Niall Harbison struts his stuff
Niall Harbison is an Irish entrepreneur with the sort of history that someone will probably find to be good film fodder. In spite of being self-admittedly difficult to teach he worked as a chef for a Michelin-starred restaurant before touring the world as private chef to the super-rich, the likes of whom chopper in to Cannes to spend a few days chilling out on their ginormous gin palaces. Harbison went on to develop a media consultancy, Simply Zesty, which he later sold for several million Euros before setting up a simple blog called Lovin’ Dublin to promote all that’s good about the Dublin food scene. It’s now massive, boasts permanent staff and is able to sponsor awards for some of the best eateries in town. They’ve even set up an annual award for a food start-up. As if Harbo, as he’s known online, isn’t busy enough with all of the above, he’s also found the time to pen a bestseller about his success called Get Sh*t Done, not to mention creating an online image store for journalists, called Picstash. If you Google him, you’ll start to realise that what I’ve described of his life and achievements here is merely the abridged version.
Last week Harbison took Lovin’ Dublin to the people, 1200 of them or thereabouts, at the swish new Bord Gáis Energy Theatre by Dublin’s Grand Canal – a regenerated area of the city now populated by tech companies like You Tube and Google.
And so, at Lovin’ Dublin’s kind invitation, I found myself jetting across the Irish Sea to join a group of bloggers and writers from the UK at the event. Not only would we enjoy an evening of inspirational speaking at the Bord Gáis, but we’d also be introduced to some of the site’s favourite food spots.
I’ll post about the travel and food aspects of our trip later, but first to the event.
When we arrived at the theatre, the lobby was heaving with ticket-holders buying drinks and queuing up for tasty tidbits offered by the Lovin’ Dublin sponsors, alongside competitors hoping to walk away with one of the eatery awards. Heinz Ireland was a sponsor – and made sure we knew they were there by installing a huge tomato sauce bottle smack-bang next to the entrance. Apparently it took quite a lot of man-power to squeeze it through the door, which is ironic ‘cos it was a model of one of those upside-down squeezy bottles, just a heck of a lot bigger. Ah, the unexpected things that make me smile.
Upstairs a few of us made our way into the VIP bar area – blessedly under-populated, compared with the thronging ground floor we’d just left behind. There we sipped on ice-cold Jameson’s cocktails, made with ginger ale, before taking our seats in the Circle.
An Irish comedian called Al Porter compered much of the evening in his signature camp style, with a good amount of blue humour thrown in to hold our attention. Once he’d warmed us up we got underway with the inspirational speakers. They were:
- Paddy Cosgrave, mastermind behind the Dublin Web Summit and now Web Summit – Europe’s largest technology conference;
- Mark Little, Founder and CEO of Storyful, telling the tale of his move from broadcaster and news anchor to founder of the Storyful site, a social media news agency, where news can be contributed by anyone;
- Caroline Keeling, CEO of Keeling’s Fruit, who recounted her family’s success story and how they’re now selling tech they developed for their fruit business to Chinese firms;
- Jamie Heaslip, Irish rugby player, Entrepreneur and Angel Investor, giving a delightful account on where he goes in Dublin on his days off the field;
- Niall Breslin, known affectionately as ‘Bressie’, Musician and Campaigner, who spoke movingly about his battle with depression – an incredibly brave individual;
- Marco Pierre White, the chef and restaurateur, who gave a disarmingly frank synopsis of his life in food, starting with a knock at a Harrogate restaurant’s back door at the age of fifteen, asking to see the chef about a job. He hasn’t looked back and claims that out of all the cities he’s visited world-over, Dublin has shown him the most kindness;
- Niall Harbison, naturally, both explaining the story of Lovin’ Dublin and helping to interview the guests;
- but above all, I take my hat off to Mark Pollock, the blind paraplegic who is working on a cure for paralysis. This man is the embodiment of courage. Once upon a time Pollock had both sight and the use of his legs, but a double dose of misfortune has taken both from him. Does he complain? No. He’s determined that we will soon see a cure for paralysis, developed by medics and chemists and tech experts and creatives working together. As he puts it, recently he was able to walk every day for a month, with the aid of a technological brace and certain drugs. But because this so-called experiment hasn’t been observed by the right people, the breakthrough is not yet acknowledged. With Pollock’s brand of will-power and a team coming together at Trinity College to work with him on this project, I am absolutely certain he will succeed. His story has recently been released in documentary form in Ireland, aptly entitled Unbreakable. The film is next off to tour festivals like Sundance and hopefully it’ll be on general release before too long.
Marco Pierre White sharing with Harbo
MPW Mark Pollock now and back when he was a medal-winning rower
At the end of the evening, the winners of the various Dublin eatery categories were announced and the best start-up prize, totalling €25,000.00, was awarded to Nobo, a non-dairy ice cream with avocado base. (The Mystic Meg in me sees Hollywood celebs in Nobo’s future.)
So there ended the inaugural Lovin’ Dublin Live event. It’s set to be an annual fixture. I just wonder who’ll pop up on the 2015 programme?
As for our group, the day in Dublin was not yet over. We were piled into a green double-decker party bus and driven to the after-party at trendy Sam’s Bar, for yet more Jameson’s and ginger ale.
I was invited to Dublin by Lovin’ Dublin, with help from www.visitdublin.com
and the Lovin’ Dublin Live sponsors: obrienswine.ie, Heinz Ireland and SuperValu supermarkets.