How do you change a commonly held negative perception of an entire country’s gastronomy? One local farmer, fisherman, cheese maker, and artisan baker at a time.
It wasn’t too long ago that, while visitors to Ireland could expect to experience a culture of remarkably friendly people and awe-inspiring landscapes, the bar for food was set considerably lower. Unless your tastes ran to basic meat-and-potatoes fare, the Emerald Isle wasn’t a destination known for its great culinary appeal. Over the past eight years, Margaret Jeffares has made it her mission to turn that perception — and in many cases, that reality — around. See Also: Farm-to-Table at a Florida Resort
After a 25-year-career in tourism marketing in Ireland, Jeffares realized that international visitors with increasingly sophisticated palates were coming to the country. At the same time, living on a farm, she saw the need for small farmers to create new market opportunities for themselves, especially because many restaurants and hotels were importing food rather than sourcing it from them.
“I thought there was a major gap to link food producer and farmer with the hospitality sector,” Jeffares said in an interview with Irish radio host Karl Fitzpatrick in 2012. Jeffares envisioned creating a network of all the best food places around Ireland — from restaurants to hotels to cooking schools — that would be committed to using local food and supporting local farmers, food producers, and fishermen. The end goal, she said, would be to deliver to customers “an authentic Irish food experience.”
GETTING THE MESSAGE OUT
In 2006, Jeffares founded Good Food Ireland, a brand with high-quality standards, and presented her vision to leaders in the Irish hospitality industry. “I said, ‘Look, guys, am I up a gum tree here, or do you think this is a good thing for us to do for Ireland and to deliver business and economic opportunities back into our pockets?’” she told Fitzgerald. “The concept was pioneering within the industry — and we had cultural challenges about how we [as a country] perceive our own food.”
Luckily, Jeffares’ idea was met with overwhelming support, and she started off six months later with 70 founding Good Food Ireland provider businesses — “everything from a B&B to a five-star hotel to restaurants, pubs, cafés, cookery schools, and food shops.” Today, there are more than 600 businesses throughout the island that display the Good Food Ireland label.
Jeffares has collaborated with tourism agencies to fit Good Food Ireland into their strategy when marketing the island abroad. The approach has been to promote the people behind the food, showcasing for example the artisan cheese maker and the chef — and within the island, bringing them out to meet consumers, often at local food festivals.
spoke to Jeffares, she had just finished an event, but it was far from small. During the Web Summit — which attracted 22,000 attendees from more than 100 countries to Dublin’s RDS venue in November — Good Food Ireland co-located the Food Summit in an adjacent outdoor space. Under five huge tents outfitted with six full-sized kitchens, 200 Good Food Ireland member businesses worked together to feed fresh, local fare to 20,000 attendees a day.
“It really has been a Riverdance moment for Irish food,” Jeffares said, referring to the Food Summit as much as to the Good Food Ireland initiative itself. “So many of the Irish attendees [at the Web Summit] said they were just blown away, that they, themselves, could not believe that we had that quality of food. They were so proud, because they could hear the international visitors saying that they’ve traveled to conferences all over the world and never tasted food to this quality.” Jeffares added: “I thought that was lovely.” .
Michelle Russell is editor in chief of