Ireland’s Guide

Connemara Abalone - Meet the producers

by Gerogina Campbell

One of an occasional series on diversification and added value in Irish hospitality – finding new ways for hotels and restaurants to thrive also brings good news for customers. All over Ireland, hotels have been taking an especially hard hit during the current economic crisis.
Drastically reduced prices quickly became the norm but, while this initially seemed like great news for consumers, it became clear that it would quickly become unsustainable.But the canny ones – either taking out insurance ahead of the gathering storm clouds, or simply seeing opportunities not obvious to others – diversifed to make their offering more attractive to guests, and concentrate on giving added value rather than simply slashing prices.

Something interesting is happening at various unrelated locations all over Ireland: inspired by their customers’Graham Roberts - Connemara Smokehouse growing interest in local produce, and recognising the all-round value of supporting local producers and suppliers, some hotels have begun to offer ‘producer dinners’ which showcase the specialities of the area and may even have producers in attendance to introduce their products personally.
Some prestigious establishments have been involved in this new movement. At Knockranny House Hotel in Westport, Co Mayo, for example, acclaimed chef Seamus Commons recently created a Pig Weekend tasting menu for invited guests, that included some of the area’s most famous products, notably Kelly’s of Newport black puddings and sausages, and free range pork from Roy Eastman’s 12 acre farm at Kiltimagh – but what made it unusual was that the guests had been taken to visit the producers during the day.

Gannet Fishmongers Galway

Other hotels thinking along similar lines include the stylish g hotel in Galway city, the Dylan in Dublin, and Ashford Castle – which is hosting a Seafood Appreciation event in March, with a visit to an oyster farm and a trip on a lobster fishing boat among the promised treats.Although initially started as promotional press occasions, these producer-led events are beginning to develop a more accessible theme.

Regis Herviaux & Stefan Matz

At Galway’s five star g hotel, for example, General Manager Damien O’Riordan, Executive Chef Stefan Matz and Head Chef Regis Herviaux recently welcomed guests to a press event which featured Connemara Smokehouse smoked tuna, Connemara Abalone (deep fried and served with a divine barley and basil ‘risotto’), McGeough’s of Oughterard organic Connemara lamb done three ways, and a delicious Bluebell Falls (Co Clare) goats cheese and apple dessert.Each course was introduced by the producer – and the next day, together with Damien, Stefan and Regis, guests visited Galway Market and then went on tour around Connemara to see their operations in action.

The g hotel aims to source all of its main ingredients from within an hour’s drive of the hotel. “…Having spent 20 years working with local food producers and sourcing the finest artisan produce, we are thrilled to work with a range of leading suppliers,” says Stefan Matz. “The local sourcing of produce ensures each dish at the g boasts a real taste of Galway, and indeed of the West of Ireland.”
Salmon SlicingAs a development from their successful ‘trial run’, and at a very reasonable €225 per person sharing, the g hotel is offering guests an opportunity to meet some of their artisan suppliers – and hone their kitchen skills too – at a similar gastronomic getaway on Thursday and Friday 3rd & 4th March 2011.
Their two-night “g is for gourmet” break, hosted by Stefan Matz and Regis Herviaux, includes a 5-course wine dinner at ‘Matz at the g’ restaurant, professional cookery tuition and a guided tour of selected suppliers.
Linking guests desire for an exciting and authentic food experience with the local economy and marketing it creatively makes commercial sense, and is a highly satisfying endeavour for all concerned.
Could this be the beginning of a new and mutually rewarding trend?