This week, in our Friends of The Happy Pear series, we catch up with food and travel blogging duo, Patrick Hanlon and Russell James Alford, aka the GastroGays. Having both worked in London for the past decade, the couple have recently returned home to Ireland, to pursue their hit blog on a full-time basis. We chatted with the guys about life behind-the-scenes of their blog, their travel experiences, and of course, food!
Where did you both get your love of food and travel?
We’ve been together seven years or so, and we hit it off instantly because of our shared love of food and travel. We often say we’re inseparable and insufferable, in equal measure, because we’re so alike! However, we didn’t grow up pulling at apron strings, or being taught by our grannies how to cook, and we weren’t globe-trotting toddlers either! Our cookery skills are totally self-taught and they came about from swimming in cookery books, being absorbed in foodie TV shows, and pouring over magazines and books about food. We just have this joint voracious appetite for food and produce, and love nothing more than getting in the kitchen and experimenting. Naturally, food and travel go hand in hand, so when we travel, we bring a size bigger in clothes and eat our way around every destination!
Tell us about how GastroGays began, and how the blog has evolved over the years?
GastroGays began as a hashtag, which a few friends might remember but lots probably aren’t aware of! So when people proclaim that anyone can start a blog, it’s true. You literally can start one from nothing, and from the bare seed of an idea, grow it into something unique and special. We were living in Dublin in 2013, and frustrated that we weren’t making the most of the food scene in the city, which was right on our doorstep. We made a plan to really explore the food and drink scene in the city, and brought our personal friends and followers along on the journey, using the hashtag #GastroGays, when we tried somewhere new. Pretty quickly, it got attention, and we knew we couldn’t give up this catchy name, so we went about buying a domain and started a blog, to allow us to have a permanent space to share our foodie adventures in Dublin.
However, pretty quickly after that, our work circumstances changed, and we had felt that emigration was on the horizon for a while, so we upped sticks and moved to London. We thought the blog would totally suffer in transit and flop in a new location but the opposite happened. Everyone was so interested in how we were going to navigate the food-filled jungle that is London, that we quickly grew and grew and grew. Soon, the blog became more about our lives through food, rather than documenting or reviewing places to eat and drink. The blog blossomed into a collection of our own recipes, food features on restaurants, bars, markets and producers that we love, articles on food trends, and opinion pieces, as well as lots of food-led travel features and ’48 Hours In’ travel guides to different destinations! The rest is history really, and we’ve been writing the blog now for almost five years!
You are both now working full-time on GastroGays – what is life like as full-time bloggers?
We’ve only recently jumped into focusing on GastroGays full-time, so not quite all of our income comes from the blog itself. We do have to seriously supplement our income with other ventures and freelance work respectively, but it’s exciting turning this into a business. It’s definitely not all glam and fun. We’re chained to our emails and laptops 24/7, and we’re truly always ‘on’; from the second we wake up, to the late hour that we eventually flop into bed. No one is handing us opportunities willy-nilly, no one is guiding us along, and no one is sponsoring us, as we take the leap into self-employment. We’re constantly grafting to make a name, pave our way, and earn from our skills and talent – that’s a side that people so often neglect with what we do. It looks all shiny and perfect, but there’s so, so much work under the surface that needs to be done – even before anyone sees a blog feature or Instagram post. It’s hard graft and it’s a pocket that’s growing, so there are a lot of grey areas, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. We love working together and on our own terms, finally!
What is your advice for those looking to start a blog?
Start it! As we explained, our blog came from a quirky, catchy name that we needed to turn into something even more interesting as a permanent space but also as a portfolio of our work. We’re journalists, we’re writers, and we’re trained in so many aspects of the media (we met in DCU, whilst both undergoing media degrees), so it’s also a great way to showcase your craft – whether that’s fashion styling, photography, writing, graphic design, whatever. It’s your personal space and your corner of the internet to do what you like, and that’s really empowering and inspiring. We graduated right when the recession was at its worst, and we couldn’t get proper careers in the media in Ireland, but now our blog has paved a path uniquely for us. So our advice is to get out there and start a blog, but bring something new to the table and make it honestly yours; a true reflection of who you are and what your passion is. The rest will fall into place over time. The other thing to advise anyone thinking of starting a blog, is to understand that it takes time. Do it for the passion and love of writing and sharing – there are many who get into it for the free stuff, and believe us, there is no such thing as a free meal!
Where has been your favourite place to travel to?
We have a special affection for Brussels, Stockholm, and Lisbon. They are all capitals of countries we adore and love exploring. In terms of lesser explored areas, we love Montenegro, and Iceland is a once in a lifetime (at least) trip that everyone has to make! We love the Eurovision Song Contest and we travel to the hosting city/country every year. We were blown away by Kyiv as a destination in 2016. Put it on your list, people! On home soil, we live in the Boyne Valley, around Louth/Meath. It’s such a worthwhile area for people to visit and it’s part of ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’ – it’s also packed full of food producers!
Do you have any funny or memorable moments from all your travels that you can share with us?
You recently moved back to Ireland from London, have you noticed a change in the Irish foodie scene since you’ve returned?
We’ve been asked to compare London and Dublin all the time and it’s difficult, because they are two totally different beasts. However, what we can do, is compare the Dublin we left in 2013, to the Dublin we returned to in 2017. Obviously, we took lots of trips home during that time, and because of the nature of our blog, we kept a firm finger on the pulse of the Dublin scene, but it has totally transformed. Food-wise, Irish produce now punctuates every menu, and any restaurant worth its salt is really keen on sourcing local and championing all things Irish, which is so wonderful to see. So many new bars, craft breweries and pop-ups have enriched the food scene in Dublin too. People our age are passionate about going out to eat, trying the latest brunch place, or seriously enjoying a glass or two of a fine Irish gin or well-made craft beer, instead of chugging cheap shots in dingy clubs. There’s been a real foodie renaissance in the city and in Ireland as a whole. We couldn’t resist being away from it any longer, it drew us back home, and we’re still loving reacquainting ourselves with the city and catching up on everything we’ve missed! If there was one thing we’d love to bring over from London, it’s the market and street food scene – something Dublin just hasn’t got yet.
What is it like working together as a couple?
We were just talking about this last night, and it’s funny actually, because the way we work at times can be the complete opposite of one another. We think if we were too similar, we wouldn’t have such variety in our work – we challenge each other often, which inspires us to create content that’s the very best it could be. No one knows our brand like us, no one knows either of us like we know each other, and we couldn’t do this with anyone else but each other. It’s like David and Stephen; they work naturally together and it all just fits!
What are your favourite dishes to cook?
Our recipes are always about embracing every ingredient, and we love to make food that’s comforting and indulgent, with nothing being off-limits, while at the same time, keeping in mind moderation and balance too. We eat pretty much anything and everything, and we don’t hold back on a bit of butter, a deep-friend onion ring, or that extra slice of cake. Food is joy for us and we want to share that. Some of our favourite dishes are anything to do with buttermilk and chicken; they’re just a match made in heaven! On the lighter side, we love cooking our Thai turkey laab with broccoli rice, whilst one of our favourite new recipes is a spiced, baked whole head of cauliflower drizzled with pesto, yoghurt, harissa oil, almonds and pomegranates. Incredible!
Do you have predictions for foodie trends of the future?
Obviously, plant-based eating is big business right now, and it’s the thing on everyone’s lips. We think it’s wonderful that vegetables are being championed more and that people are more conscious about meat; where it comes from, and also about eating too much of it. Trends come and go, but, at the end of the day, food has to be delicious to survive!
Who inspires you in the foodie world and why?
We both grew up listening to Nigella Lawson wax lyrical about the pleasures of food, and that’s stayed with us throughout our lives so far. She is exactly the style of home cook that we are. We share her casual, convivial and celebratory style of cooking, and we just love the way she writes about food. She’s our real food hero. In terms of how we cook, we love the likes of Nigel Slater, who can rustle up the most incredible dishes from nothing, all in mere minutes. Donal Skehan has always been a great friend to us and someone we really look up to. We love the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten’s, no-holds-barred-style of cooking when it comes to indulgence. She’s incredibly accurate with flavour, and getting the best from simple ingredients, by treating them properly. We get inspiration from everywhere and that’s the beauty. We dabble a little in everyone’s foodie ethos and can find amazing inspiration from even the most unlikely of places!
What’s next for the Gastro Gays?
We were recently named ‘Ireland’s Blog of the Year’, at the V by Very Blog Awards Ireland 2017, so we’re still on a high from that! It’s all systems go for next year; to prove ourselves as worthy recipients. We have lots more blog content in the pipeline, and we’re really amping up our effort to impress everyone and outdo ourselves. We’ll be popping up, as usual, every month on TV3’s Six O’Clock Show; so if you’re looking out for David and Stephen on the show, keep an eye out for us too! We will also be travelling around the country, demonstrating, hosting, and speaking at food festivals and events throughout the year, all the while, as we work away on our very first cookbook – the idea we had in our minds for several years! We’ll also be travelling lots more (we also won ‘Ireland’s Best Travel Blog’ at the V by Very Blog Awards Ireland 2017!) to destinations across Europe, and even further afield; so keep an eye out for foodie travel inspiration on gastrogays.com! And, of course, we’ll be visiting Lisbon in May, for Eurovision, and sharing with our followers our love and passion for it!
Now for our quick fire round of questions! Where we grill our guests on a variety of topics to get to know them a little more!..
Our Happy Pear Happy Hummus or Sweet Beet Hummus?
What is your coffee order?
If you were a fruit or vegetable what would you be?
Well, we can’t choose pears (of course!) so let’s go with potato! Yes, we can be known as ‘The Happy Potatoes’!
Our Happy Pear Country Veg soup or Tomato Red Pepper and Basil Soup?
We love a tomato soup! We actually went to a tomato farm in Iceland and ate a three-course meal based on tomatoes – check it out on our blog!
Do you have a nickname?
Oh, we’ve heard them all! Usually people just nickname us ‘The GGs’!
What is the one thing you can’t live without?
Food – and each other – of course!
How do you like to eat our Nuts about Choc spread?
We love really thick Belgian waffles, and spreading it on top of those is akin to food heaven, if you’re asking us! A waffle maker is a really great investment, we love ours.
What is your greatest fear?
Not fulfilling what we’re destined to do.
Our Happy Pear Tiffin Bar, Raw Energy Bar or Chia Mulberry Bar?
It’s got to be the Tiffin bar!
What is the strangest thing you have ever eaten?
We’ve eaten all sorts – eel, kangaroo, and many more lesser-spotted menu items – but one of our favourite things to eat is shellfish, especially razor clams and oysters. Not for the faint-hearted, we know! The oddest dish was probably reindeer heart with lingonberry in Ekstedt, Stockholm!
Describe yourselves in three words.
Ambitious, passionate, and feeders!
Are you morning or night people?
We are definitely night people! You’ll usually find us in the corner of bar, cradling a large G&T and working through our emails! We’ll have it with a slice of grapefruit, thanks!