Guiding the world to Irish food

Eamonn McFadden

Reporter:

Eamonn McFadden

‘I think Donegal, as a county, has the potential to be the next food capital of Ireland.’

‘I think Donegal, as a county, has the potential to be the next food capital of Ireland.’

With 27 years’ experience of life in a professional kitchen as a chef, Zack Gallagher, has turned his hand to using the World Wide Web to spread to word on Ireland’s top quality food products.

Although christened Ciaran, from the age of four he’s been known as Zack.

The son of Vincent and Lily Gallagher, Zack has grown up surrounded by great food from an early age.

His mum and aunt Nora Boyle were two great cooks he says and from the age of 11 he was learning skills in local bakery, The Oven Door, in his first job.

“I started there when I was 11 doing anything at all. I think I invented the French bread pizza before anyone else,” he laughs.

“We did things like that for the craic. It was a great experience and I learned a lot from Patsy Margey, the baker there for 30 years. I also learned a lot from my mother and my aunt who had many old recipes here in Donegal. Traditional big family recipes.”

His dad was a well-known printer and Zacks says it interesting that two of the things he learned from his parents, cooking and print design have lead him to his popular blog.

“It’s definitely going somewhere. Where? I’m not exactly sure,” he laughs.

After entering Killybegs Tourism College in 1984 and graduated two years later as their ‘Chef of the Year’, but he admits the idea of competitive cooking didn’t interest him much.

This hasn’t stopped him working in many top restaurants claiming many prestigious accolades including a Bridgestone award.

After being made redundant from his job last year Zack decided to turn his attention to highlighting the quality Irish produce available and tell the world about it through the internet.

He then set up a website, irishfoodguide.ie and a highly popular blog as well, that acts as a portal for everything to do with great Irish food produce and cuisine.

He is now getting ready to officially launch his new website www.buyirishfood.ie where almost 300 Irish food producers have signed up to advertise their products. The official launch will take place at this years Donegal Live event on May 25, where he will be joined by many of the big names in Irish culinary scene.

“I have 278 producers lined up so far for all over Ireland and I’m looking for more from Donegal, so they can get in touch with me if they wish,” with Zack.

“I was made redundant just over a year ago and decided to concentrate on my own new business called the Irish Food Guide website and blog, which is a mix of Irish food news, reviews of artisan food products, recipes, guest chefs, and the like.

I actually started the Irish Food Guide five years ago as a portal to the growing on line Irish food network. It’s only in the past year and a half that it has started to gain momentum as I’ve had time to put more energy into it. I’ve had a lot of help from the County Enterprise Board and the Donegal Local Development Company and my plan is to sell the wonderful Irish products to an a international market, particularly the Irish-American market”.

“What I’m doing with my Irish Food Guide blog, which hit over 3,000 followers on Twitter last week, is I talk about food on-line because I am a chef talking about food, not a journalist who likes to eat. That’s why I’m building up a good reputation, because I know food,” he added.

For the last year Zack has penned many tasty recipes that have ended up on the tables of local Donegal homes through his popular weekly column “The Cooking Pot” in each Thursday’s Donegal Democrat.

Indeed, when asked about the state of the Irish food scene at present he says it is in an excellent place with many top chefs and very high quality produce but he feels it is a “rising star” on the culinary scene.

“In the last ten years Irish chefs are not afraid to use the products that are around them. Especially old Irish recipes. I think for a long time many chefs were shy about using traditional Irish recipes because the French Classical style of cooking was in vogue. So what they are doing now is taking what they have learned at colleges and have combined the two to come up with a new Irish way of cooking.”

He says it has now made an impact on the international food scene and brought pride back to our food.

“I think Donegal, as a county has the potential to be the next food capital of Ireland. South west Cork and Tipperary had together been a hive of industry with food producers and for the restaurants to be able to use there products, they can guarantee the quality of those products as it the customers who are ultimately paying for it. Here in Donegal in the last ten years or so. There are a lot of producers who were making small in-roads and are now getting more support to help their products into a more commercial stream line through things like the Irish Food Guide or the Bridgestone guide.

Closer to home he says: “Donegal is a rising star on the Irish food scene. Some of the top class chef on Irish TV are from Donegal originally such as Garry O’Hanlon and there is the like of Brian McDermott from Inishowen.”

As well as his love of food, Zack has a love all things creative and he enjoys working with his hands.

Music and art are both big passions in his life.

He’s known to rock out every now and then as a bass guitar player in local acts. In the past he ran Zacks Bar as a music venue in his home town.

He has also developed a side line in working with local business helping them promote their products on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Married to potter, Nuala Toland, they have two children, 8-year-old Finn and Lily, 3.