When I first attended a Taste of Dublin festival in 2007 I was working for one of the exhibitors' restaurants as a relief chef. We churned out deep fried prawns, salmon-cod brochettes and Galway Bay oysters to the masses as they passed our booth.
As a result of being there for all four days I got to see a good bit of the front and back-stage operations of this yearly gathering in Iveagh Gardens.
I know we put a fair amount of food into those portions we served for €5 per serving. Add to that a €3 or €4 euro beer and it seemed to be a fair enough deal.
Scroll ahead to last weekend, 10 June actually, when I returned to Taste for a night out in Dublin.
I don't know what it cost to get into this shebang in 2007, but the base price this year (June 9-12, 2011) was €25 to get in the gate. I paid an extra €22 to become a 'VIP' visitor, bringing the total to €47, plus a booking fee.
For the extra payment one supposedly got access to an elegantly described VIP tent, a 'free' gift, a 'free' glass of champagne and a 'free' cocktail. I have to say I didn't find any of it too impressive: the VIP tent was full to the walls even before the rains started. The free gift was some sort of metal thing whose function I still haven't determined. The drinks were second rate, while they were charging a whopping €6 for a pint of beer that could not be covered by the drink tickets we were supplied.
It didn't make me feel like much of a VIP, to say the least.
Later, when heavy rains accompanied by thunder and lightning made things fairly unpleasant, the VIP tent looked like a refugee centre and drinks were basically impossible to get for tickets or money.
But that aside, there was plenty of time before the deluge began to investigate sights, sounds and beverages of this densely attended evening.
I decided on something to eat and approached a stall operated by one of Dublin's major hotels. I was sold a prawn cocktail that had just two medium prawns and a bit of greens, plus the obligatory Marie Rose sauce for €7. Two bites later and I was searching for something else to shove down my neck.
That turned out to be a Beck's beer, which surprisingly was only €4 for a pint. I had two and wandered over the to the chef's theatre.
The 'celebrity' chefs this year were mostly from Ireland, except for Atul Kochhar, Gino D'Acampo and Antony Worrell Thompson. The latter two were presenters Friday night and while I consider D'Acampo more of a clown than an interesting cook, Worrell Thompson has always seemed to make sense in his television program presentations.
I passed on D'Acampo's antics on-stage and headed for the Beck's pavilion for a refill, but I wandered back when WT did his presentation, which turned out to be pretty good. Among other things, he cooked a bacon-wrapped supreme of chicken, which looked and smelled like something I would have actually liked to eat. After his hour-long session, WT stayed around to chat with people and sign copies of his latest book, which I bought for €20 and found enjoyable when I was on the train home the next day.
Meanwhile, the rain had gotten more serious, as had my appetite. This time, I plunked down another €7 for some sort of fancy sounding beef that turned out to be three lonesome strips of meat with a sliver of sweet pepper on top. Once again, I was disappointed and left hungry.
I ought to mention that in addition to various food purveyors at this thing, there were stalls selling, among other things, hundreds of types of wine, pots and pans, barbeques, yogurt drinks and even live herb plants. As far as I could see, everything seemed more expensive than you would pay anywhere else.
I stopped and watched a chef make and then cook at pizza on a Weber barbeque, although I couldn't figure out why anyone would want to use a barby for such a task.
I headed back toward the general direction of the exit, but the rain was bucketing down and I again dodged into the VIP tent where, as I said, no one could move, let alone get a drink. There in the middle of one section near me was a drenched Worrell Thompson doing cheek-to-cheek photos with bunches of men and women.
Across from the VIP tent was a stall from a well-known restaurant selling roasted pulled pork on a bed of spicy purple cabbage. I darted over and plunked down yet another €7 and got my now expected two bites. I was starving, thirsty and had spent a fortune at this supposed gourmet food and drink tasting venue, but no amount of spending seemed to be enough to satisfy either food or beverage needs.
The rain let up as I was scooping up the last slivers of my cabbage and I headed for the exit. On the way I stopped at a booth where chef's knives were being sold. I figured there might be some hope of a bargain at an outdoor festival and inquired. No deal: the price was firm at €225 for an 8-inch German-crafted santoku knife. 'And that's a bargain,' I was informed. Bollocks.
Anyway, out the gate I headed. It's staying light here until well after 10:30 in the evening so it was still daylight and the rain was abating as I headed back toward the heart of city centre Dublin.
When I found the pub I wanted to visit impenetrably crowded, I settled for another place that was nearly empty. It had a folk singer who didn't know his chords singing a bunch of old music no one particularly wanted to hear. A pint of Heineken was €5.50.
An American tourist came to the counter next to me and got a shot of Baccardi rum and a little bottle of coke that came to €7.50. He turned to me and swore, adding, 'That's an $11 drink to me.' I told him Dublin welcomed him and appreciated his dollars, which I am not sure was true in either case.
It had been an expensive night and it was still early. I had spent a fortune. I dropped at least €100 at disTaste, €60 on a hotel room, more than €50 in bars, €20 for WT's cookbook, €22 in bus and train fares and I was still hungry. The American sipping his rum next to me would have calculated that to be about a $340 evening -- and the meter was still running.
Exiting the pub I walked up the street in search of something to eat. A glitzy restaurant 100 feet away was one of those represented at Taste of Dublin. I could have wandered in there and paid some €40 for an entre and who knows what for a beer to go along with it. I passed.
It's a shame to have to say it, but I noticed a Burger King just yards from myself at that moment. There was one customer in the place. I made it two. For €6 I got a big old Whopper, dripping mayo and tomato and some fries. When I walked out my belly was finally filled.
I wandered back in the direction I'd come and re-entered the pub I'd been in. It was right across from my accommodation that was above the bar I'd wanted to visit but couldn't get in because of the crowds.
A few more pints of Heineken and sip of Paddy whiskey and it was time to call it a night. Welcome to Dublin indeed, I snickered to myself.
In the morning, I was all too happy to forego the shopping I had planned. It's usually like this when I come here. I grabbed a Subway sambo and jumped on a train for home without a second thought.
-- Pat O'Brien