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When Lisa Cope returned to Ireland from London in the summer of 2017 to do Dublin Institute of Technology’s (DIT’s) inaugural master’s in gastronomy course, she was not expecting the restaurant scene in Dublin to be so healthy.
She’d been spoiled by the sheer variety and quality of culinary experiences. “In London you could have the best food of your life every night of the week there, and it doesn’t matter if it was the ten-quid noodle shop at the corner or if it was some Michelin-star meal,” she says.
She expected Dublin’s food scene to be “below par”. Yet it seemed instead as if the restaurant scene here was in the midst of healthy change.
However, Cope felt that this wasn’t reflected in the city’s publications, either online or in print. And she’s not the only one.
In recent months, Cope started All the Food online, and the team behind District Magazine launched their food-focused print publication Char. And there’s more to come: the DIT Food Forum is due to launch a new website in January.
Anke Klitzing, who teaches food writing at DIT, says the food-writing scene in Dublin is definitely becoming more diverse. “It hasn’t quite established itself yet, but it’s quite exciting.”
All the Food
Cope says her passion for food was really encouraged after travelling around the world at the start of the decade, eating bife de chorizo in Argentina and nasi lemak in Malaysia.
After doing a wine course in the evenings, she quit a career in television production to work for wine companies – and that’s where her love of restaurants really set in, she says.
When she came back to Dublin to do the master’s, people seemed excited about the restaurant scene. “I’m getting messages everyday, like, ‘Have you seen this awning? Have you seen this sign?’” says Cope.
But she didn’t find any publication she felt had trustworthy restaurant news. So she decided to start All the Food.
Her website began by compiling all the restaurants that had been reviewed in Dublin over the past three years. It expanded to include her own writing on Dublin’s food scene, as well that of Deborah Ryan, who jumped on board.
The home page recently showed a piece on Vietnamese restaurant Aobaba, titled “Obsession-worth Banh Cuon on Capel Street”, a feature on “Where to Eat When Christmas Shopping”, an article called “Stoneybatter Has a New Place for Pasta”, and many more.
Although the site is free and currently something she does while also studying for her master’s, Cope is looking toward 2019 with hopes of future brand partnerships.
“I really believe this service is needed,” says Cope. It “isn’t about making a quick buck or expanding quickly. We want to build something that has real value.”
The monthly District Magazine, known for its music and cultural coverage, has launched this month a seasonal offshoot – Char – that is a compilation of District’s food features.
The best way to highlight the food writing in the monthly magazine, says Eric Davidson, District’s editor, was to give it its own home. “We wanted to not do it in the way that other food publications in the past have done it,” he says.
Caitriona Devery, District’s food and wine editor says that this means presenting articles in “a super stylish visual way”, with quality photography.
The restaurant scene is changing and as much as the food that is offered is changing, so too is the detail given to design, something Davidson feels is not being reflected in the publications that write about food in the city.
“These places are well thought out in a design aspect, they’re not like lit by a candle, serving you a Michelin star meal that’d give you gout,” he says.
The first edition of Char, “Winter 18/19”, is available for free around town now, with articles including an interview with Fumbally chef Harry Colley about fermentation, a piece on grilling featuring Ian Marconi of Jackrabbit and Ivan Garbino of Fowl Play, among others.
Char will be funded, says Davidson, primarily through advertisements. There will also be collaborations with restaurants or other foodies.
District editor Eric Davidson said he felt like there was enough exciting stuff happening in the restaurant scene to justify bringing out a magazine solely on food. He’s not worried either about what the “old guard” of food writers and publications think of their recent foray.
He says he’d like for the old guard to think, “They don’t know what they’re doing,” and for District’s own audience and, “subsequently, for newer people who were not so into food, to like it as it’s that bit more accessible”.
Writing on Food
Those who write about food have an enormous role to play in ensuring that a healthy food scene exists, says Katia Valadeau, who runs ProperFood.ie and is the founder of the Irish Food Bloggers Facebook group.
Food writing “bridges the gap between the people that make the food and the people that want to eat it. And it brings a light that you may not otherwise come across,” says Valadeau,
Cope agrees, adding that, without critics, “chefs wouldn’t have an audience […] They need professional criticism in particular to qualify what they’re doing. As much as chefs say they don’t care about reviews or whatever, of course they do.”
Food writing also, says District’s food and wine editor, Caitriona Devery, fosters a community.
Devery has noticed that people “are making food that’s really connected to place and the people who grew or produced the food are often very much part of the story”.
Both Devery and Cope mention the importance of DIT’s School of Culinary Arts, and specifically its Food Forum, which gives its students a platform to write and talk about food on social media.
Starting off as a Facebook page for students to write about food, it expanded to Instagram and Twitter, and in January will be migrating to a brand-new website.
“The first publications there are going to be the creative critical writing from the master’s in gastronomy,” says Klitzing, of DIT’s School of Culinary Arts.
“I think that the best pieces of food writing are the ones that people respond to, are the ones that aren’t just about food,” she says.
“Because food is so much more than just what’s on the plate. There’s always the history, why do we choose to prepare it in that way, why do we choose to present it in that way, how does it fit into the menu? There is so much going on with the food itself and so much of it is to do with the relationships between people,” she says.