Outspoken Sligo restaurateur Anthony Gray, reckons that our food is better now than it’s ever been – but the hospitality trade isn’t making the most of it.
“Irish food is on the crest of a Wild Atlantic Wave at the moment”, said Gray who is Chairperson of Sligo Food Trail and ex-President of the Restaurant Association of Ireland, “It’s time to shout Ireland’s food story from the rooftops and make sure the whole world knows about it”.
As the owner of two restaurants in Sligo Town, Hooked and Eala Bhán, he’s well placed to know a thing or two about the quality of produce that’s available.
Gray feels that as a country we are inclined to hide our light under a bushel, but unless the hospitality industry makes a concerted effort to evangelise about the superlative quality of Irish food, it will remain a well kept secret.
“The days of limited ingredients and cremated meat are gone”, he says, “Today chefs have a choice of outstanding produce and the skill to transform it into consistently excellent dishes. It’s time to hold our heads high, declare provenance and make big claims for Irish food”.
The focus of his two restaurants is on local and fresh ingredients and they have no difficulty in sourcing exactly what they need year round. Our cold Atlantic coastal waters produce a high yield of fresh fish, from salmon to lobster with everything in between. Irish pasture-reared beef and lamb has a flavour unsurpassed anywhere on the planet while the variety of top quality vegetables available has never been better.
Gray’s contention is that if we don’t tell this story to visitors and media from around the world, we can’t expect to reap the benefits from it. It’s time to support local, support quality and make claims both proudly and loudly. He is forensic about ensuring that provenance is celebrated on the menus at both Hooked and Eala Bhán, and that his staff know all the answers a curious customer might demand.
The culture of the dining customer has changed. Consumers want to know where the ingredients came from.
“I see my customer’s eyes light up when I tell them that I was out at the market buying edible flowers or where my cheese is from and who makes my bread. If we all do that we are on the right track to showcase, not just Sligo, but Ireland as a food destination. Ireland is one of the finest food destinations in the world, we just have to tell our story better,” he said.