It is hard not to feel inspired by our local food after spending an afternoon with Caroline Redmond.
The Armoy-native talks passionately about what the Causeway Coast and Glens has to offer, and as the operator of Irish Feast she is wholly committed to sharing both her enthusiasm and knowledge with others.
Combining her love of walking, talking, eating and history, Caroline has established a series of food tours in Ballycastle, Bushmills and Rathlin Island which offer an alternative way to experience and understand our food, drink, hospitality and heritage.
It’s quite a departure from her earlier career as a software support expert with a globally recognised company but it’s clear she has now found her niche.
After seeking something different from the corporate world, Caroline started working at Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge before taking on a tourism focused role in Belfast.
“I was introduced to the concept of food as tourism and with the Year of Food and Drink and in light of successful food tours in Belfast (including Caroline Wilson’s Taste and Tour) I wondered if I could do something similar with an added history element,” she said.
Having tried to establish a walking tour in the Ballycastle area in 2015, it was the addition of food tastings and culinary history to her offering which would eventually lead to the successful creation of Irish Feast, and its overarching theme ‘For Food is History on a Plate.’
Caroline said: “I took my script which I had used previously and altered it, all the while thinking ‘how would I want to do this?’ I was fortunate to already have connections with some local producers and businesses in Ballycastle which really helped at the beginning. The tours are not just about me talking. They allow our chefs and producers to tell their stories and interact with their customers. I’ve discovered that 80% of my clientele come from the local market – people choosing to come here on holidays or those staying in their caravans and when different groups come together we have a lot of fun. It is a lovely congenial thing to do and it’s scientifically proven that breaking bread brings us closer to other people.”
Caroline is keen to grow her international clientele and next month will take part in Meet the Buyer, Northern Ireland’s biggest annual tourism networking platform, where she will showcase her tours to world-wide operators.
So what can you expect if you embark on one of Caroline’s food tours in Ballycastle?
Typically you’ll begin at the seafront, a natural starting point and a reminder of the beauty of the Causeway Coast and Glens with Fairhead and Rathlin Island in the background. Among the stops along the way are The Bay Café, where you’ll sample breakfast favourite ‘The Fry’ and learn from Caroline that there is much more to this iconic dish than meets the eye. There’s also Thyme & Co on Quay Road for what has historically been known as ‘Elevenses’ and an introduction to their world-winning wheaten bread along with a taste of seafood chowder at The Central, crab claws in O’Connor’s and a visit to Ursa Minor, bakery, café and Économusée and of course home to the finest artisan sourdough bread.
Caroline is also working with other service providers to provide package experiences including Sea Haven Seaweed Baths and Causeway Coast Kayaking.
By working in clusters like this, she aims to encourage visitors to slow down their time in the area and ultimately stay for longer which is beneficial for everyone.
While ‘Feast’ is a very apt word given what Caroline is doing, there is actually more to these five letters than meets the eye. It’s an acronym for Irish Food Experiences And Small Towns, hinting at a wider repertoire.
Caroline is currently the face of an ongoing collaboration with The Designerie in Bushmills, hosting a trilogy of talks and tastings which aim to showcase our historical food culture and heritage with tastings from the region’s artisan suppliers and recipe inspiration to take home. Upcoming dates include ‘Beer, Bread and Board’ on March 22nd and ‘Entertaining Guests’ on Friday 12th April.
She is also a keen supporter of events including Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival and Bushmills Salmon and Whiskey Festival, both of which showcase the rich foodie offering within the Causeway Coast and Glens.
To find out more follow Irish Feast on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or go to www.irishfeast.com.