Boxty a firm favourite with Angela Scanlon who launches new Taste the Island initiative
Ireland's favourite 'Ginger', Angela Scanlon, is helping turn attention to the Irish food offering in new Taste of Ireland initiative partnering with Tourism Northern Ireland. Here, she tells Gail Bell how she likes her boxty with black pudding, going off piste when cooking and how the "madness" of live TV and saving elderly women from fires brings out the best in her
ANGELA Scanlon, the effervescent, irreverently charming TV presenter who has enthusiastically enlightened viewers on everything from travel and music to fashion and robots, is now helping turn the spotlight on a national passion – great Irish food.
The Co Meath-born former stylist, dancer and journalist – most recently seen on our screens in Your Home Made Perfect (BBC2) – flew back from London to Dublin recently for the launch of a new 'Taste the Island' initiative developed in partnership between Tourism NI, Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland.
During the visit, Scanlon, who has been a popular, intermittent replacement for Alex Jones during her maternity leave from BBC One's The One Show, revealed a nostalgic affection for the contemporary Irish food scene and, as "a proud Irish woman", said it was now time we all "shouted" about it just a little bit more.
"Every time I come home, there’s somewhere new and eclectic and exciting and I really think we forget to shout about that," she enthuses down the line after flying in from London where she is now lives with husband, Cork 'eco-preneur' Roy Horgan and one year-old daughter, Ruby Ellen. "Whether it's been with Getaways or other things I've done, travelling around Ireland for work, I am always pleasantly surprised by just how brilliant our food offering is.
"What I've noticed is, we're very comfortable and very confident about how Ireland looks – we've got the scenery down and the most amazing tourist attractions and all that – but we kind of forget that Ireland has moved on so much in the last number of years and it's now up there with some of the best food destinations in the world."
As the new unofficial ambassador for Irish fare, she is as charming and quick-witted as ever, and, after official duties of the launch day were over, was eagerly looking forward to "tucking in" to some of the fare waiting to be sampled by guests.
The first of its kind in Ireland, the initiative will feature more than 600 food and drink-related events and experiences over September, October and November (150 are in the north) along with a new all-island marketing campaign. The Northern Ireland element of the programme – launched by chef and broadcaster Paula McIntyre – will aim to build on the successful Year of Food and Drink campaign in 2016 which saw an increase in demand for local produce in international markets and resulted in Northern Ireland being named an award-winning food destination in its own right.
Among the many events (including the delightfully named Harvest Moon Supper at Hook Lighthouse in Co Wexford and Oyster shucking in Dublin) – is the Leitrim Boxty Festival; a celebration which, given her penchant for the Irish delicacy, Scanlon might have already scheduled into her diary.
"I like a mix of food – and I do love squid, even though some people can be funny about squid," she says. "And – this is quite traditional Irish and posssibly my parents are responsible for it – but, with my dad from Mayo and my mum from Galway, boxty was always a firm favourite growing up in our house.
"Essentially, it is potato cake, but it can actually be quite artistic. I like it with black pudding and apple sauce, some creme fraiche... there is so much great food from Ireland, but boxty is still up there with the best of them for me. There is also a lot going on that I didn't know about – I wasn't aware of Wicklow wine, for instance, and many of the micro breweries and smaller distilleries of whiskies and gins."
Does she cook herself? "I like the idea of being a cook... What I will say is that I am much better at cooking than I am at baking. I think you fall into one of two categories with this – you either cook or bake. The reason I enjoy cooking more is that you can be a bit more artistic, a bit more free. I'm not great at following a recipe and I think with baking you have to do that and be much more precise because it's so scientific and you can't really go off piste..."
Speaking of which, in career terms, Scanlon, who cut her teeth on RTÉ with documentaries such as Oi Ginger! in 2013 (dedicated to the lives of flame-haired people like herself) has never been scared to veer off piste – or script, for that matter. In fact, give her a stint of live TV with all its perils and pitfalls and she is at her fearless, quick-off-the-mark best.
She recalls an outside broadcast which did not exactly go as planned on The One Show with evident relish and now counts it as one of her most memorable TV experiences.
"After presenting Robot Wars with Dara Ó Briain, The One Show was one of the biggest I've presented – and it's live, which I hadn't previously done a massive amount of," she says. "I do love live television, though, because I love just having to react on the spot.
"I remember doing one outside broadcast, one of the first I had done for the show, and we were filming some of the celebrations, lighting beacons, for the queen's 90th birthday. Anyway, up in the hills in Somerset, we had this 93-year-old woman ready to light the fire for us. She lit the thing, it was quite windy, and it absolutely took off. I had to drag her away from what looked like a pretty rampant inferno.
"I do think I thrive on those sort of moments – when stuff goes wrong – that's when I'm in my happy place. I enjoy the madness a bit, the sense of being unprepared and that anything can happen. It fills me with terror on the one hand and excites me on the other."
Admittedly, presenting property series Your Home Made Perfect, in which participants don virtual reality headsets to see improvements in their home that haven't happened yet, hasn't thrown up the same level of exhilarating danger – unless you count a desire to knock down a wall in her own home when she clocks off.
"That's the thing about working on this show," she reflects. "Every time I go home, I'm thinking, maybe we could move a wall here or knock a hole there... you definitely see the potential of a house differently. There's a new series coming out in October and another early next year, so it's great that the programme has been so well received.
"We have recently moved home and I'm feeling very much in the zone; the show has inspired me with all sorts of new ideas. I was filming in this amazing house yesterday that had a bath in the living room. You could watch TV, eat spaghetti and have a bath all the same time – that would be a great combo for me."
:: More at discovernorthernireland.com and discoverireland.ie/taste-the-island