November 2023 saw the start of Ballina’s Climate Action Weekend for the third year running; a local initiative to highlight progress in the promotion of sustainability and care for the environment in Ballina on a grassroots level, to raise awareness of the climate crisis and the importance of tackling the surrounding issues, and to ultimately endeavour to see Ballina earn the title of Ireland’s Greenest Town.
With the various presentations, discussions and information made available during the weekend, it was only natural that attendees were going to need a decent meal. Yet food waste is a well-documented concern of environmental activism, with supermarkets, fast-food chains and restaurants often the target of blame not only for the wastage of food itself, but also many other issues associated with how our food is produced, such as how far it has been transported, the amount and type of packaging used to protect and display food items, and whether the food’s nutritional value is truly worth the resources needed to produce it—to name but a few. Chef Ronan Fox aimed to provide an answer for some of these concerns, however, through his Zero Waste Pop-Up Dining Experience, held at the Kennedy Glasgow Centre in Ballina on Friday 24th November.
Illuminated by soft candlelight and decorated with natural foliage and pinecones, the table was all set for an evening of both new ideas and new flavours for those attending.
Chef Ronan Fox opened the event with an informative presentation to accompany the food, during which he introduced various simple steps to reduce wastage in the kitchen and beyond, and also to eat in ways both beneficial to the environment and the body; such as by using a food planner as a guide to ideal portion amounts and ingredient quantities needed, cooking in batches and freezing dishes to have on hand for later, and to identify essential ingredients to keep in stock so that they can be used to plan meals around quickly and efficiently.
Alongside this information, Ronan produced a series of three courses to taste—starter, mains and dessert—all made using ingredients that were either sourced locally, in the most sustainable way possible, and/or would otherwise perhaps have been thrown away, with as minimal wastage of both produce and packaging possible. Some examples included a colourful beetroot dish with goats’ cheese, dried dillisk and hand-picked wild berries, a refreshing salad with ginger, crab apple and locally-sourced crab meat, a magnificent Indian spiced cauliflower, chickpea and tomato risotto with a kimchi made from cauliflower leaves, and a tempting vegan apple puff with date and rum ice-cream.
Behind the scenes, the team got to witness Fox’s cooking skills up-close in the kitchen and got a first taste of some of the food on offer! It was a fun and lively atmosphere with everyone collaborating to make the evening successful while learning new methods and trying new foods, alongside waitresses Jade and Lizzie, who served Fox’s dishes to attendees with warmth and style.
A notable aspect of all these dishes was not only how wonderfully flavourful they were, but also how well they paired ingredients that perhaps might not be expected to go so well together, and full of good nutritional content to boot. Indeed, there was much to be learned, not only in being more sustainable but also in trying different cooking methods, with recipes for some of the dishes on show presented by Fox as an ideal starting point for experimentation with different produce and food preparation skills.
Overall, the event was well-attended and well-enjoyed, with all tickets sold and Fox’s food given high praise by many of those present; it was for many a welcome surprise to try such new and delicious flavours with so low of an environmental impact. If there was one key message to be taken from the experience, it was surely that eating sustainably does not have to mean compromising on taste or quality, and it was one that Ronan Fox and the team achieved to great success.
Photo Credit: Commercial Photographer