts who do get in have a role in advertising their own events in conjunction with the Fringe doing their best to get the word across. The added competition of NUIG’s 2019 Summer Drama festival being held at the same time did not help attendance numbers.

I was given the suggestion to volunteer my skills in helping with the Fringe festival behind the scenes by a fellow volunteer for Galway Film Fleadh TV. After a three-week stint of training, undertaking interviews, filming and editing for the Fleadh week, this was a more relaxed duty of posting on social media, thinking of ideas for sales, taking door tickets and getting to watch shows. It was nice to meet the Fringe festival artists, such as writer Niamh Nic Aodha Bhuí, whose first-time offering to the Galway Fringe was her piece Unveiling which deals with life, existential questions and suicidal thoughts. A former secondary school student of Dominican College, Taylor’s Hill like myself, she has tried her hand at various art forms since studying in different third-level fields.

At the Fringe, there were a group of work placement students from GMIT studying Tourism, but anyone from any background could and were encouraged to apply as a regular volunteer. Most events took place at Seven bar’s The Loft, De Burgo’s and The Cellar, with some of the visual arts and photography scattered around county Galway. The main office space was located above the Bank of Ireland near Lombard St. The Fringe ends each year with an Awards Ceremony in different categories.

One particularly emotional play was Prodigal by Andrew Carney which depicts an estranged son’s reunion with his father after the funeral of their elder brother and son. The son partakes of a drink, which his father declines as a reformed alcoholic. He makes his son talk to him and they go on to discuss their past life, relationships and family, the effect of the alcoholism on them all and the brusque son’s struggle in the shadow of his late brother.

There was a higher turn out for plays such as Runaway Princess: A Hopeful Tale of Heroin, Hooking and Happiness, and the jaunty literary recap Strolling Through Ulysses! The award-winning Velvet Determination: A Young Pianist’s Journey to New York could have seen more of a crowd despite its delightful recital and true-life account. The Galway Fringe Festival will continue to have sporadic events until later in the year so make sure to follow them online and be ready to do it all again and more next year.

Interview with JP McMahon & Claudio Cruz

I talk to the chef who brought us the ‘Electric Picnic’ of food symposiums as he opens his new café in Galway. Coming at his profession in a very organised yet new Nordic way, Tartare will continue the trend set out in Michelin-star Aniar of localising Ireland and bringing it just to the mid-West.

JP McMahon is an Irish food ambassador currently working towards making Galway a 2018 European Region of Gastronomy. It’s a challenge he feels we’re up to with our small chain of supply but which involves convincing the public that good food comes at a price and that it’s worth it. He is similarly the director of the successful “Food on the Edge” symposiums in Galway where high quality discourse finds a platform, chain-restaurateur behind Eat Galway Restaurant Group, outgoing chairperson and co-founder of Galway Food festival. This comes of his participation in international community projects and he is now a speaker at numerous cookery demonstrations, seminars and classes promoting the new Irish culinary scene and food provenance.

With his busy schedule, I had time before our interview on the 6th November to take in the stark, simple surroundings of his new terroir-based café and wine bar Tartare, situated across the road from Aniar on Dominick Street. When he arrived at about 2:30pm he was just back from a meeting with Fáilte Ireland and holding a small Bell Lane paper cup. It’s an Irish-based coffee company which can be obtained at the café.

At this year’s annual “Food on the Edge”  symposium on the 9th and 10th October 2017, many local suppliers put up stalls at the FOTE Artisan Food Village outside the Black Box where speakers from around the world came to share their food stories and experience. Among the Irish produce to be found were Galway Hooker beer, Simply Milk from Tuam, Cocoatelier from Dublin, cheeses, oysters, preserves and ice-cream. It also featured the finalists of his educational primary school venture on the “Future of Food. ” High-quality discourse from FOTE costs about €300,000 to put on and Super Early Bird tickets for next year’s event can be bought now at a reduced price of €250. After the fact, making FOTE a democratic conference is something he seeks to accomplish, so recordings of the talks are later available to watch on YouTube and online when the event is over.

‘”Food on the Edge” we set up three years ago and that was very much inspired by a lot of the travelling I had done and taking part in some of the culinary excursions with different international chefs, specifically a department event called “Cook It Raw,” which was the coming together of different chefs to cook and explore a place; also a symposium in Toronto, called “Terroir,”’ he explained. ‘I suppose I wanted to bring people to Ireland to try and showcase what we have here, but also to try and influence the next generation of chefs to be inspired to push a little bit further.’

His encouragement of Irish producers is something he is foremost dedicated to with his eateries Cava Bogeda Tapas Bar, Aniar Restaurant and Boutique Cookery School, Tartare and Eat Gastropub located at Massimo. In fact, all of his produce is sourced from the Emerald Isle except for white flour, sugar and olives. With regard to young or upcoming suppliers, he says he encourages them to go out and find a market themselves rather than waiting for one. Some of them he seeks out, but a lot of them come directly to his door, such as Castlemine meats.

His restaurant Aniar has also won a prestigious Michelin star in 2012 as well as various other awards, in terms of Best Restaurant in Connacht and an Overall Best Award in Ireland. Moreover, it’s now one of La Liste‘s top 1000 Most Outstanding Restaurants in the world. http://bit.ly/2hmkwMn

Cara won Best Ethnic Restaurant, despite it serving predominantly Spanish food. To top it off, JP has written columns in the Irish Times and published a cookery book available to purchase online and at Aniar.

While JP is in charge of the food side of the business, his business ventures are actually part of a joint team-up with his wife, Drigin Gaffey. She takes care of front of house, finance, interior decor and administration.

He finds it hard to pin down what first sparked his interest in cooking.

‘I almost left school to become a chef at 15. ’

Perhaps his coming from a large family, his grandmother’s dishes, baking bread and taking Home Economics at secondary school made him discover he enjoyed this. In later life he would be very influenced by the Nordic food movement, which, he says, looks at things from a specific place.

‘I suppose the idea was to try and draw on Ireland and the food of Ireland in the same way as the Nordics had.’

Basically, it is a system of preparing food using only ingredients found in your environment, which can be a challenge. Another aspect is being in touch with your chef and those you eat with.

It can be seen in the relaxed, contemporary décor of his restaurants and the communal, shared eating to be found at the popular Cava. It’s an alternative style where food is passed around the table, designed to encourage communication.

The philosophy behind Tartare was to bring good food into every area in the manner of Danish franchiser Christian Puglisi. Inspired by his travels to Copenhagen, this café is a smaller, luncheon version of Aniar, with a lower price point. It offers sandwiches, soups, organic salads, small portions of oysters, beef tartare, the cream of Irish craft cheeses as well as biodynamic, organic and natural wines. There’s a casual, modern hatch where I had caught the chef’s eye as he worked and received a smile.

Claudio Cruz is the sandwich chef at Tartare and hails from Calagary in Canada, the home of Poutine. He met JP there in 2014 during a “Cook it Raw” culinary conference. Claudio asked if he could do a stage with him and worked in Aniar for 3 months, which he says is ‘as local a restaurant as I’ve ever worked in.’ He has also attended the previous two years’ “Food on the Edge” and describes it as ‘highly organised.’

‘[JP]’s a very nice man. I would go with him for a pint or a glass of wine, because he drinks wine. I think he’s a red wine guy.’