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17 December 2007

Surviving Christmas

The symptoms are hypertension and, most likely, affluenza.

The condition is known as Christmas Dinner.

You know the Christmas dinner. It’s the meal when the CEO is expected to miraculously morph into the CHEF without anyone noticing, having already bought all the appropriate gifts for everyone at the appropriately enormous expense and wrapped them in the appropriately deluxe gift wrap.

It’s the meal for which Delia Smith once famously – and terrifyingly – gave an hour-by-hour countdown as to exactly what you should be doing for The Last 36 Hours coming up to the meal.
36 hours! What is it about Christmas Dinner that brings out the inner fascist in food writers? Do this, now. You should have done that a long time ago. Don’t do that. Oh dear, isn’t it a bit late to be doing that now?
Mrs Smith’s preposterous mortification ritual deserves only to be satirised, but sadly no one dares. We are too busy worrying whether or not we have done the right thing at the right time to pour appropriate scorn on the idea of someone telling us what to do in the kitchen for 36 hours.

And it’s spreading. I was recently sent a shiny copy of “Renault Living” and there, on page 34, amidst all the vroomy new models for ’08, are two pages bravely entitled “The Christmas Cooking Countdown”.

According to this piece of eminent advice, I am already in deep doodoo, because I did not remember, in the week beginning November 19th “that the freezer is your friend”. Darn! How could I have forgotten that, especially in the week beginning November 19th! If only John Gormley had organized a “Remember the Freezer is your Friend Day“ on the week beginning November 19th, then I would have remembered, and all would be well.

Still, I can always play catch up. “Renault Living” advises that I get out of bed at 7.30 am on Christmas morning to switch the oven on to 180c/Gas Mark 4. 7.30am. Christmas morning? Hmmm…

At least in the 'States they know what to do when someone rolls out advice in this fashion, as these mickey-taking gems spoofing Martha Stewart’s schoolmarmey style show:

December 2: Have Mormon Tabernacle Choir record outgoing Christmas message for answering machine.

December 4: Repaint Sistine Chapel ceiling in ecru, with mocha trim.

December 13: Collect Dentures. They make excellent pastry cutters, particularly for decorative pie crusts.

December 17: Child proof the Christmas tree with garland of razor wire.

December 20: Dip sheep and cows in egg whites and roll in confectioner's sugar to add a festive sparkle to the pasture.

December 25: Bear son. Swaddle. Lay in colour co-ordinated manger scented with homemade potpourri.

You know the Christmas Dinner. It’s the meal that is supposed to be Perfect. Capital P. Painted by Norman Rockwell, script by Richard Curtis. Sickly sweet? That’ll do nicely.

The reality, of course, is less Rockwell & Curtis, and more Horrid Henry:

Henry waited. And waited. And waited.

“When’s lunch?” asked Polly

When’s lunch?” asked Paul.

When’s lunch?” asked Peter.

“As soon as the turkey is cooked”, said Dad. He peeked into the oven. He poked the turkey. Then he went pale.

“It’s hardly cooked,” he whispered.

“Check the temperature,” said Granny.

Dad checked.

“Oops,” said Dad.

“Never mind, we can start with the sprouts,” said Mum cheerfully.

“That’s not the right way to do sprouts,” said Granny. “You’re peeling too many of the leaves off.”

Is it any wonder that Francesca Simon’s superb Horrid Henry stories are the favourites of every 8-year-old you know? Kids love the unvarnished truth, and “Horrid Henry’s Christmas Lunch” is nothing but the truth. Disaster, writ large, coming soon to a house you know.
So, for the sake of our health, and to avoid that hypertension, what on earth can be done to banish the tension from the Christmas Dinner? Is there any sort of level-headed advice that will help us to survive the ordeal?

Well, start with this:

“We toyed with the idea of ringing a dainty silver bell to announce the start of our feast. In the end, we chose to keep our traditional method. We've also decided against a formal seating arrangement. When the smoke alarm sounds, please gather around the table and sit where you like.”
That’s right. Christmas should mean fun, not stress. The meal is about enjoyment, not endurance. If the meal has a tendency to bring out your inner fascist, then introduce that inner fascist to a glass of mulled wine quickly and tell him to calm down and stop missing the point.

The food is meant to be delicious, and not a demonstration. Be lazy, and buy as much of it ready-prepared as you can. Ireland is full of talented food creators who make sublime cakes, puddings, chutneys, relishes, sweet things and much else, so why on earth should you do what they can do much better?

Above all, don’t think that the Christmas meal has to be Perfect. It has to be about sharing food and breaking bread, not breaking your ass worrying whether everything is picture-postcard-perfect, all the way from the smoked salmon through to the bird and on to the pud.

Above all, ask yourself why the leftovers of the Christmas meal always taste better later that night, or the next day, when you trawl a roast spud through some bread sauce, or throw some strips of smoked salmon into a blue cheese dressing to have with pasta. The answer, I think, is because then you are simply enjoying the food for what it is, rather than for what it represents in some unattainable ideal of Christmas perfection.

And never forget that young people loathe brussels sprouts.

04 December 2007

Bad Habits

You read it, and want to weep.

“Ireland’s meteoric rise in economic strength is one to be applauded but given these stated behaviours one would have to wonder if it is at the expense of its workers, whereby commuting time, deadlines and other pressures are creating unhealthy and unsustainable food habits in its working community”.

And just what are the “stated behaviours” that Irish people confessed to Amarach Consulting as it carried out its second Food Futures Survey? In what ways are we nurturing “unhealthy and unsustainable” food habits in our working community?

Well, like all dedicated people, we start early: one in four adults in Ireland regularly skip breakfast.

Then, to prove our determination, we go on as we began: one in five adults often skip lunch.

And, at the close of day, we demonstrate admirable consistency: for dinner, 13% of the 1,000 people surveyed enjoy a resplendent fast food meal. You want fries with that?

But sure, if the other four out of five are having breakfast, isn’t that grand? Well, no: one out of every two of us who are buying our breakfast away from home are having a breakfast roll.
The Irish Breakfast Roll. The Full Catastrophe. A heart attack in a bap.

And for lunch, those who do manage to get some time are turning increasingly to the fine food on offer in supermarkets and convenience stores, where our spend has almost doubled since the first Food Futures Survey in 2005. What are we scooping up? White bread ham sandwich with coleslaw for him, brown bread sandwich with chicken and coleslaw for her. We are also spending more on food in petrol station shops. Forget meat and two veg: think Maxol.

“As uncovered in our last report there has been a food revolution in Ireland and the patterns borne from these food revolts seem more embedded in the Irish market on this occasion”, Amarach say.

A revolution? I can remember when revolutions promised to make things better. Surely what we are witnessing is more of a coup d’etat? A culinary coup d’etat, a violent revolt against the established order. A brave new world, of eating badly.

Actually, the conclusions of the Amarch report aren’t as bad as it might first seem. They suggest that we are consuming much more food out of the home, which is no surprise. And they assert that we are offloading our desires for healthy food onto the catering profession because we are confused about what is healthy and don’t have enough time to think about it, both conclusions that are surely meat and drink to ARAMARK./Campbell Catering who commissioned the reports, and who already feed 250,000 people in Ireland each day.

So, is the nation once more off to hell in a handcart because Daddy doesn’t come home from the office for a three-course lunch each day the way Grandad did? Or, are we just becoming more like other industrialized nations in our habits, but simply making many mistakes along the road to eating out, creating bad habits where we could be creating good habits?

If you suggested to a member of the gastronomically aristocratic nations of the world – Italians, Spaniards, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, French, Indian – that eating out frequently during the course of the week was something that would inevitably mean no more than a breakfast roll in a petrol station and a ham sandwich in a convenience store, then they would laugh at you.

The man from Mumbai would point to the elegance and sophistication of their extraordinary tiffin culture, where tens of millions of lunches are delivered into Indian cities at lunchtime every day, the shimmy metal containers packed with rice and dahl and pickles.

The man from San Sebastian would point to the brilliance of their pintxos, savoury snacks on thin slices of fresh bread which are prepared and served in every bar, and which are distinguished by their culinary brilliance.

The salary man from Hiroshima would tell you that on the way to work he grabbed a quick bowl of oden – a hotpot of different ingredients cooked in dashi stock – at a yatai, a portable vending stall set up on the pavement. Then he grabbed a bento box from a take-away bento shop for his lunch, packed with rice, pickles, fish and much more.

The man from Lyon, feeling the need for a toasted cheese sandwich, will have it created for him as a croque monsieur, the toastie as art.

What is important about these great culinary cultures is that they don’t make any compromises. Food in public places – whether it is a tachigui sobaya serving soba noodles in a Tokyo train station, or a pizzeria in Naples – is expected to be both delicious, and healthy, made freshly from fresh ingredients.

Our culinary culture, on the other hand, seems to be happy to demand high quality for special occasion eating – going to a good restaurant on a Saturday night – whilst being content to eat unimaginative and unhealthy food from Monday to Friday because we are too busy working.

We seem to think we can put our health on hold whilst we get on with serving the economy. Our food becomes nothing but fuel to keep us going, but the problem is that we are putting low-grade fuel into the only motor we are ever going to really need: our bodies. I mean, just how many hours ago was that sandwich you are buying actually prepared?

There are, however, positive signs that smart operators are taking up the slack, and are making smart money by filling the gap that so yawningly exists in the market for healthy, quickly served, daily food.

Anyone who works near to an Avoca Handweavers store, for instance, need make no compromise when it comes to lunch. If you are close to the URRU stores in Bandon or Mallow, then the sandwich selection is a food lover’s dream: my favourite is Ummera smoked chicken with gherkins on Arbutus artisan bread, with a bottle of Ballycross apple juice to go. From Sheridan’s to Aya, from Real Gourmet Burger to Sushi King, from Soup Dragon to Matthew’s Cheese Cellar, there is a band of dedicated food providers who already make the sort of healthy food we need to get through the day at our best.

And the issue isn’t just one for stressed employees. Employers, too, need to ask if they are collaborating with or assisting employees to make sure the latter are at their best during working hours.

Yet the question of food choices is a grey, unexplored area for us in Ireland. “Try to think of a politician whose prospects have been damaged by revelations about what he or she eats”, ask Peter Singer and Jim Mason in their book “The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter”. We don’t concern ourselves with what our politicians eat, though we should. Similarly, HR might be concerning themselves with the guy in IT who comes in with the smell of drink on his breath. But what about the guy who just ate a breakfast roll in the car on the way to the office, and who had a Coke with it. Is he, still in the midst of a saturated fat-and-sugar jag, ready to be trusted with something complicated?

But the brightest hope, perhaps, lies within that darkest zone: the Breakfast Roll. Simon Rudd, of Prue & Simon’s, an award-winning specialist pork company from County Offaly who produce splendidly fine rashers, sausages and other interesting artisan foods, is working with the Fresh chain of groovy supermarkets in Dublin to create a Prue & Simon Breakfast Roll, served with a special RAP sauce. “The Prue & Simon roll will have 2 dry-cured rashers, an 80% pork sausage and our own black and white puddings, with the rap sauce”, says Simon Rudd.

The plan is to introduce the Prue & Simon breakfast roll initially in the Smithfield branch of Fresh, before it makes its way to all the Dublin outlets. As a means of turning bad food habits into good food habits, this sees to be just the sort of food revolution we really need.

21 November 2007

The Limerick Food Bloggers & 101 Talbot

Keen readers of the new Bridgestone Guide will have noticed that Valerie O'Connor is one of our contributing editors. But you may not have known that Valerie first came to our notice thanks to her sharply opinionated and funny writing on her blog,

And, now that Valerie has relocated back to her native Limerick, it turns out she has joined up with the most bloggerful group of food lovers you can find anywhere: The Limerick Food Bloggers. Check these guys out:

I finally met up with the Limerick bloggers for dinner during the week at Copper & Spice in Cornmarket Square. The food was fine as always, but, to be honest we could have just as easily gone to the pub, we just yakked and yakked, like women do, for hours. We left only because they were closing down the shutters. Mary T is gone to Oz for six months, Maz from Style Treaty was great to chat to, it was great to put a face to Lorraine from the Italian Foodies and Laura I already know.

But it isn't all Shannonside stuff for Valerie. Here is her report of a tremendous Saturday night in Dublin's iconic 101 Talbot.

When I called the 101 to make a booking I told Pascal, who took the call, that I had a choice between his restaurant and my friend's choice of Eden in Temple Bar. He chirpily told me that Eden was a fancier restaurant and that his wife Margaret goes there when she's off work. He also added that the food in 101 was "Good and reasonable and that the place had a great atmosphere". He went on to lament the fact that they hadn't spent any money doing it up since they opened seventeen years ago and that it could do with a bit of an update. I was in and intrigued.

When this place was opened back in the darkness of the early 90s Dublin was not the shining economic light that it is now. Surely they had no idea their place would be situated right beside the controversial "Spike" on O'Connell St, but it makes it easier to find as all you can see from the street is a little sign. You go up a simple staircase and open the door on what seems like the best party in town. The place is packed with diners chatting loudly and passionately and, it seems, enjoying their food heartily.

Yes the décor is basic; it's a throwback to the 90's when there was no style at all. The amphitheatre or disco layout of a drop in the middle of the floor breaks up the busy crowd. An exhibition of busy oil paintings of Dublin street scenes is crammed onto the walls; they even hang over the mirrors. It's feels like a proper city place, full of life. The tables and chairs are chosen for functionality and even the glasses are those small wine glasses you had in your college flat. The staff are young and funky with nothing but enthusiasm for the food. If they don't know something they will quickly find it out from someone who does.

The menu is generous with the staples of sirloin steak with garlic butter or whiskey cream sauce, slow roast shoulder of lamb, goat's cheese salad and more adventurous-than-usual sounding veggie options. I had pathetic intentions of having a light meal but chose the Crispy Pork Belly wrapped in Savoy Cabbage served with a plum and ginger sauce as my starter. It was a joy to behold on the plate. A perfect round mould was created from the bright green cabbage leaf, the pig was inside, and it sat contentedly in a bright pink pool of its sauce, like a pig in sauce. When I cut into it the cabbage still had plenty of bite, it and the pork were warm, and the pork was a little crispy and shredded into chunks. The cold sauce contrasted well with the meat and the vegetable to give a great contrast of flavours and textures, with a fruity almost oriental twist.

My date's choice (rather my second choice) of starter was the warm duck liver salad with roast pine-nut and balsamic dressing. The livers were very rare and deliciously tender, almost runny in the middle; I ate most of them as Date was a bit squeamish. The accompanying salad was a bit unimaginative but everything in it was fine and it worked with the livers, which don't need much dressing up anyway.

For mains I chose the char-grilled swordfish with smoked garlic and chilli butter. I was asked how I'd like it cooked, I went for medium. It came served simply on a bed of roasted baby new potatoes with its butter running down its sides. It was juicy and delicious, falling apart at the touch of my fork. The smoked garlic butter had none of the usual tang of garlic butter and didn't murder the fish's delicate flavours. My bowl of side salad was pretty standard with cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce. The star of the show was the date's main of Pan Roast venison served with sautéed bacon and cabbage and redcurrant jus. The venison, cooked to medium, was melt in the mouth and so rich. It's dark red colour with pink centre oozed sexiness on the plate, enhanced by the fruity, heady jus. The bed of bacon and cabbage sounded strange but the cabbage was finely shredded and barely sweated with the smoked bacon to make an unusual but uplifting marriage to the meat.

The wine list was very reasonably priced from €22 to €32 for the most expensive. I don't drink white but often choose the fish and the server suggested the Sardinian Bombarde which was light enough for the dish but still held up well to the rich meaty ones.

Though the Date insisted he couldn't manage desert after all the rich food I told him he had to, it was part of the brief. He chose the dark chocolate cheesecake with strawberries while I had the fool of blueberries over blackberry compote. The cheesecake was one of those ones that make you cry, it was so rich and dense it almost crumbled. Strawberries peeked out from its insides and oohs and aahs could be heard from other diners in the same state of bliss who had ordered it. My fool was light and fluffy and came in one of the little wine glasses; it looked like something from a Marguerite Patten cookery card. It was good to eat something a bit lighter than the rest of what we'd indulged in, though I must admit that I had most of the cheesecake too.

We were so full we had to have brandies and coffees. Lots of diners were lingering over pints of Guinness and drinks. It seems you can have your whole night out here and never get flung out.

The meal for us both came to €124.00 including beer, wine and brandies (well it was Saturday…)

101 Talbot, 101 Talbot Street, Dublin 1
Tel: 01 874 5011

Restaurant Review: Bon Appetit, Malahide, Co Dublin

Oliver Dunne is making his mark in Malahide. Caroline Byrne has a thoroughly wonderful time.

Restaurant Bon Appetit is a totally different affair from its bistro style counterpart, Café Bon, downstairs. In its classic style, the manner of its front of house and most of all its food, Oliver Dunne demonstrates his deep understanding of what a fine dining experience is. To begin with we enjoyed a glass of wine in the bar, ascending to the dining room when we were ready. Our host was gracious and never attempted to hurry us in spite of the fact that we were running a little late. The room upstairs is elegant, combining classic and modern elements to create a stylish yet comfortable space. The only thing detracting from the ambiance was the choice of background music that seemed very out of place and bordered on being too loud. Once seated our drinks were returned to us, the menus were distributed along with the ample wine list and we were left to make our selections.

Looking through the repertoire of classical French dishes, there was plenty of the current season in evidence. Irish new season lamb, beetroot, a range of woodland mushrooms, roasted hazel nuts and a variety of game made for tempting options. We chose boudain of skate and braised pork belly with girole purée and crispy capers, and roast breast of quail and confit legs with red onion purée to start. After we'd chosen the mains I selected a bottle of Meursault Côtes de Beaune, Faiveley 1989 but then, on recommendation from the sommelier, I switched to the 1997 Moray, also Côtes de Beaune, for that extra bit of weight. This proved to be very good advice and there was no difference in price. After a palate cleanser of sparkling apple with elderflower foam we were treated to a little amuse bouche - a boudain of confit rabbit with beetroot puree and roast artichoke dressed with a balsamic reduction - a delicious morsel to whet our appetites for what was about to come.

The starters were perfect. Each plate was elegantly composed to place emphasis on the many combinations of flavours and textures that comprised each dish. The fatness of succulent pork belly and creamy girole purée was cut by the sharpness of the capers, and on the other side of the plate, meaty skate combined girole purée, or a bite of crisp, salty pork crackling created a completely different experience.

Our main courses, the slow cooked rack of new season lamb and braised shoulder with rosemary jus and creamed potato, and pan fried Dover sole in a red wine sauce with fondant potato, were equally good. This time the main ingredient of the dish took centre stage. Both the lamb and the fish were cooked to perfection and neither meal was overcomplicated, containing a perfect balance of flavour and well judged portions.

Once the empty plates had been cleared away we were offered an interesting pre-dessert of passion fruit purée and Szechuan pepper foam on top of white chocolate crème anglais, followed by the main desserts - coconut parfait and caramelized pineapple, accompanied by whiskey crème anglais and coffee ice cream served on the side, and 'apple assiette' which was accompanied by a glass of apple juice and elderflower foam. Whilst all was delicious we did feel that the 'sidecar' elements of this course were unnecessary and contributed little to their respective dishes.

We finished dinner with a selection of French cheeses with which I opted to have a glass of Sandeman 1977. This was a perfect end to a perfect evening - my only criticism is of the lack of Irish cheese included in their selection. It may be a French restaurant but that's no reason to ignore our own excellent products. The entire bill came to €274 which we felt was a fair price for a fantastic dining experience. This is an exceptional restaurant.


Kennedy's Food Store in Fairview

Out in deepest Fairview, Sarah Kennedy is doing the Good Thing. Leslie Williams catches up with the Fairest of Fairview, a shop/deli/restaurant that every neighborhood should have at the centre of its culinary culture.

Kennedy's Food Store in Fairview is the kind of food shop/deli/cafe which planners should require builders and developers to provide along with schools and libraries in new housing estates. Every community needs a place to go for home made brown bread for breakfast, sandwiches and home made soup at lunchtime and maybe a cheap meal and a glass of wine when you come home from the office wrecked at 8pm and can't face the kitchen - oh and the meal should cost around a tenner.

Kennedy's does all this and you can also pick up some decent chocolate and a bottle of wine to guzzle in front of the TV when you get home. Almost all the food is home cooked and that which is not is sourced well from the likes of Maison des Gourmets for bread and ham from Hicks. All food served is cooked from first principles using essentially the same principles as you would use at home. Eggs and chickens are free range and the ham and beef for sandwiches is cooked on the premises.

The dinner special on the evening I visited was Lasagne, Salad and a glass of wine for 9.95 but I opted for the Pork and Leek Sausages in a Lyonnaise sauce with roast potatoes (9.95) and a glass of Hungarian Bulls Blood. This was simple fare but tasty nonetheless with good quality sausages from Morrisseys of Wexford Street. For dessert I had a slice of triple layered chocolate cake that was a little dryer than I would have liked but the ample layers of chocolate ganache filling more than compensated. Add a cup of Americano coffee and a bar of Green and Blacks to eat on the way home and the bill came to a very reasonable €21.35.

So lets get lobbying to have the planning laws changed so we can all get a place like this near us!

Kennedy's Food Store
5 Fairview Strand, Dublin 3
Tel: 01 833 1400
Opening Times: Mon-Fri: 7.30am-9pm, Sat- 9am-6pm, Sun- 10am-4pm

Tell us about your favourite local deli heaven.

Cookery Book: Good Things by Jane Grigson

Ann Dolamore is the sharpest food publisher on the block. She has a habit of snatching up neglected classics and turning them into smart new editions for her company, Grub Street, and her new edition of Jane Grigson's "Good Things" is one of the nicest reprints she has ever done.

All of the late Mrs Grigson's books are cherishable, but GT is perhaps the most personal of all her works, and all the better for it. There is a chapter on prunes. There is a chapter on chicory. There is a chapter on sweetbreads. Throughout there is wisdom and learning, lightly displayed and despatched.

Here is a typically charming recipe from this precious volume, and one that has become a kitchen classic.

Curried Parsnip Soup
3oz butterlarge parsnip
4oz chopped onion
1 clove garlic, crushed
tablespoon flour
rounded teaspoon curry powder
2 pints hot beef stock
quarter pint cream

Peel and dice the parsnip. Put the onion, parsnip and garlic into a heavy pan with the butter and cook for 10 minutes slowly with the lid on the pan. The vegetables must not brown, but gently absorb the butter. Add flour and curry powder to take up the fat, and gradually incorporate the hot beef stock. Simmer until the parsnip is cooked. Liquidize or push through the mouli-legumes. Return to the pan, correct seasoning with salt, pepper and a little more curry powder if liked (but be cautious: keep the flavour mild.) Add the cream and a spinkling of choppedchives. Serve with croutons of bread fried in butter and oil.

Note: Liquidized soup may need the further dilution of some extra stock, or some creamy milk.

Cookery Book: Cook Simple by Diana Henry

Megabytes has often praised the work of Diana Henry, especially her classic first book, "Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons". Somehow, as well as writing for The Sunday Telegraph. Ms Henry is managing a cookery book each year, and her latest is another beauty. "Cook Simple" borrows it's name from Escoffier's dictum, "Faites Simple", and takes the idea of simple cooking to deliciously logical extremes.

The chapters are divided up into menu mainstays - Chicken; Chops; Sausages; Leg of Lamb; Fish; Pasta; Leaves and Herbs - and so on, and the imprimatur is that the dishes involve the minimum amount of work, of which the opening recipe, Pacific Lime Chicken, gives a classic example. "A recipe, from a café in Hawaii, which I have been cooking for years. There's practically no cooking, but everyone loves this dish…" Diana writes.

Another smart, friendly book that will be dog-eared and stain-splattered before you know it.
Mitchell Beazley £20stg.

What cookery book has made a huge difference to your Monday to Friday cooking?

Cookery Book: "Cooking by Hand" by Paul Bertolli

When did you last come across a cookery book that had been conceived and executed as a work of art? Today, the majority of successful cookery books are works of pure commerce: Nigella, having done Feast, must now deliver Fast, because what else can constitute a framework for the next television series? Jamie, having delivered the Cookery Bible (the big book!) must now do The Good Life, because what else can constitute a framework for the next television series?

It wasn't always like this. The greatest cookery Books - Simple French Food by Richard Olney; A Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden; Honey From a Weed by Patience Gray, to name just three - are self-consciously Works of Art, as well as supremely useful cookery books which grant you recipes for your lifetime.

Books by Marcella Hazan, Jane Grigson, Alice Waters and Elizabeth David are designed not simply to be practical, but also to convey the aesthetic of their subject. They are, very decisively, not books of their moment: they are books of their generation, if not indeed of their century.
So, where might you go looking today for something as fine as these great classics. Well, finding a conduit through Alice Waters and her supreme aesthetic is a good place to start. It was whilst reading an article on Chez Panisse alumni -folk like Steve Sullivan of Acme Bakery, Mary Jo Thorensen of Jojo, and Paul Bertolli, former head chef for a decade who moved on to Oliveto restaurant and who has now set up his own specialist salami company, Fra'Mani - that we looked up Mr Bertolli's site and discovered a 2003 cookery book, "Cooking by Hand", that had never been printed here. Having got our hands on a copy, published by Clarkson Potter, it shows what a shame it is that in this age of commerce a brilliant, exceptional book such as this doesn't cross the Atlantic.

"Cooking By Hand" is the cookery book as art. That's not to say it's a big, glossy tome like The French Laundry Cookbook: it isn't. It's almost exclusively in black and white, with just a few colour photographs. But Bertolli's obsessions - tomatoes, charcuterie; pasta, balsamic vinegar - are treated here as subjects to be teased and explored, executed and considered, and to be written about is stunning aphoristic prose:

The trouble with cooking begins when you decide to take it seriously. This raises the question: 'What does seriously good cooking mean I must do?'. As long as I have been cooking in earnest, this question has led me down trails full of circles and switchbacks, sometimes taking me directly into the brambles. And the learning never ends. The idea of 'mastering' cooking now seems more like an illusion than a goal".

How wise and modest that is, and that is what this book is: wise and modest, and not a "pukka" in sight.

Tell us your favourite cookery-as-art book

"The Creators" Individuals of Irish Food by Dianne Curtin

Dianne Curtin's first book could be described simply as a series of pen portraits accompanied by superb photographic portraits of some of the major players in Cork's rich artisan food culture.

In fact the book is much more than this, and is the story of a series of producers whose work has helped the author to see creative food culture in a new and richer light. The Creators is a mixture of love letter and tone poem about a group of dogged determined individuals whose work has come to be of supreme importance in our food culture. Ms Curtin captures the nuances of personality of these people with deftness and Philip Curtin's photography, in a typically beautifully produced book by Cork University Press, includes some photographs that are nothing less than transcendent.

Atrium €29.95
Published 1 November 2007

Menu of the Season: The Waterfront Restaurant

The Waterfront Restaurant, Lord Bagenal Hotel, Main Street, Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow

This menu from The Waterfront was one of the most memorable meals of our restaurant-going year. It all started with an amuse of air-dried Connemara lamb with lavender honey…

Fillet of Red MulletChickpea fries, Lemon & Basil Tartar Sauce €13.50
Pressed terrine of Confit Duck & Foie grasApricot Compote, Warm Brioche €13.50
Roast Breast of QuailWild Mushroom Risotto, Salsify Crisps €14.00
Graden Herb SaladPassion Fruit Jelly and Asparagus €13.50
Mosaic of Ham Hock & ChorizoWith Watermelon & Avocado Purée €13.50
Pan Fried ScallopsWith home-made Crubeen Pudding, Apple & Fennel Salad €16.00
Carpaccio of Hereford BeefHorseradish Ice Cream and Beetroot Pickle €15.00
Pan-Fried Sa TroutWith Sweet Potato and Lemongrass Soup €13.50

Main Course
Fillet of Hereford BeefRosti Potato, Carrot Puree & Foie Gras Cromesquis & Orange€32.00
Caramelized Black SoleWith Mussels, Fresh Linguini & Asparagus Puree, Wild Mushrooms €30.00
Roast Breast of Free Range ChickenMoroccan spiced pine nut Cous Cous, home made Date Chutney & Tagine Sauce €28.00
Pan Fried CodCrab & Ginger Tortellini, Roast Shellfish Sauce and Deep Fried Celery Leaf €28.00
Sweetcorn RavioliCauliflower Beignet, Braised Onion & Curry Froth & Caramel €24.00
Butter Roast Strip of VealSmoked Gubbeen & potato gratin, creamed peas & bacon, béarnaise sauce €30
Pan Roasted John DoryBasil Crushed Potatoes, Confit Plum tomatoes & Tapenade Beurre Blanc €29.50
Rump of LambBroad Beans & Mint, Colcannon Potato & Violet Mustard €28.00

Bonbon Fuille De BrickFrangepan Mousseline, Caramel Ice Cream & Crème Anglaise
Dragon FruitsPistachio Avocado Mousse
Delice of Poached PearsCaramel Sauce, Kiwi Sorbet
Dark Chocolate FondantMilk Chocolate Sauce, Strawberry Sorbet & Sherry Syrup
Sensation Trio of Fruit MoussesCoconut Passion fruit Cráeme Brulee and Mint Ginger Sorbet
Rhubarb Crème BruleeVanilla Tuille
Cheese BoardSelection of Irish & French Cheese
Selection of SorbetPineapple, Mango & Mandarin

Sweetie Pies

Ever since Alison Pearson's heroine took a rolling pin to her M&S mince pies to distress them for her child's school open day in the brilliant novel "I Don't Know How She Does It", it has been impossible to pass off any professionally made cakes or biscuits as being from your own hand.
But fear not: a bag of Sweetie Pie cakes, pies and sweet loaves are so gloriously hand-made, so abidingly domestic, that you effectively could claim them as your own work. If you were a really good baker, that is.

Now, this may seem unfair to Jennifer Griffin and Maureen Foley, whose bakery sells to 11 different outlets in and around Galway, but it is truly the highest compliment we can pay these lovely apple pies, yummy scones and other delights. "We do the best mince pies with homemade mincemeat at Christmas", says Jennifer, so west coast food lovers are sorted for that staple of the Xmas feast. You will find these lovely things, packaged in the simplest style, in Galway shops such as McCambridge's, Centras in Clarinbridge and Carnmore, Grace's Londis in Loughrea and Centra Craughwell. Nestor's Supervalu and other good stores.

Contact Jennifer and Maureen on Tel: 091 846640.

Curraghchase Farm Shop

Here is a Sunday afternoon jaunt with a difference. Pack the kids in the car. Drive to Kilcornan in west Limerick, with Curraghchase Forest Park as your general point of reference. From the N71, around Kildimo, look for signs that say "Farm Shop". Follow the signs.

These will take you to a tall, dark-red house, with a small stone shop just across from it. You have arrived at Caroline Rigney's Farm Shop, home of Curraghchase bacon and pork products.
Let the kids wander off to see the geese, the horses, the pigs and the cows and the chickens, whilst you get the cheque book out to splurge on superb bacon, Caroline's own hand-made sausages, and rarities such as the best pig's trotters you ever did see.

Admire the luscious creamy white fat on the superb rashers - Limerick Lardo. Pack a few roundels of the superb white pudding into your basket - this is one of the best puddings you can buy. Fill up the freezer bag with roast pork cuts. Round up the kids. Head back home. Get Fergus Henderson's new book, "Beyond Nose to Tail Cooking", and brew up some wicked Trotter Gear with your newly purchased trotters. Have a porky repast with all the Curraghchase pork and bacon. Now, wasn't that a grand excursion? Same again next Sunday afternoon, then?

Caroline's Curraghchase is just one of the many exciting things happening with Irish artisan pork. Not too far away, between Newmarket and Kanturk, John and Olive Forde are producing superb pork products that they sell at local markets. In Tipperary T.J. Crowe is processing the pigs of Tom and Sharyn Shore, as well as his own happy porkers. Pork and bacon, once the most tragic example of Irish low-quality commodity farming, is undergoing a welcome renaissance.

Once you eat these great products, there is no going back. Brilliant.

Tel: 061 393988

Eamon's Bridgestone Diary: On The Road

Saturday May 19th
After work we head for Richmond House in Cappoquin, one of our favourite places for a 'Dinner & Duvet' stay over. It's a lovely evening and the grounds are very restful. Since we're a little earlier than usual we bring a bottle of wine down to the conservatory and read the Saturday papers. Dinner is wonderful, as always, and service is efficient, gracious and very, very friendly.

Sunday May 20th
Home from Cappaquin it's off to Dunbrody Abbey Cookery Centre where Pierce & Valerie McAuliffe are hosting a Slow Food event. On a stunningly sunny day we spend the afternoon in their courtyard garden, meeting new people (check out Pierre and Ursula's new wine company at ), learning about the Wexford Organic Centre at Cushinstown, New Ross and tasting the great Tom Cleary's homemade sloe gin. On the way home we pop in to Roger & Terrie Pooley at Parkswood House in Passage East to ask whether they might host a Slow Food event.

Thursday May 24th
It's Election Day. We head to In A Nutshell in New Ross for lunch and then on to check out the Wexford Organic Centre outside New Ross. It's a low-key place but we are mighty impressed when our request for some mixed leaves and some rocket results in them being cut from the ground in front of us and bagged up. On the way home we call in to Tom Kearney's butchers in John St. Waterford and pick up some beef fillet. Using a recipe from Food & Wine magazine the beef is just seared on the pan, then cut really thinly and stuffed with the rocket leaves. Served with the salad leaves and some cherry tomatoes, it was delicious.

Monday May 28th
We drive out to Annestown to visit the little bistro at the Copper Coast Geopark centre. We limited ourselves to coffee with scones and jam but those scones were still warm from the oven, light as a feather, the coffee served in generous sized cafetieres. Prices are amazingly low.

Tuesday May 29th
After work we head for Flahavan's Oat mills in Kilmacthomas where Slow Food have arranged a tour of the facility. It's a really impressive place, certified organic, sourcing it's raw ingredient mostly from farmers within 30 miles of the factory. Some of the electricity for the place is generated from the original old millstream and the heating by burning off the waste husks from the oats in a boiler. John and Mary Flahavan were generous hosts. Porridge will never seem such a simple product again!

Thursday May 30th
On a trip through Bennettsbridge in Kilkenny we grab a quick lunch at the reliable café at the Nicholas Mosse pottery. Pork terrine with salad for me, goat's cheese and red onion tart for J. That night we head to my old school - De La Salle College - to catch the end of year student concert. Amazing musical talent on display.

Friday June 1st
Lunch at the Granary Café at Waterford Treasures Museum where I meet up with chef Martin Dwyer and Donal Lehane, convivium leader of the Four Rivers Slow Food group, to plan a Slow Food event for September.

Saturday June 2nd
Dinner at a restaurant that has to remain nameless. Foie gras with stewed rhubarb was not a match made in heaven. Lamb terrine was tasteless and a dessert of chocolate brownie with chocolate mousse served on a pile of chopped mango was dry and unsatisfying. Service was overpowering at the beginning of the evening and almost non-existent by the end. The bill was almost €150.00 with just two glasses of wine.

Sunday June 3rd
Dinner at Bassetts restaurant in Inistioge. From a really strong start this restaurant has just gotten better and better. The tasting menu now only takes place on Saturday evenings and the restaurant now rears its own pigs; you won't miss them out front. We had a super dinner and somehow managed to get back in the car without taking a little piglet home as a pet. Back home I finish off the last drop of sloe gin from a bottle that Martin Dwyer gave me.

Thursday June 7th
Over the years we have often undertaken long journeys in pursuit of good food. Today we leave Waterford on what will be a 600km round trip to visit Neven Maguire's MacNean House in Blacklion, Co. Cavan. Despite the fact that our car gave up the ghost just 100 yards short of the restaurant and had to make the journey back to Waterford on the back of an AA truck, we loved the restaurant and our - amazingly good value - room. Staff were really friendly and Neven Maguire seems to work incredibly hard; he's there for breakfast from first thing in the morning and he's there in the evening as we head for bed.

Friday June 8th
Having picked up a rental car in Cavan we head to Sligo. After a little retail therapy we end up in the amazing Kate's Kitchen on Castle St., an extraordinary shop. If we weren't so far from home we'd have brought a heap of things home with us. Back in MacNean House that night, the menu has changed completely since yesterday and the food has moved up to an even higher gear.

Throughout our two-night stay, the staff have been amongst the best we have encountered. In the guest book we wrote that it had been worth every one of the 600km!


Eamon's Diary

You probably reckon it's all fun being a Bridgestone Editor. Well, here is the reality behind the red-carpet glamour, the paparazzi moments, the celebrity endorsements and the pro-golf tournaments, courtesy of Eamon Barrett of the Waterford parish.

We begin with the reality of checking out accommodation for the Bridgestone 100 Best Guides, and just what can be discovered in Ireland. Names have been changed here to protect the guilty: E. A. Poe House isn't actually the real name of this place, though it probably should be.
Then, it's a trip back a few months to when Eamon was whistle-stopping around the country. First, the painful bit…

E. A Poe House, Sometown, Ireland.

Judging restaurants and accommodation for inclusion in the 100 Best is never something that I take for granted. On some level, somebody at the heart of every operation thinks that they are doing a great job. Over the years, experience of all of the places we visit provide me with a set of benchmarking standards that I can apply. When places come very close to being a 100 Best experience, it is this set of 'standards experienced' that helps to sort out the nitty gritty.

Well, that's the theory anyway. And then there are places where no mental conundrum is necessary, either because it is so obviously ahead of the game or, as in the case of E. A Poe House, where we simply aren't on the right planet at all.We arrive at 8pm, park the car at the side of the house and are then met at the front door by the proprietor, who asks us if we have a booking. When we confirm that we do we're given the key to our room and then a sheet of paper. It's the menu for breakfast in the morning. We must choose now what we want and if we fancy the baked omelette, we have to specify the time we'll be down for breakfast as "they take 20 minutes." An omelette. 20 minutes. Really?

After that we're shown to our room, number 1, and left at that. No mention of a welcome, a cup of tea, a lounge, anything. The room is a grim affair made to look fancy. There's a kettle and cups with UHT milk and little individually wrapped biscuits - you know the type. The bed is faux four-poster but is too big for such a small room. The sheets are moss green, the pillows have diamantes sewn into them. The bathroom has no window, just an extractor so the ceiling above the shower is black with mould. There is no facecloth, no shampoo, no soap, just an anonymous dispenser bottle of gel handwash.

Sorry if this passes into 'too much information' but the toilet seat is cracked and is fully capable of giving you a nasty pinch as you go to the, well, you get the picture. There is a fancy flat screen TV. The carpet is grass green and cheap. We are both dying for a coffee so we wander downstairs to see if there is in fact a lounge but all there are are closed doors. And signs. "Guests are requested to settle their bill ON ARRIVAL". "Please make sure the door is firmly shut." "The car park is locked at 10.30pm." "Breakfast is served between 8.30am and 9.30am." "Guests are requested to vacate their room by 11am. We hope you enjoy your stay."We walk down to Main St and have that coffee in the bar of The Excelsior Hotel, read the papers and walk back up to E. A Poe House. In the absence of any sign of life, there's nothing for it but to go to bed and watch TV. In the morning the two of us are on tenterhooks as there is only that one hour window of opportunity to have breakfast, but in hindsight it might have been a blessing to miss it.

Orange juice that manages to taste of anything but oranges. A lifeless buffet with cereals and some 'not exactly jumping with freshness' sliced fruit. No yoghurt. My pre-ordered scrambled egg with smoked salmon is brought almost instantly. Of course it has, it's been sitting under a heat lamp for that long that all of the liquid has separated and the egg sits in it's own puddle. It has all the visual appeal of somebody who has wet themself. I eat a few forkfuls and all the energy drains from my body. I push the rest of it around in the hope that it will look like I've eaten more than I have. J refuses to have anything but coffee, clever girl.

When we're ready to go I tap on the kitchen door to pay the bill. My card is accepted almost without conversation except for a single sentence: "Have you got the key for me?." No 'thank you', no 'did you enjoy your stay?', not even a goodbye. In the car J has a few apples from Ballycross Apples that she bought in Ardkeen Stores the day before. I eat one as quickly as possible to get the taste of the scrambled eggs out of my mouth.A souless experience, devoid of any sense of hospitality. I really didn't think it could be like this. I am sorry that the only two other guests at breakfast, an American couple, might think that this is what the Irish B n' B experience is like.

Total Bill €80.00

Do you have an E. A. Poe story? Share it with us!

We come to bury Chicken Caesar

Believe it or believe it not, but I have sitting on my desk a menu from a popular Irish restaurant which offers its customers "Classic Chicken Caesar salad".

I'm not making this up. We are living in an age when Irish chefs think Caesar Salad comes with chicken.

The same guys who have desecrated Caesar Cardini's classic creation, however, tend to be less inventive and rather more derivative when it comes to the rest of their menus.

The Chicken Caesars, these Emperors of invention, offer these things on their menus: Confit belly of pork. Braised shank of lamb with root vegetables. Dry Aged Rib-eye steak with béarnaise and chips. Bangers and mash with onion gravy. Warm salad of goat's cheese. Hamburger with crispy onion rings and potato wedges. Battered cod with pea purée. Bailey's parfait. Panacotta.

We live in a universe of untold diversity. But you sure wouldn't think it if you were eating in Irish restaurants.

Time and again, the new warhorses, the new prawn cocktail-sirloin steak/black forest gateau clichés are wheeled out in every county of the country. You could travel the length and breadth of Ireland and eat nothing but battered cod with peas and shank of lamb and risotto with mushrooms and crème brulee. What on earth is going wrong?

I mean, if you are going to copy someone, for Heaven's sake make it Seamus O'Connell - tea smoked duck with Earl Grey gravy; wild Irish salmon with carrot crust and grapefruit sauce were two things Seamus had on the menu at Parknasilla during the season - or Denis Cotter - beetroot mouse with orange-scented yogurt, watercress and fennel crispbreads - or George Kehoe of Carlow's Waterfront Restaurant - carpaccio of Hereford beef with horseradish ice cream and beetroot pickle - or Seamus McDonald of Kerry's Out Of The Blue, who created a stunning dish of turbot cutlet with its own foie gras and with the roe of the fish smoked and then stuffed into morels. A violet mustard sauce completed a stunning creation, and one that used every bit of the fish.

Why not copy the best, in other words? Why not plagiarise those who are worth plagiarising? Why copy those who think that adding chicken to a Caesar salad somehow makes it "Classic".
So, let's ditch the clichés, and let's have a new template of things that are Worth Copying: Niall McKenna's lobster salad with tomato ceviche; Alden's haunch of rabbit with cabbage, pine nuts and currants; Danny Millar's rump of Finnebrogue venison with boxty and Bushmills; Aine Maguire's bacon collar with parsley sauce and organic cabbage.

So, tell us the dish which you have most enjoyed in an Irish restaurant, and suggestions for any other "classics" that should be deemed forbidden.

Leslie Williams sprinkles the salt and calls for the mustard: Steak Frites

Steak Frites is the quintessential French Bistro dish. Whenever I am in France this is the dish I order more than any other as I can be fairly certain they will get it right - or at least less wrong. The chips might be cooked from frozen and the steak underdone (to some Irish palates) but I have come to trust in the simplicity of this dish.

First let me tell you what steak frites is not. It is not tender but tasteless fillet steak with a tournedos sauce (the reason fillet always has a rich sauce is because it is usually tasteless on its own), and the frites are thin and crispy - they are never, ever, ever, wedges of undercooked soggy potato.

The best steak frites is made with a cheap cut such as rib-eye, rump or onglet cooked rare or blue. If you like your steak well done you need to order a better cut as these cuts will not work.
The chewy texture and meaty flavours from the cheaper cuts are essential to match the crispy fluffy chips. Sirloin is just about acceptable and maybe Striploin but the chips had better be damn good.

In France ask for "à point" for what we call medium rare or saignant as the French do. A word of warning - you wont be taken seriously as a diner in France unless you ask for saignant which will only cook the outside leaving most of the proteins un-connected (OK I admit it - raw!). Once you try it a few times you wont want your steak frites any other way.

Sadly many restaurant customers do not understand this and I know that Venu were forced within six months to change their cut (and increase the price) as customers reported their steak as "chewy". Telling customers "it's supposed to be that way!" is sadly not an option in Ireland (as it would be in France!).

Now the frites - this may sound like sacrilege, but give me frozen crispy chips over the abomination that are "home-cooked chips" or "hand-cut chips" which turn out to be little more than soapy wedges of undercooked potato - all too prevalent in restaurants of all price ranges in Dublin and elsewhere.

The problem with freshly prepared thin crispy chips is time. Bistros survive on rapid turnover and many believe they just don't have the time to first blanch their chips in 140C oil, cool them down, and then cook from cold at 180C - as they do in Alexis in Dun Laoghaire (who use maris piper).

Personally I don't see what the problem is - if Alexis can do it and just charge €22.50 for sublime steak and the crispiest of chips why cant everyone else?

Locks use Spanish potatoes, blanch their chips three times in oil before the final frying and these are also out of this world good. Blanching three times probably a little over the top but it really does work so I am not complaining. Balzac cooks a fine steak frites and unashamedly uses frozen chips and I applaud them for this, particularly as they have outstanding duck fat potatoes also on the menu - a reason for visiting on their own.

Venu has tried fresh cut chips (cut raw early in the day - pretty good), frozen chips (not bad) and have finally settled on the blanching and re-frying method (excellent). Currently my sources tell me they are experimenting with oils and have a "secret ingredient" which they believe will give them "the best chips in the city". Truly a worthy ambition and something for which I wish others would strive.

If you are in Paris the best steak frites I have had was at Le Gavroche on Rue St. Marc, a tiny old school bistro in the 2nd Arr - the best frites in Paris according to Figaro and truly excellent they are; (whisper it though, the ones in Locks and Alexis are better.)

In New York visit Les Halles on Park Avenue which I still believe was the best steak frites I have ever experienced. At home use Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook which tells you all you need to know about the dish.

As Disreli said "It was not reason that besieged Troy; it was not reason that sent forth the Saracen from the desert to conquer the world… above all, it was not reason that created the French Revolution. Man is only great when he acts from the passions; never irresistible but when he appeals to the imagination."

So rise with me as customers of the restaurants of Ireland to stay the encroaching tide of wedges, and let us demand frites.

Who, in your opinion, makes the best steak frites?

19 November 2007

IOFGA at Athenry

Yesterday's IOFGA conference yielded a rich crop of intellectual stimulation. Peter Melchett of the Soil Association gave a dazzling presentation which seemed to touch on every point from grey partridges to GMOs. Charles “Merf” Merfield gave the most intoxicating presentation on soil and organics – with some truly revolutionary thinking that revealed the weaknesses of what we think of as “agricultural science”, and Michael Hickey gave a splendidly droll and witty talk on the history of the Association. The prize for technical glitches in a powerpoint went to John McKenna of the Bridgestone parish who found his images of Marvin Gaye and others disappearing into cyberspace as he called for members of the food bureaucracy to resign.
The award for The Next Big Thing goes to chairman Peter Young, who stands ready to succeed John Bowman as the chairman with the mostest, and is in line to pick up €5k for every future appearance, and the prize for Most Comfortable in His Own Skin goes to Minister Trevor Sargent, a man so completely on top of his brief that it is a joy to behold. Chef Enroco Fantasia and his crew of Gerry and Paolo produced delicious lamb and barley stew, and a brilliant lasagne with cabbage. The atmosphere at Mellows College in Athenry was only amazing, the energy of a young organisation that knows its time is now.

14 November 2007

25 Years of IOFGA

The Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Asociation celebrates 25 years of inspiring work at its annual conference on Sunday. Minister Trevor Sargent is kicking off proceedings, Dr Charles Merfield of Teagasc will be talking about soil, Peter Melchett of the Soil Association will be speaking along with organic farmer Michael Hickey and John McKenna of the Bridgestone parish will be chipping in a few words.
And here is a thought for you: over 25 years IOFGA has been a force for moral good, preaching that we must preserve our farms and our agriculture as sustainable enterprises, and thereby protect our environment. Can anyone name another institution in Ireland that has seen its moral stature increase over the last 25 years, and seen its core principles proven correct? Most of the usual suspects – politicians, church leaders, media, legal profession, An Garda Siochana – would now be viewed much more sceptically by the man in the street than 25 years ago. But, organic farmers have producd great food for us, and they have been proven right in their analysis of environmental damage.
And there are people out there who still think they are no more than a bunch of hippies. But, these days, as we look back, we reckon a core truth is emerging: the hippies were right!
25 more years? 2,500 more years, please!

06 November 2007

Eating Little Furry Animals

The culinary arts provide the most gracious and delicious solutions to environmental and farming problems.
Too many cockerels causing trouble in the hen house? Get out the pot and we shall have coq au vin. What to do with that pig’s head? Let’s brew up a succulent and satisfying brawn, and whilst we are at it, we will use the trotters to make jambon persille – jellied ham.
The great cuisines are full of elegant answers to problems such as these. But now, a new problem faces us, and it is time to take direct action.
On October 10th, The Irish Times reported that “Concerted action will be needed in order to protect Ireland’s population of red squirrels”. The problem is that the red squirrel is being chased from its habitat “largely due to the spread of the more aggressive North American grey squirrel”.
“The grey is chasing the red west”, said Minister of State for Forestry, Mary Wallace. Forestry consultant Dr Michael Carey said that the survey showing the threat to the cute, adorable, bushy-tailed red squirrel from the nasty grey squirrel “has made me much more aware of the complex issues surrounding biodiversity and the fine balance in nature between one species and another”.
Mysteriously, the report did not propose any solution, and the Minister didn’t appear to have any suggestions as to just what we have to do.
But, cometh the hour, cometh the man with the culinary solution.
On page 50 of his new cookery book Beyond Nose to Tail, the ingenious chef Fergus Henderson, of London’s critically and commercially acclaimed St John restaurants, proposes what is a simple, delicious solution: Braised Squirrel.
The recipe is simplicity itself, and can be upscaled should your guests want more than one squirrel each. Simply brown some shallots in duck fat, add the skinned and jointed squirrels and brown them with some pieces of bacon. Add dried mushrooms – for that suggestive woodland note, I guess – and some garlic, add Fergus’s wonderful “Trotter Gear” (a stock made with pig’s trotters), and season. Bung it in a gentle oven for two and a half hours, and when the flesh is tender and yielding, serve simply with some watercress. Voila! A culinary solution to an environmental problem.
Now, many people may not opt for this solution, because many people will find the idea of eating squirrel simply nauseating, despite its popularity in Arkansas, and I am not forecasting that Ms Wallace will direct a Forestry Department team to go forth and to bring back grey squirrel to be served at all future State banquets.
But, “And when did you last eat a squirrel” is a question many of us should actually be asking ourselves, and each other.
What prompted this reflection is not actually the sad plight of the cute red squirrel at the bushy-tailed bullying of the grey squirrel – “The grey is literally the tree rat” said Ms Wallace, inflicting eternal PR damage on the species’ chances of ever enjoying its own Pixar movie.
It was instead alerted by the fact noted by the writer Colin Tudge, in his book So Shall We Reap, that the ¡Kung tribesmen of the Kalahari, one of the last of the hunter-gatherer tribes, enjoyed a diet that “included about 105 different kinds of plant – far more than ours is likely to do”.
Mr Tudge’s sarcasm is a little too gentle. The ¡Kung’s 105 varieties of plant food is likely to be 100 more varieties than the plant foods consumed by very many of us. Count the number of plant foods you have eaten in the last week. A dozen? Ten?
So the issue is not just, “And when did you last eat a squirrel?” It is also, “And when did you last eat turnip/chickpeas/spinach/quinoa/porridge oats?”
And while we are at it, “When did you last eat liver/tongue/oxtail/game? Or mullet/squid/oysters? Or pomegranate/plum/pear/gooseberry?”
For a sizeable proportion of Irish men, for example, the answer to that last question will be “Never”.
10% of Irish men don’t eat fruit.
I know that because Dr Marion Faughnan, of Safe Food, a department of the Food Safety Promotion Board, explained it recently to an audience at the West Cork Food Festival in Skibbereen.
Ms Faughnan also pointed out a few other realities about our un-¡Kung-like modern diet: 1 in 4 kids are obese; we eat too much of refined foods and not enough wholefoods; most breakfast cereals are sugary cereals; most kids get fruit from fruit juice; 28% of boys and 37% of girls have low calcium intake; our meat intake is too high in processed meat which is laced with salt and fat; our fish consumption is too low.
So, the world may well be our oyster, but presented with the mighty mollusc, and many other health-bearing, health-giving foods, we suddenly lose our appetites, and don’t feel hungry
Ms Faughnan’s conclusion was simple and sober: “Using raw ingredients makes for a much healthier diet”. But many of us, clearly, are not using those raw ingredients. Our diets are not merely composed of refined and processed foods, they are composed of a small number of refined and processed foods: lots of battery chicken; lots of processed beef, lots of sausages and mince and poor-quality bread.
So, the solution to our dietary woes, currently breeding an obesity time bomb that will bankrupt our health services, and in the process condemning our children to shortened life spans of increasing ill health, lies with the !Kung, and perhaps the grey squirrel.
We need to get out there and become hunter-gatherers, gathering in a much wider base of raw foods and more diverse foods, protecting Dr Carey’s bio-diversity, and nature’s fine balance, and protecting the fine diversity and balance of our own health. We don’t need to do that hunting and gathering in the wild – a supermarket will do the trick – but we need to eat more of what is good for us.

30 October 2007

The First Savour Kilkenny Festival

The confident culinary chutzpah one expects of Kilkenny was fully in evidence during the Bank Holiday weekend, when the first Savour Kilkenny Festival brought markets, producers, restaurateurs and punters to Ireland's most handsome, Italiante city.
Pride of place goes to Mary Shortis and Chris Wong, who were awarded the first Savour Kilkenny Award. Their shop sells everything you could possibly imagine, not to mention the best street food in Ireland – this was a richly deserved prize.
The Festival wisely embraced everything from Polish and Lebanese cooking – see the post on the wonderful Tabbouleh competition – along with an inspired cheese tasting by Mark Gaffney, luminary chef of the Ormonde Hotel, balsamic vinegars, sushi, kid's cooking, and rugby ledge Mick Galwey getting intimate with a ball of baker's dough. Garret Byrne of Chapter One came back to his home city to cook the gala dinner, and the energy in the town was only mighty. Other local culinary legends, Eugene and Breda McSweeney of Lacken House, were in fit, fine form – Mr McSweeney is on the look out for new challenges, so anyone who needs a great, skilled culinary Mr Fix-It need look no further – and the restaurants pulsed with energy. We would like to see a situation next year, however, where only the produce of local producers is featured on the menus – if you have local artisan cheeses like Lavistown and Knockdrinna, why on earth serve anything else? – but this was a mighty impressive debut, and promises another annual festival for the city that already does festivals better than anywhere else.

Why isn't a great restaurant like Shanahan's in the Bridgestone 100 Best?

Thursday evening in Shanahan's, and the place is leppin'. It's so busy, that there are folk who are even eating downstairs in the bar, and elsewhere there isn't a table to be had. Confident, smart staff negotiate the three floors of the complex, always charming, completely in control.
The little amuse of foie gras is perfect, the trio of Irish salmon is spot on, the scallops are small but excellent, and the meats are pitch perfect – the petite filet, the New York striploin, the fine rib-eye. Side orders are simple as they should be – good mash, good creamed spinach.
So, if it's all this good and this professional, then why isn't Shanahan's top of the Bridgstone pile? If we can agree that a capital city needs big, brassy restaurants such as this – and the demand for tables on a quiet week in October shows that indeed we do – and if we can agree that they do what they do superbly, then how come they ain't critical darlings?
Simply because the nature of a big, brassy restaurant such as this means that there isn't room for any true individuality to shine though, and that is what the Bridgestone Guides are about. We are after the quirky, the maverick, and you can't run a big operation such as Shanahan's in that fashion. We respect what they do at Shanahan's, and even if there are glitches – we were entertaining a visitor from France, and the restaurant had no Irish cheeses!, never even mind the Irish raw milk cheeses we were hoping to introduce to our guest! – you can forgive them because the theatre is so fine. So, a great place for a Big Night Out, and not a place to worry about the prices, and a slick, calm, business-like operation that purrs with energy and pleasure.

29 October 2007


There are many perfectly rendered archetypes in the work of animator Brad Bird – the “human” characteristics conferred on the robot in The Iron Giant, for instance, or Bird's own voiceover of the demented designer Edna Mode in The Incredibles – but Bird trumps even his own high standards with the extraordinary food critic, Anton Ego, in his brilliant movie, “Ratatouille”.
Ego – lovingly and waspishly voiced by Peter O'Toole – is a superlative invention, largely because he is hardly an invention at all. Ego is the declamatory critic who feels that his opinion is the only thing that matters in the world of food. The critic who believes that the world waits on his opinion. The critic who surveys from the plateau of his superior knowledge and his allegedly superior “taste”. Ego is the critic who is barely human, instead being simply a series of aesthetic neuroses.
We have met critics just like Ego, and not just in France: they are living and working in these islands. For them, the restaurant experience is only and ever a matter of Platonic perfection, and it is for them to tell the unwashed masses just what restaurants most closely achieve this perfection.
It says a lot for Bird's confidence that he knows just exactly how to deal with this character, but then Bird shows in Ratatouille that he knows exactly how to deal with the world of the professional restaurant, homing in on every detail from the '61 Latour to the Environmental Health Officer with uncanny accuracy. Bird has to have been a plongeur or a waiter when he was young, because only someone who has sweated in a real kitchen can have this sort of feel for how kitchens are structured, and he clearly knew the sort of professional expertise he needed when setting out the details of the kitchen and the cooking, consulting with luminary chefs such as Guy Savoy and Thomas Keller.
If one can make a criticism of the movie, it is that it is a little over-egged: so much is going on so often that one viewing simply isn't enough. This wealth of detail aside, Ratatouille makes it 3 classics out of 3 movies for Brad Bird. Iron Giants. Superheroes. Rodent Superchefs. I guess eight years working on The Simpsons is going to have some impact on a guy's way of looking at the world.

05 October 2007


October provokes the most extreme reactions. “There was a splendid, majestic plenitude about the sunlight which burned all day, and then seemed to switch itself off abruptly in the early evening, when all at once the air became very cold, and dusk fell quickly. The sun had a special warmth which you never felt in summer and which never came again in winter... The land was at rest”.
That is Pierre Koffmann, writing a rhapsody for autumn in his great book “Memories of Gascony”. But others see Octobery things quite differently: “October, not April, is the cruelest month for me”, writes Hugo Arnold in Food & Wine Magazine this month.
For others, the stalking weather of this time of the year seems to bring a mixture of tension and relief, a foreboding brilliantly captured by Robbie Robertson in The Band's classic song, “King Harvest Has Surely Come”:

The smell of the leaves,
from the magnolia trees in the meadow,
King Harvest has surely come.

But the way in which Levon Helm sings the chorus of the song leaves us in no doubt that the narrator should have a left a question mark after that last line: “King Harvest has surely come?”.

Up in Limerick last week I met up again with Colette O'Farrell, luminary creator of the Nature's Bounty preserves, some of the best artisan foods we have come across in recent times. Ms O'Farrell was planning to spend the weekend picking Shepherd's Plums, a wild, late-ripening variety, so named because they were there to be eaten by the shepherds after they had returned with their flocks to the fields. The image of Ms O'Farrell, plucking the autumn fruit and then bottling it's bounty, seems to me to sum up just what October offers, the last chance to store up sunshine, to catch Pierre Koffmann's “majestic plenitude”, and ”splendid warmth”, to sustain us through the winter.

Over the next short while we're going to explore some ideas on harvest. If you have any harvest experiences or opinions, please share them.

04 October 2007

The Joy Of Eating

In her fine book, “Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy”, the historian Barbara Ehrenreich notes that “suffering remains the almost exclusive preoccupation of professional psychology. Journals in the field have published forty-five thousand articles in the last thirty years on depression, but only four hundred on joy”.

As it is with psychology, so it is with food and eating, in forkfuls. The quickest online search will throw up two and a quarter million stories about food and health scares, but we don’t need to go online to know that: we need only listen to the news or open a newspaper.

We endure a daily bombardment of information from the health, safety and scientific lobbies that collectively paint the simple acts of cooking, eating and drinking as fraught adventures, latent with every imaginable threat, potent with risk. “What doesn’t make you fat will kill you in the end” often seems the only way to summarise this era’s collective hysteria over food scares, food fads and food follies. From the fat content of your breakfast roll all the way to the sulfites in your Cabernet Sauvignon, the only tenable aphorism for our modern food culture seems to be: caveat emptor – buyer beware.

Sensible people, of course, steer clear of the forty-five thousand articles, or the two and a quarter million stories, that tell us what not to do, and head straight for the four hundred sources that tell us where and how to find culinary joy. But the onslaught of bad food news creates a problem, in particular, for our children.

“What shall we tell the children”? is the first issue, especially when your teenage Conor and Sarah announce that they aren’t eating any more chicken-tofu-beef-carrots-sausages-salad leaves-eggs on account of the latest news about GMOs-avian flu-pesticide residue levels-FMD or whatever it may be that has risen to the surface of contemporary concerns, and which has sparked into protest their natural fretfulness. You can try to be rational and reasonable and balanced and well-informed, but convincing that stubborn teenage mind that the sausages are safe and eggs are salmonella-free is no easy task. Children get informed by the media first, and by their parents second.

But a bigger issue for our children is, surely, the steady erosion of the concept of joy that should, rightfully, be derived from cooking and eating.

Fifteen years ago, the great chef-intellectual of the Irish kitchen, Gerry Galvin, wrote that “Children should be nurtured to inventive eating from an early age. We should teach them to eat as we teach them to read or play music. It requires patience, perseverance and love”.

Today, it would appear we nurture them to worry about food from an early age. Where do we hear the voices telling children that understanding and enjoying food, and being able to cook with it in an inventive way, is one of the primary creative functions of any human being? Books are on the curriculum big time, and playing music is the bee’s knees for any child, but who informs them that cooking is the best and most immediate means of self-expression open to any individual, and that preparing and sharing food is the cornerstone of any concept of community?

Food educates us in every skill and discipline – trade, economics, sensory appreciation, the visual arts, judgement, and it is freighted with mathematical and scientific enquiry: if you are prone to say that “Cooking isn’t rocket science”, then can I suggest you go and make a cheese soufflé, and have your mind changed in the process. Cooking is both art, and science, but the problem is simply that we teach the science, but not the art.

The onslaught of scares, and the yawning lack of common sense, has meant a devaluation of the culture of food, creating a widespread sense of suspicion amongst young people, and suspicion is the enemy of joy and pleasure. For a previous generation, the problems that were taking us to hell in a handcart were The Bomb, and Sex. Substitute Global Warming and Food, and you have today’s scary monsters.

If common sense was more common, then our children would see the stream of food scares as the disconnected junk science so much of it is. We need to teach our kids to eat, as Gerry Galvin said, and in teaching them to give them the confidence to edit and understand the scares, and consequently to enjoy the creativity of cooking, and the joy of the table.

24 September 2007

Your recommendations

David McKittrick's comment, which I am going to post below, came through the contact section of the website. We're always interested in getting feedback on the places you visit. If you had a good - or, God forbid - bad experience when using the Bridgestone Guides, use this spot to let us know.

13 September 2007

Farmers' Markets

We are just updating our website to include details of all the farmers markets around the country. If you know of a good market, or sadly, if you hear of one closing - then share the info here.

31 August 2007

Questions for the Bridgestone Guides

Can't find a place that someone somewhere recommended? Lost touch with a place you used to visit? If you have any questions about the good people in Irish food then ask the Bridgestone Guides. And, if we can't help you one of our readers/bloggers might be able to.

07 August 2007

Farmers' Markets

"Americans don't eat food. They eat food products".
The brilliant American writer Michael Pollan made that statement,
during the course of a lecture at the Slow Food Terra Madre congress,
in Turin last October.
Even as I scribbled it in my notebook, it gave me a shiver. Here we
all were, tens of thousands of us, at the bi-annual Slow Food bash
which is a celebration of global food bio-diversity, and Mr Pollan
was telling us that, because the United States' food economy is
utterly dependent on corn - and on only 6 cultivars of corn -
something simple happens when you allow a single food to dominate a
food culture: "Corn is making us sick".
I was already familiar with this argument from Pollan's classic book,
"The Omnivore's Dilemma", in my opinion the most important book
written on the politics and business of food in the last decade, but
hearing it expressed so brutally - "Corn is making us sick" - still
came as a shock.
So, I did what every food lover does when confronted with something
shocking: I went to the food market at the Congress, and bought some
northern Indian basmati rice, some Italian bottarga, and some eye-
wipingly strong hootch from a nice man from Peru. Then I had some
fine Irish raw-milk farmhouse cheese, and a glass of English ale. I
felt a whole lot better.
Food and health are not just bedfellows. They are one and the same
thing. Michael Pollan's stark assertion of what happens to the health
element when you get the food element wrong is not just shocking, it
is also blindingly obvious.
I got my own taste of the food-health synthesis way back in the early
1990's, shopping at the Dublin Food Co-Op on Pearse Street. Chatting
to shoppers and stallholders, you quickly realized that some of the
shoppers were there looking for real foods to cure themselves, or a
relative, following illness.
They wanted those freshly dug organic carrots. They wanted
wholefoods. They wanted sourdough breads, and artisan cheeses made
with raw milk. By getting up early on a Saturday morning to get the
best produce, they were saying, simply "We want real food". They
wanted the curative power of good food.
Back in those days, the Food Co-op was one of the very few
alternatives to the blandness of food retailing that has become so
evident in the last ten years. But today it has been joined, with a
rush, by dozens of farmers' markets throughout the country.
Now, anyone interested in food, or economics, should warmly welcome
markets. They are a dynamic force in any economy, because they are a
meshwork of producers and people working together, quickly able to
fulfill the needs of their customers.
At their best, FMs are a one-stop solution shop to many of our food
ills. They have local foods that have travelled very few miles. They
sustain bio-diversity. They retain food spending power within an
area. They are environmentally sustainable. They are mighty fun. This
combination of reasons explains why 10,000 people will turn up at the
People's Park in Dun Laoghaire on a fine Sunday for their local CoCo
Yet, for some reason, FMs draw the ire of very many people, who
denounce both the FMs, and more especially the customers who use
them, as mere baubles for the bourgeoisie. As someone who has written
about FMs from the beginning - I wrote the first articles on major
markets such as Temple Bar and Midleton on the Weekend pages of this
very newspaper - and who uses markets on a weekly basis, I think the
critics are missing the plot.
People don't use markets because they are an opportunity to show off
their spending power. They use them, I would suggest, for health just
as much as pleasure, and they don't differentiate between these two
Farmer's markets are not playgrounds for dilettantes. They are part
of a food counter-culture.
This counter culture has its author heroes, such as Michael Pollan,
Joanna Blythman, Felicity Lawrence or Peter Singer, the philosopher
who has defined the debate on animal rights.
When the writer Jonathan Harvey tells us, in his book "We Want Real
Food", that Western European countries are "fifty years into a mass
experiment in human nutrition. We're all eating basic foods that have
been stripped of the antioxidants, trace elements and minerals and
essential fatty acids that once promoted good health", then we
believe Mr Harvey. And we respond in a simple way: we go to the
market, to get organic foods, local foods, artisan foods, the foods
that we believe will maintain, if not improve, our health.
We don't believe the nutritionists who tell us everything is fine. We
don't trust mass-produced foods, the battery chicken-Corn Flakes-Coca-
Cola culture that assails us, and our children, every day of the
week. BSE and bird flu don't surprise us one bit when they happen,
because we know the commercialized food culture is always working on
the edge of disaster.
And we have our food heroes, the individuals whose produce we snap up
at whatever markets we attend. Dan Ahern for chickens. Jens Krumpe
for dry-aged beef. Fingal Ferguson for pork. Stephane Griesbach for
fish. Sheridan's for cheeses. Jane Russell for sausages. Willie
Scannell for spuds. David Llewellyn for apple juice. Gary Crocker for
eggs. The list could go on and on, and goes on for page after page of
the new Bridgestone Irish Food Guide, which has grown to 536 pages,
largely thank to the growth in markets and producers.
Whilst personal health is a paramount element, it is only one reason
why those 10,000 people are at the People's Park on a Sunday.
Environmental health and agricultural sustainability are other
reasons why we use markets: we want a fit, clean planet for our
children. Far from being dilettantes, shoppers at FMs are highly
They can see the big picture wherein a healthy planet with a healthy
agriculture sustains healthy people. When we read the findings of the
geologist and nutritionist David Thomas, quoted in Jonathan Harvey's
book, that "you'd have needed to eat ten tomatoes in 1991 to get the
amount of copper a single tomato would have supplied in 1940", then
we know that allowing intensive, chemicalised, monoculture
agriculture to dictate what we eat will not sustain us.

07 July 2007

Lord Bagenal Hotel

John writes: A little note from the road. A night with the family at James Kehoe's svelte new hotel at the venerable Lord Bagenal Inn in Leighlinbridge, County Carlow. A glam new building, brilliant rooms and in The Waterfront restaurant, a great space for George Kehoe to show his stuff. Mr Kehoe has worked with some of the best talents in contemporary Irish cuisine – Aidan Byrne, Paul Flynn, Derry Clarke – and it shows: the cooking in the LB is top-notch, and even manages to pull off those molecular cooking elements – foams, savoury ice creams – that so many chefs get all wrong. The food is simple to read – carpaccio of Hereford beef, horseradish ice cream, beetroot pickle; strip of veal with smoked Gubbeen and potato gratin, peas and bacon, bearnaise sauce – but the impact of the combinations, right from a little taster of air-dried lamb with lavender honey - is simply stunning. This is some of the hottest cooking going on right now, and simply should not be missed.
Waterfront Restaurant 059 9721668.

05 July 2007

Did We Miss Anyone?

A number of you have contacted us to say that, while you like the guide, we've missed out one of your favourite places. We love getting this sort of feedback (though we hate missing good places). If you think we've overlooked somewhere, please tell us about it...

30 June 2007

Artisan Brews

Is Galway Hooker the best new beer in Ireland since O'Hara's stout? What's your favourite artisan tipple?

27 June 2007

GM free Ireland

26/6/07 At the launch of the new Bridgestone Guide Minister Sargent announced that he is to set out to formulate a strategy in the best interests of producers and the country requiring that produce be fed on GM free feed. The Minister noted that other countries are using GM-free status as a marketing tool.

Genetic Modification has nothing to do with food quality. It is a device for agribusiness companies to dominate seed and pesticide markets. Is GM the new DDT?

26 June 2007

Hot Off The Press!

The Irish Food Guide 2007 is launched today! In this, the most essential guide to Ireland's food culture, you'll find the shops, the restaurants, the producers, the markets and the places to stay, to check out this Summer. (Summer??)