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30 December 2008

Everyone's doing it, Part 2


We will be posting our blog of the Men & Women of the Year on New Year's Day, but we thought, given that everyone else is doing it, that you might like our pick of the best discs of 2008.
And, have you noticed how, at the end of the year, there is nowadays little or no consensus on what music, movies or books were “the best”. A very healthy sign of diversity.

Martin Hayes & Denis Cahill: Welcome Here Again (Green Linnet)
How do you follow the manic, extrovert exuberance of “Live in Seattle”. By going manically introvert, as on this amazing record from the great duo. “Japanese music is above all a music of reticence, of atmosphere” writes Junichiro Tanizaki in his essay, “In Praise of Shadows”. Here is that reticence, that atmosphere, brought to Irish music. Simply extraordinary.

Carolin Widman, Denes Varjon: Robert Schumann The Violin Sonatas (ECM)
Incredible duo performances that fizz with an improvisatory dynamic. Schumann's music works best when the performers exhibit a control tempered by a wildness that threatens to tear it all apart, which is just what Widman and Varjon bring to this arch-Romantic music.

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson: Lorraine at Emmanuel (Avie)
The orchestra is led by the late Craig Smith, who like Mrs Lieberson passed away too young. Lorraine's voice does for my generation what Maria Callas' voice did for an earlier generation: it haunts you.

Cassandra Wilson: S'loverly (Blue Note)
Twenty years on from her first collection of standards, “Blue Skies”, and we are still listening to that disc. Kind of suspect we will be listening to this beautifully managed collection of standards in twenty years time.

Pierre Laurent-Aimard: Bach, The Art of Fugue (DG)
A great modern pianist goes back through the centuries to find something new to say about Bach's contrapuntal masterpiece.

Garth Knox: D'Amore (ECM)
More duo performances as Knox and Agnes Vesterman range far and wide – from 1605 to 2006 to be precise – through the beautiful tones of the voila d'amore, counterpointed by cello. Exquisite musical truffles.


Toumani Diabaté: Mande Variations (World Circuit)
Not as jaw-droppingly amazing as ‘New Ancient Strings”, but the pulse of the kora as played by Diabaté is profound.

Various Artists: Masters of Tradition (RTE)
You can call us biased, as we were involved with the Masters of Tradition Festival in West Cork for some time, and biased we indeed are. But, just listen to the late Frank Harte and Donal Lunny on “The Lambeg Drummer” and tell us that it doesn't say more about Ireland's politics and passions than anything else you have ever heard.

16 December 2008


One of these animals doesn't belong in Dermot Byrne's smart chicken coop: can you guess which one?
Yes, that is none other than Holly, our one-year-old pup, a Scottie-Shiatzu cross, trying to steal some chicken food, as one-year-olds will.
Mr Byrne's coops are portable, beautifully made products, and very ingenious: a small trap door lowers inside the main frame to allow the birds to climb the stairs at night and keep well away from Mr Fox. Being able to move the house means you can keep the birds on fresh grass, thus giving you lushly orange yolks in your eggs.
If you don't want to spend more than €500 to house your birds, and you want to buy something that is both homemade and handmade, then check out Mr Byrne's website:
www.irishchickencoops.com
These are lovely pieces of work, and maybe the perfect present for the person in your life who is determined to produce more of their own food in 2009.

14 December 2008

Everyone's doing it, so why can't we?


Ah, the annual rash of critic's lists!
A chance to snort with amiable derision at the choices of people you admire – Michael Dwyer and Donald Clarke both choose Paul Thomas Anderson's awful “There Will Be Blood” as the year's best movie! Are they nuts!
Well, just to prove that we are as nutty as all the other hacks, here are our faves from the year almost ended...

I'm Not There, dir. Todd Haynes
Most folk included this in 2007's list but it only made its way down to us in 2008. Cinema was invented so that directors like Haynes could make movies like this. We were mesmerised by every frame.

WALL-E, dir. Andrew Stanton
Scary, beautiful, filled with life and love in a world without life or love. Pixar are the champs.

Be Kind, Rewind, dir. Michel Gondry
Bricolage cinema from the extraordinary Gondry, a man with an imagination like no other. Even managed to redeem Mia Farrow. Well, almost.

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, dir. Guillermo del Toro.
Another director with an utterly exuberant imagination, and a stunning cast. Sheer class.

The Orphange, dir. Juan Antonio Bayona
A protége of del Toro, and a freshman director with absolute control over story and camera. Brilliant, and scary in equal measure.

Iron Man, dir. Jon Favreau
How has Robert Downey Jr, managed it? All those drugs, all that jail time, and he comes out the coolest guy on the block. Even managed to redeem Gwyneth Paltrow. Really.

Sweeney Todd, dir Tim Burton
Sondheim, Burton and Depp? Mr Cool, Mr Cool and Mr Cool. How could it fail? It didn't. And Mrs Tim Burton was genuinely brilliant.

The Dark Knight, dir. Christopher Nolan
Nolan deserves all the money just for daring to make a Hollywood movie that is so unrelentingly dark. The storyline was confusing, but the emotional heart of the movie was direct and unflinching.

06 December 2008

The genius of Cheesemaking, Part 1: 25 years of CAIS

25 Years of Cais: Speech at Cashel, November 2008

It is such a privilige to be asked to say something to mark 25 years of CAIS.
For almost 20 years of those 25 years, my wife and I have been writing about cheesemakers, writing about those who have succeeded, and who today enjoy what we might call luxury brand status, but also writing about others who endeavouerd but who, for a host of reasons, have not survived:

.
I can still recall Maam Valley Cheese being made on the stovetop in a farmhouse in Connemara, I remember in Kerry visiting “the bicycling Germans” with the Israeli recipe for soft goat’s cheese preserved in olive oil, and who lived in a house with a grass roof.
I remember St Martin cheese from County Clare made by Eileen O’Brien, and of course one members the amazing Martin Guillemot and Ann Marie Jamand of Maucnaclea Cheeses in Cork market. And who can forget Monica Murphy’s pioneering Cheeseboard shop, in Dublin, years ahead of its time.
Ireland’s farmhouse cheese economy stretches from those who are the veterans at this stage,those who created Cais back in 1983 – Gubbeen, Milleens, Durrus, Carrigbyrne, Glen-o-Sheen, Coolea, Ryefield – all the way to the newcomers like Knockdrinna, Mossfield, Glebe Brethan. Some cheese businesses are relatively large in scale, and some are tiny: one of the best West Cork goats milk cheeses – Carriag Goat’s Cheese – can be bought in only 2 wholefood shops in West Cork

I start from the point from at which, I believe, that you started: milk is a magic liquid.
It is the source of life, as Pierre Boissard notes in his history of Camembert, He writes: ”It is highly complex and recalcitrant substance”. Right from the baby’s first suckle to the pleasure of a mature piece of blue cheese or an oozing semi-soft washed rind cheese, enjoyed with a glass of wine, in our maturity, milk sustains us. As Peter Ward, one of the many great retail champions of cheesemaking, said in 2002: “Milk is in our blood!”

But if milk is a magic liquid, then it follows that cheesemakers, those who work closest of all with milk, those who understand it better than anyone else, those who understand that milk is a changeling, a shape-shifter – that milk is not just a living thing, but almost a living teenager thing – are not simply its handmaidens. They are much more, they are its Magicians.

Magic = genius with geography
What is magic? it is genius allied to geography. It is where and when the cheesemaker realises the cheese that wants to be made, and then seizes and adapts the milk and the micro flora, recognising the place that is at the heart of every cheese.
Myrtle Allen in her Ballymaloe Cookbook quotes a local buttermaker who, when told tht the quality ofbutter he was sending over was excellent, replied that: “the milk from that field always made good butter“.
Not the milk from the county, or the cow, but the milk from “that field”.
The great Italian writer Italo Calvino put it this way in his novel Mr Palomar:
“Behind every cheese there is a different pasture of a different green under a different sky”

The Person
Magic happens when Creativity collides with stubbornness: every cheese is different, not just because of Place, but because of the Person: taste the cheese and you meet the cheesemaker, for every cheese is the mirror of its maker. Meet Irish cheesemakers and you also meet people with that greatest human virtue: stubbornness. Bolshie people!

The Place meets the Person who can make the cheese, and they bring to the process the Passion, to create a unique product.
When we write about cheese in our books, we use terms like soulful, agrestic, complex, passionate, articulate, multi-layered. People might argue that these are not terms appropriate to a foodstuff. and I agree: for these are terms applicable to a unique thing, a unique product, they are the terms we might use when talking about a work of art. And every farmhouse cheese is a work of Art.


But before we deal with the Art of Cheese, let us dwell for a moment on one key element that creates that Art, and which has been a major factor in the history of CAIS and its members: The Struggle.

The Struggle
Scientists don’t understand milk, and they don’t understand cheese. As Pierre Boisard writes: “milk has always fascinated and irritated scientists... for scientists nothing was more baffling and unscientific than the skill of the cheesemakers, who managed to produce savoury cheeses without knowing anything at all about microbiology”

And this is the field on which the struggle takes place: Art versus Science.
The art is created by the lonely cheesemaker in a tiny room somewhere in rural Ireland. And the science is a government-funded bureacratic monolith that has all the subtlety of a Salem witch trial. Science argues against art, and labels it superstition, simply because it can’t understand what is going on.
Cheesemaking depends on all that ephemera that makes art: chance, inspiration, volatility, reflex, experience, culture, deep-knowingness.
What does science value: certainty; standardisation; technology, hyper-hygienism. The scientist, to echo a famous remark that is often attributed to Garret Fitzgerald, says: “That is all fine is practice, but how does it work in theory?”.

The struggle between bureaucratised science and the art of cheesemaking, between people with permanent and pensionable jobs and individual artisan cheesemakers, has been a bruising one. It has often seemed, to borrow the old expression, that they were using a wheel to crush a butterfly.
But, of course, the butterfly has not been crushed. The creativity that engenders every new cheese, and that keeps cheesemakers at the curd every day, day in and day out, has not been broken,
The greatest feat that cheesemakers have achieved is in creating and perfecting their cheeses. But perhaps the greatest victory won by CAIS members has been to withstand the dull, deathly standardisation that bureacucratic science would love to impose on Irish cheesemaking. The victory is yours.



The Art of Cheese.
Finally, let us ask: What is art? It is the process of transformation, it is the process by which daily work creates something that enjoys precious value. And no act of transformation is greater than the artisan work involved in collaborating with and mastering the volatility and volubility of milk.
Every day, the template with which the cheesemaker works is different. The sculptor doesn’t have to work with lava, the painter’s canvas is secure, the writer’s pencil can be sharpened. But the cheesemaker has no such certainty. Everything is up for grabs, and it is this ability to wrest the essence of the cheese from this ephemera that certifies just what extraordinary art it is that the cheesemaker dabbles in.
This ability comes, I think, from their sincere belief in what they create. As Norman Steele said to me years ago” “You must believe in the food. It simply will not work for a small business if you do not believe in it as a high quality food that will win respect”

But CAIS members have taken this artistic creativity even further, for they create their art, every day, as artisans.
Irish farmhouse cheeses are the mirror image of the people who make them. The art is not abstract. Instead, it is intensely personal, so much more so when you consider that virtually everyone begins from the same point, with the same materials.
Seamus Sheridan tells the story of customers at Slow Food who taste Irish cheeses and decide that they love Cheese X the best. “Can you give us that from, say, thirty suppliers?” they ask. “But there is only one producer”, explains Seamus.
And so, every cheese is different, every cheese is unique, every cheese is, as Peter Ward says, “minded” or as the Italians might say, the cheeses are “curated”. The cheesemakers are inventors, and curators, and thus artisans, of their cheeses.

I want to finish this little journey through 25 years of Art and Magic with what I think are some of the most profound observations on artisanship, from Lori di Mori’s beautiful book, “Beaneaetsr and Bread Soup”.
Artisans, she writes, “are as alike as they are different, and they share some essential qualities:

a kind of personal integrity that can be confused with eccentricity: ‘however strange it may seem to you, this is the way I do things’

Pride without arrogance: a sincere belief in the excellence of their work

Humility and steadfastness; the ability to light the wood stove, milk the ewes,. coax h bees out of their hives – quietly, without pretense – year after year.

The belief that their work is not a means to something else, but one of the ways to give meaning to their lives

Genius: the brilliance that comes to those driven by their personal vision rather than by a desire for success, money or fame

Generosity: they have no secrets. If you appreciate what they do, they’ll tell you everything they know... and usually set a place for you at their table..

I want to thank you for all the cheesemakers’ tables I have been lucky to share over twenty years as a writer on Ireland’s food culture.
Above all, I want to thank you for having, over 25 years, graced so many Irish and international tables with your cheeses, and having thereby brought to those places of cooking and sharing and enjoying the great fruits of your individual – and of CAIS’s collective – genius.

John McKenna

The Genius of Cheesemaking, part 2

There are many delicious questions to be answered when it comes to the Xmas dinner table.
This year, will we get the smoked salmon from the Burren Smokehouse, or the Connemara Smokehouse? The turkey from Gary Crocker’s farm in Wicklow? The pud from Nash 19 in Cork, or from Country Choice in Nenagh?
But maybe the toughest question is: what cheeses do we want on the Xmas cheeseboard this year?
What makes the question rather difficult to answer is that we are, fortunately, spoilt for choice. If you want a piece of blue cheese as part of your selection, then you might opt for the classic Cashel Blue from Tipperary, making sure you get one that has been aged for about ten weeks, when cashel is at its peak of tasty maturity.
But, if you like something a little more piquant, then you could go for Cashel’s near-neighbour, Crozier Blue, made using ewe’s milk. But the Tipperary duo aren’t the end of you choices, for there is also the superb Bellingham Blue, from County Louth, made by Peter Thomas using unpasteurised milk, a farmhouse cheese that in the opinion of many food lovers, knocks spots off the classic Stilton.
And in whatever way you want to compose your Xmas cheese selection, there are splendid choices to be enjoyed across the entire taste spectrum. You fancy some washed-rind cheese? What about the classic Milleens, made by Quinlan Steele down in deepest West Cork, a second-generation cheesemaker who has succeeded his parents as producer of the cheese that, more than thirty years ago, began the quiet revolution that has gifted us with some many diverse, idiosyncratic and world-class cheeses.
For there is something rather magical, and utterly unique, about the cheeses that are made on farms throughout Ireland.
Take, for instance, the cheeses made by my own local cheesemaker, Jeffa Gill of Durrus Cheese.
Ms Gill began to make the cheese that became Durrus almost thirty years ago, experimenting with the milk from her couple of cows on the stovetop in her farmhouse, up the hill of Coomkeen. Thirty years on, and that slice of Durrus you cut at the Xmas table will have been made by Jeffa, who today uses milk bought from a couple of local farmers. Every morning she heats the milk, creates the curd, then forms the cheese, then sets them on the shelves to mature.
It is a uniquely bespoke food, for where else would you be able to enjoy a food that is still made by the person who invented the cheese, a cheese that is unlike any other made anywhere in the world?
Cheesemakers have a saying for this sort of magic. The cheese they finally invent, after all the trials and the botched efforts and the failed experiments, is, they say, “the cheese that wanted to be made”. In other words, they must marry the individual qualities of the milk they work with to the precise micro-flora of the place where they make it.
With most of the cheeses produced in the world, this sort of intense specificity never happens. If you are a farmer milking a herd in Italy where the milk is destined to make Parmesan cheese – Parmigiano Reggiano – then your milk will be subsumed with the milk of thousands of other farmers to make a cheese that is produced according to rigid guidelines and laws.
Most Parmesan is of superb quality, but it is a regimented quality, a cheese that must sing from the same hymn sheet as every other Parmesan.
But Irish cheeses, in comparison, are riffing on the melody of the hymn sheet, they are improvising on it every day, like jazz musicians tearing a melody apart only to recreate it in their own image.
The interesting thing is that this free-form, idiosyncratic and individualistic food creation now has a distinguished history. CAIS, the Irish association of farmhouse cheesemakers, recently celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary.
Of its seven founding members, five cheeses are still today made by the people who invented them: Coolea from North Cork; Carrigbyrne from Wexford; and the mighty trinity of West Cork washed-rind cheeses, Milleens, Durrus and Gubbeen. Every day, the cheesemakers make the cheese, they mature it, they mind it.
Their work is a precious gift to our table at any time of the year, for every cheese is, in fact, a piece of fine art, every cheese is a unique expression of a person, a place, and a passion to make beautiful food.

02 December 2008

Eating Polish in Dublin

Caroline Byrne unearths a Polish gem with true home-style cooking in Dublin.

Gospoda Polska Polish restaurant
15 Capel Street,
Dublin 1
T: 01 8749394


On my first visit to this quaint little Polish restaurant on Capel Street, I knew that this was going to become one of favourite restaurants in Dublin full stop.
The waitress who served us all evening was charming and great fun, and seeing our enthusiasm was very happy to elaborate on all the dishes we ordered. While I knew how much I had enjoyed the experience, I also knew that my knowledge of Polish restaurants was limited to this one occasion. So I decided to return with a gang of friends, half Polish and half Irish, so we could make a proper decision about Gospoda Polska.
The girls (Polish) both decided on the borsch (barszcz) – a traditional Polish broth made from beetroot and either beef or chicken stock – with a mushroom and cabbage patty (EUR*6.50). I also had the borsch, except with cabbage ravioli (EUR*6.50), sort of like a Polish version of tortellini al brodo. This is a delicious, warming dish that would make a perfect lunch or light meal on a cold day, and I was delighted when both girls declared it to be terrific and just like from home.
Other starters included the beef tartare with mushrooms, onions and sour cucumber, served with a raw egg yolk and a shot of vodka (EUR*11.90) and Polish dumplings filled with cheese, potatoes and fried onions (EUR*9.90), which were very tasty.
Moving on to the mains, the Polish girls, being dainty, decided to opt for starter portions of dumplings, of which there were a variety including cabbage, mushroom and fired onion, and even strawberries and sweet cream (EUR*9.90). True to my Irish roots however, I like a good feed, and order the pork knuckle in horseradish sauce with chips and sour cabbage (EUR*15.90).
My meal evoked the most envy I believe, and rightly so. The meat was falling of the bone and the sour cabbage and horseradish sauce offer a perfect counterbalance to the overall richness. It was absolutely yum.
So too was the Chef’s Cutlet – a grilled pork chop finished off in the oven with tomatoes, onions, garlic sauce and cheese, served with fried baby potatoes (EUR*13.90) – the half a baked duck in cranberry and strawberry sauce with dauphin potatoes (EUR*19.90), and the very traditional Polish pork cutlet (breaded and fried), served with whole, fried potatoes and cucumber salad (EUR*12.90), which our Polish friends told us was very typical of a Sunday lunch dish in Poland.
Overall, the meal was great fun, especially passing around the dishes and talking about the food. Nobody could fault their meal, every bit was delicious, and I was delighted to hear that this was not the fare eaten in restaurants in Poland, but at home. One girl remarked that her experience of Polish eateries in Dublin so far, which is limited and mostly always with the dual function of a pub, had led her not to expect much from Gospoda Polska, but having come here she would definitely be back – especially for the barszcz!
All of us bar one went for one of the homely but yummy desserts, including a cup of fresh fruit with ice cream, cream and streawberry sauce; apple cake and vanilla ice cream; or a more traditional sweet pancake with cottage cheese, whipped cream and sugar (EUR*6.50).
From a general perspective, Gospoda Polska is a very warm, friendly restaurant that will accommodate a large group or satisfy a lone diner simply looking for a bowl of borsch. The portions were generous and the value is fantastic for what you get – good hearty, authentic Polish home-cooking.
Our meal for six, including drinks, came to just over EUR*190. This is a super little restaurant and hopefully it will be around for a long time to come.

Open Monday to Thursday: 12 noon – 11pm, Friday and Saturday: 12 noon – 11.30pm, and Sunday: 12.30pm – 11pm
Booking not necessary
Does not accept credit cards

01 December 2008

Our Playlist


Well, you didn't ask. But, had you asked, we would have said: well, this is our playlist at this present moment...

Dusty in Memphis, Dusty Springfield (Philips)

d'Amore, Garth Knox (ECM)

Playground, Manu Katche (ECM)

Masters of Tradition, Various artists (RTE Lyric fm)

Lorraine at Emmanuel, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (Avie)

Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, Foo Fighters (RCA)

Legend, Townes van Zandt (Charly)

And, what we would add to this list, if we knew how to get our hands on it, would be a Peadar O'Riada cd called, we think, 10 Minutes to the Millenium. We heard a track on John Kelly's programme and it blew us away. If you know where we might find it, we would be most grateful...

Gubbeen White Pudding


Friday morning, Bantry market, and Sebastian at the Gubbeen stall has something new – these guys always have something new! But here are some Gubbeen savoury puddings, both a black and a white pudding. So, we ask for a piece of white pud, which is shaped in the small horse-shoe shapes we love, but which are becoming less common these days.
Sunday morning,and the pud is cooked, and served with some scrambled eggs. Reader, it is to die for: quite a dense texture, and not at all crumbly, packed tight into the casing. But what is amazing is the hammy-ness of the flavour: has it been cooked in a ham stock when it was being poached?
We do not know, and as much as we need to know is that this is the most distinctive new pudding we have tried in ages, and we kicked ourselves because we hadn't bought a piece of black pudding also, something we shall rectify at the next Friday market. Look out for the puddings at the Gubbeen market stalls throughout Cork, and contact them at the smokehouse for details of any other retailers.

smokehouse@gubbeen.com
www,gubbeen.com

25 November 2008

La Calza del Cuoco


We are enjoying a rather neat food lover's Xmas present from Carluccio's in Dublin.
La Calza del Cuoco is a beige stocking with a red and white stripe that contains a packet of pasta cut in Xmas tree shapes, a jar of tomato sauce with black olives, and a wooden spoon: lovely. And lots more pretty gift ideas where that came from also.
www.carluccios.com

Char grilling at Avoca


Avoca's Fern House Café in Kilmacanogue, County Wicklow, is now opening for dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Matt Murphy and Giorgio Ramano are heading up the kitchen, so you can expect the cooking to have solid Avoca senders with washes of Italian accents. What intrigues us about the menus is that the lovely Arctic Char from Sligo produced by Bill Carty appears not just as a main course – with salsa verde, dauphinoise potatoes and sesame green beans – but also as an intriguing starter where it is served as tempura, with coconut, Asian chilli and lime dipping sauce, and a herbed salad. Bill also picked up a Eurotoques award last week, so Cloonacool Arctic char is not just going places, it is going to all the right places.
The rest of the Avoca menu reads beautifully, but not so beautifully, one suspects, as it will eat.
Reservations on 01 274 6990.
Meantime, we await the restaurant where the kitchen decides that Arctic char should be char-grilled: charred char, anyone?

The X-factor



There are many things that make Christmas christmassey.
The things that put the X in Xmas
The kids's school plays.
The smell of cloves in a hot whiskey.
Making the tree with the children.
Driving home from school after the last day of the school year.
Santa.
And the Terroirs window, in Donnybrook.
Just look at it. Doesn't it give you a warm glow.
And that's even before you get inside.


www.terroirs.ie

24 November 2008

The Law of Diversity

The Law of Diversity

From the moment we switch on the radio first thing in the morning, we are enduring a diet of non-stop economics. More accurately, and more importantly for our mental health, we are enduring a diet of non-stop economic woe, which has been building up steam not just for the last twelve months when Northern Rock put the fear of God into Irish savers, but for the last three years, ever since the first fissure lines began to appear in the US sub-prime debacle.
Generally speaking, economics in the media is the business of economics correspondents, who are in turn briefed and influenced by economists, who like to talk in terms of Laws. But, inasmuch as an old Clause-4 socialist like myself can understand the dismal science, I want to propose that everyone have the democratic right to invent their own Law of Economics.
Here is mine: it is the Law of Diversity.
The Law of Diversity proposes that the way to human mental and physical healthfulness and successful economies – and the latter is designed to create the former, not the other way ’round – is to have societies, agricultures and economic structures that are as diverse as is humanly possible. Difference is good, diversity is culture, balance is Zen.
So, applying my Law – it’s always a good idea to give your Law a capital “L”, otherwise you won’t get a Nobel prize for it – how has the Irish government done over the last decade?
Badly.Very badly indeed.
Because it was a cash cow, the Government allowed the building sector to grow to 25% of the economy, when it should never have been a whole lot more than 10%. No balance, no Zen, no sustainability.
At the same time, the Government created a bureaucratised, Soviet-style monster it called the HSE in order to oversee our health and our health services. No diversity there, I’m afraid, so they have broken my Law once again.
In the agricultural sector, where a surplus of Exchequer funds could and should have fostered the management of a diverse and cultured agriculture, the Government has just kept on taking EU subsidies which have made our agriculture intellectually bankrupt over the last 30 years. No new diversity there, then.
The consequences of breaking Laws is all around us. A banking and financial sector lurching from crisis to crisis. A health sector lurching from crisis to crisis. An agricultural sector that runs around the place like a headless chicken.
Ireland Inc., in short, is a bit of a mess. And that is before the HSE tries to cope with the rash of referrals for patients with depression caused by the recession.
How has this happened? Well, to find a solution, we have to dream up another Law, which is the Law of Silver Bullet Thinking.
This Law says that there is one solution to any challenge. The Exchequer needs money? Haul in the Stamp Duty! The nation’s healthfulness is in decline? Create the HSE! Farming is a mess? Ride the Brussels Gravy Train!
Silver Bullet Thinking is endemic amongst politicos, bureaucrats, economists and farmers of a certain age. Recently, for example, the journalist Tyler Brulée wrote of quizzing former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone about London’s over-dependence on the financial sector:
“When I asked him whether the city should be doing more to encourage a more rounded creative community (for example, not just having design studios and headquarters for advertising agencies but also ateliers and light industry to support this sector), I was informed that those days were gone and that he didn’t really see those types of businesses having a place in London”.
Silver Bullet Thinking, par excellence. One solution, which brings in the money, so to hell with the rest. Brulée was proposing the City of Diversity. Livingstone was content with the City of Capital.
And look what has happened to Capital.
It looks grim, doesn’t it? But, despite ourselves and our lemming-like behaviour in this country over the last decade, we are actually a diverse bunch. Humans instinctively cling to the Law of Diversity, so there is always hope. And the monoliths built by Silver Bullet Thinking – EU-subsidised agriculture, the HSE, free market capitalism – are in no way sustainable, so they will eventually crumble and die.
Meantime, our task is to follow the Law of Diversity. I had a particularly lovely example of it just last weekend at the second Savour Kilkenny Festival. In one beautiful room in Castlcomer, you could taste the superlative Cramers Grove ice cream – made by local farmers Nigel and Carol. You could enjoy apple juice made from the prized karmine apple, from Dunedin orchards at Bennettsbridge. Olivia Goodwillie was grilling her unique Lavistown sausages, and Helen Finnegan had her own gold-medal winning farmhouse cheeses from Knockdrinna. Margaret Kirwan had superlative Irish trout from her farm at Goatsbridge, and Thomas Lyng’s Angus beef was chocolate-dark and utterly delicious. The brown soda bread from the Moore family’s Oldtown Bakery was as fine a soda as I have eaten in years.
Diverse foods, from diverse individuals who are united by a natural creativity, and who offer a microcosm of what a diverse culture really means, and what it can achieve for our health, and our society.

Bucking the Recession in Fermoy

Recession?
Excuse me, all you happy Friday lunchtime eaters in Fermoy's Juniper restaurant, but there is a recession going on.
As we speak, Citigroup is going down the tubes. Ireland's banks are worth less than a kid's LEGO set. The credit crunch is now more painful than an Elizabethan torture on the rack.
And you don't care, do you? You have found the secret of Bucking the Recession: give me good food at good prices, and let the recession go hang.
Last Friday, Juniper in Fermoy was packed, with happy people. Abdou Mounir and Daniel O'Leary's handsome restaurant on Kent Street, just off the main strip and running down to the river, was full of happy, discerning people. I was one of them. I was having the pheasant and potato tart with beurre blanc and some lovely shredded, cooked red cabbage. The tart, the sauce and the veg were simply ace: a perfect lunch, in a lovely room.
I want to go back at dinnertime for the oxtail soup with horseradish cream and mini Yorkshire pud, and then some Asian-style duck with bak choi and an orange and five spice jus, or maybe the scallops and crab with linguini, or the monkfish with pea and chorizo risotto.
Juniper is a lovely new discovery, with excellent food at great prices. Recession? Who cares?! Not us.
And we will be back later with more on Fermoy...

Juniper Restaurant, 16 Kent Street, Fermoy, Co Cork 025 31040

Nash 19 Xmas Hampers

Last month we mentioned in passing that one of the best Xmas puddings we know is made by Claire Nash and her team in Cork's superb Nash 19 restaurant.

Now, the good news is that you can buy the Nash 19 puds, and a whole lot more besides, via their hamper service, which is sold online, and through the Nash 19 shop, and via Brown Thomas, Cork.

Whilst there are pre-selected hampers, ranging from the Twelve Days of Christmas at €360 to the Gourmand's Gorgeous Gift at €75, you can also make up your own hamper from anything in the shop. So, let's get a Clodagh McKenna LOVE apron; Benoit Lorge's chocs; David Llewellyn's mighty balsamic vinegar, and a plum pud for you, and one for your Mum, and one for Auntie, and one for your best mate...

Order online @ www.nash19.com
Telephone 086 1661 614
Buy via BT, Cork, or Nash 19, Princes Street, Cork

Back in Black/Le Tire Bouchon

Well, you must be saying to yourselves, and where have you been all these weeks?...

The answer is that we have just emerged from the annual tunnel that is the writing and finishing of the annual Bridgestone 100 Best Guides, the 100 Best Restaurants in Ireland 2009 and the 100 Best Places to Stay in Ireland 2009.

200 new entries, written from scratch. Some guides just tweak what they wrote last year – or maybe even three or five years ago – but we don't do that. So, you go into the tunnel, and you write 200 new entries, and when they are finished, then you emerge back in to the real world.

And now they are finished, and they will be in the shops just before Xmas. Lots of superb new places, both restaurants and places to stay.

So the blog is back. And let's start with a newcomer: here is Eamon Barrett on Wexford's Le Tire Bouchon, opened a couple of months ago in the centre of Wexford town by Kevin and Arnaud, both formerly of Dunbrody House. Kevin cooks, Arnaud takes care of f-o-h. Take it away Eamon...


Arnaud Clement and Kevin Carley have created a lovey room above The Sky and the Ground on South Main Street, in Wexford: old wooden wine cases make up the bar and there is a nice rustic feel to the place. Service is friendly and effecient, just Arnaud and one good waiter man the floor.

From the starters I could have had poached pear and blue cheese salad, or Black pudding stuffed with Toulouse sausage with a cognac and green peppercorn sauce, or Breast of Pigeon with wilted spinach and a beetroot coulis. In the end I went for pea soup, which had a lovely freshness to it and hadn't been blitzed too smoothly.
Ju, in an attempt to ignore the fact that there is a recession on, ordered pan fried foie gras with toasted brioche and fig chutney. It's a difficult ingredient to work with but they made a good job of it.

For mains I went for supreme of chicken stuffed with a chorizo and lardon farce, and Ju went for lobster with a cognac and butter sauce. In a somewhat unnecessary display, the live lobster is brought to the table and a little speech is given about how the restaurant only uses the freshest ingredients 'and we don't use frozen lobster, unlike some other establishments'. Ohhhkaayyy.

Service is a little slow but anyway the food eventually arrives. The retro content of the menu is carried through to presentation as everything has a very 70's look to it including garnished lemon (as opposed to a lemon garnish, if you follow) on the side of the plate of the lobster, which, having been split down the centre for cooking has been almost reassembled on the plate to form a kind of odd tableau grotesque. Not that it affects the flavour, which is very good.

My own chicken is quite tasty, some of the skin having been left on and the chorizo is a good partner. It comes atop a dollop of mash and then the sides are a little bowl of new potatos and some mixed veg - a bit too al dente but good quality.

We debated dessert but in the end I ordered a chocolate and orange torte. Oranges were a kind of theme actually. One of the starters featured oranges (scallops) and then no less than three of the desserts: A blood orange souffle, my torte, and crepes suzette, flambed at the table. Sadly, the torte was rather poor.

Lovely place, good service and cooking which is good. Total bill for the two of us: 2 x starters, 2 x mains, 1 x dessert, 2 x coffee, 1 x glass of sancerre, 1 x large bottle of still water: €98.50

Kevin: 0879122302
carleykevin@eircom.net
letirebouchon@eircom.net

29 October 2008

C word, 2

Down in Ballinskelligs, they know a thing or three about chocolate.
Emily and Sarah of Cocoa Bean, and Colm of Skelligs Chocoltes work side by side, two separate companies, two distinct identities, but one location. Remarkable co-operation.
And remarkable chocolates. The girls have just introduced a new bar, Dark Chocolate with Christmas Tree, and it's a beaut: spruce, rosemary, ginger, spices and clementine zest all bundled together in a beautiful bar of chocolate.
Colm, meanwhile, is producing an Apricot Amaretto which is – there is no other way to put this – simply to die for. Intense yet light, this is magnificent sweetie production.
And just in time for filling those stockings...

wwwcocoabeanchocolates.com
www.skelligschocolate.com

The C word...

I know, I know: you don't want to hear the C word yet. But, we believe that the following reasons are good enough to merit mentioning it...

Country Choice Xmas Puddings: can Peter and Mary Ward's puddings be bettered? They do make a mighty pud at Nash 19 in Cork, but there is certainly no pud quite like the CC one. Made by hand in 25 unit batches without using a large mixer in order to maintain the correct texture, the CC puds no longer use suet having switched to good Nenagh butter. The good news is that whilst you can get them in Country Choice, Fallon & Byrne, URRU Bandon, Caviston's and at the RDS Craft fair, you can also order them online this year, and get them sent a present all over the world.
Imagine receiving a Country Choice pud as a present, sent through the post to some far-flung corner of the world! Too good to be true...
www.countrychoice.ie

16 October 2008

Your Retail Therapy

Your Retail Therapy

Of all the weasel words that permeate our culture -– sugar-free; compassionate Conservatism; low-fat; friendly fire; buy-one-get-one-free – there is surely no more egregious expression than “retail therapy”.
When you are down and miserable, it proposes, you only need to flash the cash or pass the plastic to get cured, to find your balance and well-being, to regain your mental confidence.
The reality of this retail therapy, of course, is the hell envisioned by the great writer Mike Davis in his book on Los Angeles, “City of Quartz”, where he describes shopping centres as “a veritable commercial symphony of swarming, consuming nomads moving from one cashpoint to another”.
How on earth can a consuming nomad moving from one cashpoint to another in the midst of a carefully and cynically orchestrated commercial symphony expect to be cured of the blues?
You don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of emerging a happier, better person, and that’s long before the VISA bill swoops through your letterbox.
And yet, I want to propose that there is such a thing as retail therapy, and that it is not just a sure way to beat the blues and regain your mental strength. It is therapy that can also ensure your future health, and the health of the planet and the health of your local economy, all in one fell swoop.
In Waterford recently, I took a trip down the Dunmore road to the Ardkeen shopping centre, a small development of shops at one of the roundabouts on the road. It doesn’t look like much of anything, but it is home to Ardkeen Stores, run by the Jephson family since 1967, a mighty long time in modern retailing.
Ardkeen isn’t one of those mega-stores that have become the new standard for retailing. It’s modest in size, its modesty giving it a very human feeling – a calmness – as you walk in, when you are met by the smell of the fresh bread delivered from the great Barron’s Bakery in Cappoquin, where the bread is still baked in traditional stone ovens.
I picked up a box of Ballycross apple juice from Wexford, then a bag of lovely oakleaf lettuce from Thorpe’s organics. Within 5 minutes I had half a dozen squishy Waterford blaas in the basket, along with Noirin’s breakfast bread, fresh cheese and yogurts from Moonshine Dairy in Westmeath, black and white puddings and a loin of bacon from T.J. Crowe of Tipperary, a local Born Free organic chicken reared by Paul Crotty just a few miles away, and another loaf from Oldtown bakery.
On we went, picking up some new spuds from Wexford, shiitake mushrooms grown in Wexford, and a really fine spicy lamb pie made by Zanna foods, again in Wexford.
Then we hit the Sheridan’s cheese stall where the mature Cashel Blue from Tipperary was sublime, and here we came upon Sheridan’s duck confit for the first time, and I have to tell you that when I cooked it that night – cooked is too elaborate a word: you need only heat it for 20 minutes – it turned out to be one of the best things I have eaten in yonks.
The beauty of this shopping experience lies in the fact that the Jephson brothers had done all the hard work long before I walked in the door of Ardkeen.
Like the best Irish retailers, they know and support their suppliers. They source as much food locally as they can from skilled artisans. And then they present it in a dignified, delightful space, emphasizing the aesthetic of the experience just as they emphasise the aesthetic of the products they sell.
This Saturday morning jaunt was true retail therapy. I felt great, having found all this lovely stuff in one place, and was just dying to get it home and start cooking and eating it.
And the only thing that felt better than me were the local food economies. Wexford and Waterford got the lion’s share of my money, as you would expect, but there was some for Galway, Monaghan, Westmeath, Cork and Tipperary also.
And the longest food miles my foods were going to undertake was the journey from the Dunmore Road back home to West Cork.
This form of retail therapy – where the hard work of sourcing and choosing by the retailer allows you to be virtuous without much effort on your own part – is available to almost all of us.
We simply need to choose the independent supermarket, the farm shop, and the market. The week before my trip to Waterford, I had another delightful dose of retail therapy in Cork city, a city whose collection of idiosyncratic, idiomatic shops is unmatched.
And a month before that, a Saturday morning’s food shopping with my brother-in-law in Belfast’s exuberant St George’s market unveiled a market that has the energy, and the marketeers, to be a rival to Cork’s legendary English Market: the place was rockin’.
Anything theraputic is “of the healing art” says my old concise Oxford Dictionary: Just so: the healing art of true retail therapy.

11 October 2008

Naked in West Waterford

Louise Clark has opened Nude Food in Dungarvan, West Waterford.
Eamon Barrett slips off his robe and is over the moon. Take it away Eamon:


Market stall holder Louise Clark has joined the ranks of the Dungarvan Dynamos with the opening of her super little cafe and restaurant Nude Food in O'Connell Street in the town.

It's an eclectic space: mismatched furniture, old living room lamps and a chandelier made from old bottles but it all works and the place has a lovely ambiance.

My lunch of pork belly with roasted butternut squash, couscous and hummus and char grilled sourdough bread was just outstandingly good. Ju had some Hedermans smoked salmon with cucumber and cream cheese on brown bread and it was lovely, the salmon cut into nice thick pieces. If we'd had time there was a bread and butter pudding bubbling in the oven but a pear and almond tart with glenilen clotted cream was a super alternative. Good coffees, good service, low prices - what more can one want?


Sounds like seriously tasty, Skye Gyngell-style grub to us... lucky Dungarvan.

06 October 2008

Some news...

The Tannery
Paul Flynn's new cookery school at The Tannery in Dungarvan will kick off on November 20th, with the first course being “An Irish Adventure with Food”. The school will be able to accommodate 45 people for demos, and 12 students at each hand-on course. Mr Flynn also has seven new rooms added to the swish mix of suites at the Tannery Townhouse. The Tannnery website is currently being updated which should be completed next week when you will be able to see everything that is going on...

Spanish Stars
Approach Trade Wine Merchants of Carrick-on-Suir has long been one of our favorite wine specialists, and with Rafael Alvarez and Alvaro Vera it has two guys who manage to discover the creme de la creme of modern Spanish winemaking.
Just to prove how superb they are, at the recent Wines From Spain: The Rising Stars event hosted by the Embassy of Spain, Approach Trade scooped the honours for best wines in both the white and red wine categories in the Christmas Stars competition.
The winning white was the superb Mantel Blanco Verdejo 2007, made by Juan de Benito and Eulogio Callejo, whilst the red was Les Terrasses 2005, made by wunderkind winemaker Alvaro Palacios. You will find these brilliant wines in 64 Wine, Michael's Wines; Mitchell & Son; Karwig Wines; Sweeney's; Unwined; Redmond's of Ranelagh; Avoca; Kingdom Stores; Oliesto; Worldwide Wines and On The Grapevine. (Approach Trade Ireland Ltd: Tel 051 640164)


The Recession
Yes we are in recession, officially, but rather like the good folk of Mayo who recently revealed to pollsters that they had no intention of changing their lifestyles in straitened times, we are behaving as if the party is still going on, as these stories reveal...

Searsons wine merchants of Monkstown in South Dublin recently moved a few doors down the road, and discovered that they had a stash or three of clarets that they needed to sell, so they fired out an offer at good prices. Reader, they sold 800 cases in two weeks. “But was it the less-expensive stuff people were buying?” we asked. “It was the expensive stuff they were buying!”, they replied...

A Dublin city restaurant was hosting six business folk, who did the deal over lunch, and decided to order some good bottles to celebrate. Ah sure, let's have another... soon, it is time for evening service, and sure why not order some more good bottles and stay for dinner, say the sextet... soon, it is the wee small hours and our group are getting their taxis sorted and settling the bill. The restaurant gamely decides to comp the cost of the food, given the wine bill the six have amassed, which amounts to?... €7,500.00 euro

The Real World
Back in the real world, where we are always looking for good value wines, house wines as you might call them, bottles you can open anytime for any reason. Well, the latest star is a new bottle from one of Spain's superstar winemakers, Telmo Rodriguez. Gaba do Xil 2007 is made with 100% Godello in Galicia, and it is stunning, a wine that is fruity, spicy, with great texture and refreshing acidity, and would be great as a Friday night special or for a quiet Tuesday dinner, and the Gaba comes at a stunning price – expect to pay about €13. Our Spanish wizards, Approach Trade, have shown once again that no one can match them when it comes to spotting talent and finding great bottles. Contact details for Approach Trade as above.

05 October 2008

The Good News From Georgia


What with the Russians meddling in their affairs, and our soccer heroes battling with them on the pitch, Georgia has uncharacteristically been in the news a lot just recently, with there being little good news from Tiblisis.
Well, here is the good news from Georgia, courtesy of a selection of wines from the Teliani Valley company. Before you throw up your hands in shock-horror – Georgian wines!? – consider that wine making and drinking has been an integral part of Georgia's culture for 5,000 years.
That's right: Five Thousand Years.
When the Georgians embraced Christianity in the fourth century, the first cross was made of vines. “To show that the Christian faith and the vine were the most sacred treasures of the nation” says the Oxford Companion to Wine.
Recently, Jemal Inaishvili, President of the Georgian Chamber of Commerce, told Dan McLaughlin in The Irish Times: “We call Georgia “The Cradle of Wine” because we have been making and drinking it here for millenia”.
All well and good, but in the old days the old Soviet Union swallowed all that Georgia could produce, and as Inaishvili admitted, “In the Soviet period, winemaking was about quantity, not quality”.
In the future, however, you will be able to find a space for Georgian wines in your local wine shop, so what can you expect?
It's not all simple. No fewer than 38 varieties of grape are allowed for commercial viticulture, and whilst cab sauv, chardonnay and pinot noir are amongst the permitted varieties, there are much more interesting varieties, such as Saperavi, Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane and Shavkalito. The Teliani company seems very fond of wines made with Saperavi, a tannic red wine grape. All the red wines pictured above, fo instance, are made from the Saperavi grape, whilst the white Tsinandali is a mix of rkatsiteli and mtsvane.
But the sapaeravi is a chameleon grape: the Mukuzani and Saperavi bottles are full bodied reds, but the Kindzmarauli and the Alazani Valley are actually both semi-sweet red wines, which it is recommended you enjoy with sweet dishes and fruit.
Now these are the most interesting wines, to me, because they work superbly as a red aperitif wine – despite the recommendation that they belong with sweet things. These are the sort of wines that one can imagine having a single glass of in a bar, their almost port-like sweetness being balanced with tannins to keep the wine refreshing, a fact which is helped by their clovey purity.
Whilst the Georgians have invested in the now-ubiquitous modern tech to make their wines, what I most liked about the wines, and the white Tsinandali in particular, was their lack of slickness – these are earthy, natural – and thereby almost anachronistic – wines. The closest comparison I can come up with is a certain resemblance to the wines of another country which is awash with wonderfully strange grape varieties: Portugal. I don't have any prices or stockists as yet for the Teliani Valley wines, but those who are curious should contact Mike Rahmann of Friction Communications who are working on the launch of the brand. Mike is at: michael.rahman@gmail.com

24 September 2008

Cuberoll Steak of Hereford Beef


So, just what is cuberoll steak?
We had a couple of pieces from Ivor Deverell's splendid Farm Factory Direct in Offaly, but had to go trawling through the web to discover that cuberoll steak is actually a trimmed rib-eye steak.
So, what did we do with them? We fried them in butter and oil over high heat, tossed in some garlic cloves and a big sprig of rosemary when we turned them, then let them rest and added some wine to the pan to make a garlicky, rosemary gravy. After the cuberolls had rested, we sliced them, and spooned the gravy over the top.
It all took about eight minutes, four for cooking, four for resting. The flavour of the cuberoll, from Hereford animals, was amazing. So, do check out the Deverell family's splendid operation: www.farmfactorydirect.ie and get some of that good Hereford beef, and some Offaly lamb, onto your dinner plate.

Restaurant Review: Campagne, Kilkenny city

Garret Byrne, the luminary former head-chef of Dublin's Chapter One restaurant, has returned to his native Kilkenny to open Campagne, with his partner Brid Hannon.

Eamon Barrett is well impressed...

Garrett Byrne may have decided to call his newly opened restaurant in Kilkenny 'Campagne' but if the translation of this word evokes images of a rustic 'countryside' experience you might be in for a disappointment - albeit your only one of the night. Make no mistake, this is a super swish space that has cost a lot of money to put together - it's design would be just as at home in London. Olive coloured banquettes, interconnecting semi circular tables in the centre of the floor, abstract art on the walls and lots and lots of staff. We counted twelve staff that were visible and for most of our visit they had only us as diners to look after.

We are met with a friendly greeting, brought to our table, given menus, offered drinks and instantly brought some very very good bread. Starters are priced between E8 and E14 and include Terrine of foie gras and suckling pig with a beetroot puree and hazelnut dressing; Clare Island gravadlax with fennel, cucumber and potato salad; chicken liver parfait with PX jelly and toasted brioche among others.
I go for some deep fried haddock with a poached organic egg and spring onion hollandaise. It's a combination that Simon Hopkinson was very fond of and with good reason; it works extremely well - a kind of cardiac-arrest inducing, cholestrol-raising comfort food. Deep frying the haddock for crunch creates a nice foil to the egg and hollandaise. J goes for her usual foie gras and is not disappointed by it's treatment.

Mains are all under E30 with five meat options and two fish. Loin of free range pork with black pudding, creamed cabbage and mustard sounds good as does Rump of spring lamb with courgette stuffed with tomato and red pepper, rosemary jus, but I opt for Halibut with a pea puree and girolle mushrooms. It's a fine chunk of fish, nicely handled, the pea puree acting as a sauce to counteract the dryness which halibut can be prone to. J's choice is the star of the evening: grilled calves liver with pancetta, roast onions, carrots and shallot jus. The liver comes in one large crescent shaped piece and is absolutely delicious. It's perfectly pink and the whole dish just works so well together. The only veg accompaniment is a small dish of smooth mash potato - ideal for mopping up those liver juices.

By now the room has the benefit of some extra diners - including Neven Maguire - and the large space is buzzing nicely with contented conversation. There are five dessert options from which I choose a greengage tart with custard and creme fraiche and J goes for Opera gateau with salted caramel ice cream and pear puree. I come out the winner on this one as the greengage tart - more a sponge really - is just delicious and I'm left a generous jug of homemade custard to be a glutton with. The opera is not quite right, it's too sweet and doesn't have enough richness to compliment the lovely salty ice cream but we're into serious nit picking here. Good coffees finished off the evening.

This was extremely accomplished cooking and the prices are good - three courses here without wine would be E50.00 a head. Located under the old railway arches in Gashouse Lane – From the town centre head towards the McDonagh Junction shopping centre. At the traffic lights turn left. Campagne is just on the right.
Campagne
The Arches, 5 Gashouse Lane, Kilkenny, Co Kilkenny
Tel:+353 (0)56 777 2858

23 September 2008

Defining Artisan Food



A friend mails a simple query: how do you define artisan food?

Well, the Taste Council definition is:
Artisan Food is defined as a superior tasting food, which commands a higher price in its category. Superior taste is achieved through food making skill

I don't think that really gets to the heart of the matter, however.

My own old definition, now a rather old one is the Four P's:

Artisan food encompasses:
a Person
a Place
a Product
a Passion

But, here is something better, from Lori de Mori's brilliant Bean Eaters & Bread Soup:

“A kind of personal integrity that can be confused with eccentricity: 'however strange it may seem to you, this is the way I do things'

"Pride without arrogance: a sincere belief in the excellence of their work

"Humility and steadfastness: the ability to light the wood stove, milk the ewes, coax the bees out of their hives – quietly, without pretence – day after day, year after year.

"The belief that their work is not a means to something else, but one of the ways to give meaning to their lives.

"Genius: the brilliance that comes to those driven by their personal vision rather than a desire for success, money or fame.

"Generosity: they have no secrets. If you appreciate what they do, they'll tell you everything they know... and usually set a place for you at their table”.

For me , that's as good as a definition can get, I think: Integrity; pride, humility, meaning; genius, generosity.

I shall return to Ms de Mori's brilliant book soon, for I have been reading it slowly, savouring each chapter as if it is a glass of Vin Santo.

11 September 2008

Food Ministers Sargent and Gildernew on a GM-free Ireland

It is impossible to underestimate the importance of what was said by the two Ministers for Food at last week's Terra Madre conference. Here is exactly what the Ministers said on the stage in Waterford:

Minister Trevor Sargent said:


“The whole GM debate is for me, like for many people here, at the heart of sustainability and the empowerment of people to grow food. If that power is taken away — and the corporate spin is certainly very strong in the direction of some kind of silver bullet being available through GM — we’ll have gone beyond the point from which it’s very difficult to come back. So we are in this generation, I believe, holding a very important responsibility. And when we look at the experience of farmers — and I think it’s important to talk to farmers rather than to their corporate masters and their professionally-paid spin doctors — the farmers are saying GM is not the panacea for them. Whether you go to the universities which have been carrying out these studies — in Nebraska and Kansas, from Iowa to India — they tell you that farmers have been experiencing not greater but less yield, losing money, and losing market share. The exact opposite of the spin that is being put out there.

And that’s before we talk about the health risks (and they do have to be talked about), the superweeds, the fossil fuel dependency which Colin Sage eloquently pointed out here we cannot continue with – we have to move on from our short-term flirtation with fossil fuels, they are not going to be around to get us out of this particular hole that we have dug for ourselves.

So I do feel that the GM debate is, in that context, a dangerous distraction from the fundamental challenges that have to be faced up to. And the option for us in Ireland is very clear: Ireland — the food island: we can sell that! The green clean food island – they really want that in Germany, as we heard from Professor Ham last night at the organic conference. Anywhere you go where our main markets are, they want that green clean food island. How about if Bord Bía [the Irish Food Board] tries to sell Ireland — the GM laboratory? I wonder how that would go down. Well let me tell you, that would be the end!

So I am particularly glad that Minister Gildernew [the Northern Ireland Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs] is here because — she will speak for herself but I have some idea of her opinions on this from the discussions we’ve had in the past — the Programme for Government does not mince its words but also does not take anything for granted. We have to negotiate the establishment of Ireland as a GM-free zone. And that means live GMOs, that means release.

The Northern Ireland Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs, Michelle Gildernew MP, said :

“We must protect the diversity of both plants and animals, and avoid damaging natural resources and contributing to climate change... Once we go down the GM route there is no going back: we need to keep Ireland GM-free. And I think that issue – we might not fully recognise it now, but in a very short period of time we could have a unique selling point that nobody else in the world has. And I think as an island economy, we have to protect our status.”

Amen to that.

10 September 2008

More September news...


For the seventh year, William and Aisling O'Callaghan of Longueville House in north Cork will be leading their mushrooms hunts in and around the estate. October 5th and 19th are the dates, and we know from experience that Mr O'Callaghan is one of the leading mushrooms masters, so get yourself to this lovely house, with your wellies and waterproofs and you have a day to remember. Full details here: http://www.longuevillehouse.ie/news/mushroom.htm.

The Taste of West Cork Festival takes place once again between September 16th and Sunday September 21st, culminating in a huge open air food and craft market with over 100 stallholders on the final Sunday.
Before that, there are gourmet feasts, a kids' teddy bear party, guided walks, dining with food producers, a presentation on perspectives on the West Cork regional brand, cookery demos with Clodagh McKenna, a schools cookery competition which will be judged by Neven Maguire, and a whole host of other events. Take a look at the entire festival programme at: www.atasteofwestcork.com

Some September food news...

The second Savour Kilkenny Festival will take place in the city between October 24th and 27th, and the official launch is this Friday at Workhouse Square, MacDonagh Junction at 5.30 pm, so head along to hear what is planned for food lovers in Ireland's most beautiful city...

And speaking of Kilkenny, that fabulous cook, Garret Byrne, has now opened Campagne in the city, on Gashouse Lane

Did you know that the average meal that sits on your plate has accumulated no fewer than 26,000 kms to get there! Janey Mac! So, to get a taste of how to do it differently, get yourself along to the 1st Clare Harvest banquet, in the Falls Hotel, Ennistymon, on Friday September 19th at 8pm. Everything that will be cooked and consumed here will be from the county: honey; ice-cream; vegetables; fruit, butter, meat; fish...the lot. Contact Sinead on 085 760 7037, or the Falls Hotel on 065 707 1004 for tickets which cost €50 each. All proceeds to the Asral charity.

Kenyon Street in Nenagh, Co Tipperary is planning a Community Harvest Lunch, on Sunday 21st September. There will be a long table, not for profit lunch, with beef from Michael Seymour's farm, organic salad leaves from Dermot O'Meara, potatoes from Mossfield organic farm, and desserts from Nenagh country market. A brilliant idea, with Peter Ward of County Choice at the helm of the initiative, and he is joined by Cinnamon Alley, The Peppermill, The Pantry and The Ormond Hotel, and you can get tickets at all those addresses. A family ticket for 2 adults and 2 kids costs €50, adult tickts are €20, kids cost a mere tenner. The lunch will run from 4pm to 7pm, with a food history walking tour of the town starting at 2.30pm.

And speaking of Mossfield Farm, congrats to Ralph Haslam who grabbed the Great Taste gong for best Irish cheese. We could hardly believe our ears when Ralph was suddenly on Morning Ireland! What next! A Slow Food report from Terre Madre fronted by Aine and Cathal...

09 September 2008

Cooking the Constitution


We read in today's newspaper that Samak Sundaravej, prime minister of Thailand, faces prosecution because he continued with his popular television cookery programme, Cooking, Grumbling, after being elected prime minister.
The “beleagueared right-winger and gourmet spent an hour in the witness box, defending the television show, Cooking, Grumbling, a mix of tips on traditional Thai cooking” reports The Gurdian. Sorry, the Grauniad
Pah!
Let us henceforth and without delay enact an amendment to Bunreacht Na hEireann that no Irish politician can become Taoiseach UNLESS they have hosted a television cookery programme.
After the Lisbon farce, this amendment would surely garner massive public support, especially if the Taoisech also agreed to appear on The Afternoon Show, offering some culinary tips.
Cullen's Cooking!?
Kenny's Kebab's!?
Gormley's Green Gourmet!?
At Terra Madre, the President revealed that she did a Ballymaloe Cookery Course.
The way is clear. Let the nation unite around a Taoiseach who can wield a mean wok.

08 September 2008

Terra Madre Waterford


Ok, so it was a bad weekend for Waterford GAA fans.
But, here is the good news: Waterford's hosting of Terra Madre was triumphant. Crowds were massive: 750 folks were fed on Friday night by Michael Quinn and his crew, and 200 more had to be turned away. Those sorts of numbers are unprecedented in Irish SF gatherings, so hats off to Donal Lehane and his crew who brought matters to a close with a massive farmers market on Sunday. Waterford Bridgestone parishoner Eamon Barrett said of the market: “The Market yesterday was just out of this world - I had to blink to believe I was in Waterford, so many stalls, so many customers, such a wonderful, truly Slow Food vibe. We went in at 9am to transfer stock to the Febvre van from my van and didn't come home until 5pm. Enjoyed every minute of it”.
We played a modest part in the forum on hotel food, and our crew came up with two suggestions for the Minister:

Accommodation ratings awarded by Failte Ireland should include a FORK symbol awarded to registered operators who demonstrate the proven support of local foodstuffs, growers and farmers.

Government funding in part should be channelled via organisations such as CAIS, Eurotoques and other primary producers to facilitate and remunerate their members to educate culinary students and other food related groups and organisations.

The second proposal came about because we have an extraordinary reservoir of talent in our artisans, but we have got to get it into places like WIT, and get those artisans paid at consultant's rates for their work, as they inspire students to be as brave and creative as they have been.

Finally, two vignettes: two food ministers, Michelle Gildernew and Trevor Sargent, on the same stage on the same afternoon pledging their promise that GM seeds will never be released in Ireland

Secondly, the extraordinary Carlo Petrini, in his opening speech, exulting in the fact that Michelle Gildernew had arrived and presented Darina Allen with a bouquet of flowers. “The is the first time I have ever seen this: the politician giving flowers to the cook!”
Genius.

Septemberfest 2008


Now, here is something interesting and new.
Bord Bia and the OPW are holding Septemberfest, a festival celebrating independent brewers, distillers and liqueur makers. It's at Farmleigh in the Phoenix park on Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th, it kicks off at 11am each day until 6.30pm, and admission is free. Free! As well as all the booze and the hootch, there will also be hordes of artisan food producers, and a big farmers market on the Sunday. There will be street performers, and even lectures on Irish food.
Boozing in a big tent in the Phoenix Park! There is a God after all!
More dope on Septemberfest at: www.bordbia.ie or www.farmleigh.ie.
Don't miss the O'Hara's celebration stout, is what we say.

03 September 2008

Terra Madre, Waterford, September 2008

Terra Madre – Mother Earth – comes to Ireland this Thursday, when four days of eventing, celebrating, eating and debating on the subject of food takes place in and around Waterford city.
The term “Mother Earth” seems a quite hippyish and holistic way to talk about food today, in an age dominated by FAO, WTO, GM and CAP, a global food world where men in suits meet interminably in large conference rooms, and where what is on the menu for lunch never seems to be a priority.
Hippyish and anachronistic it may be, but Mother Earth seems to me the perfect name for a festival held just at that time when we should be doing the most important food celebrating of the year: The Harvest Festival.
Traditionally, the harvest festival praised the rain and the sun that made the crops grow, the photosynthesis that miraculously gave us food to put on the table through the winter.
It celebrated Mother Earth as a figure who is benign, comforting, a provider, the one who feeds us, the nurturer. Before Gaia, Mother Earth gave us the harvest to bring in, and to store and to enjoy, and gave us a figure to venerate. We thanked that figure in celebration.
Cycling through a muddy and rain-soaked Burgundy in northern France many years ago, my wife and I happened upon the harvest celebrations in Gevrey-Chambertin, a small village famed for its mercurial red wines, and their equally mercurial prices.
But what struck us about the fete was that it was nothing more than a local celebration, the villagers giving thanks that the harvest of grapes had been brought in for another year.
Yes, in a few days time the wine merchants from all over the world would arrive, and the nitty-gritty of prices and profits would begin. But what we saw was something much simpler, and more profound: a gasp of thanks that the rains had held off long enough for the grapes to ripen and be harvested. The celebration was also a collective sigh of relief: the wine was in the barrel, and therefore the money was in the bank for another year.
Robbie Robertson expressed the bitter-sweet tension perfectly in The Band’s great song, “King Harvest”:

“Dry summer, then comes fall,
Which I depend on most of all
Hey, rainmaker can’t you hear my call?
Please let these crops grow tall.

Corn in the fields
Listen to the rice when the wind blows ‘cross the water
King harvest has surely come”


But today, we hear less and less about King Harvest than we did in the past. Who needs rain and sunshine when a fix of GM seed and a blast of 10-10-20 will grow your crop? 20th century science has led us to believe that we are in control, to think that we have the necessary solutions, of which genetic modification is simply the latest in a long line of promises that feeding the world is a matter of business, rather than a question of diversity, agricultural culture, and sustainability.
Terre Madre intends to address the question of “The future of sustainable food production in Ireland”, and the centrepiece of this will be a bumper’s farmer’s market on Sunday 7th.
This is not just a fine metaphor for Terre Madre, it is the quintessential example of food sustainability, and human and agricultural health, at work. Markets are a meshwork of people and producers, but one where everyone is equal, and where a sense of the community and communality – and indeed the fragility – of food is paramount.
The food arrives at market after its harvesting, ripe and ready to be enjoyed, and then the farmer puts the fields to bed for the winter, letting them rest and recharge.
Compare this process, with its rhythms and reasons and rhetoric, with the junkie-agriculture that 20th century science argues can feed the world, a greedy science that the Prince of Wales has recently argued would be “guaranteed to cause the biggest disaster environmentally of all time.”
“If they think it’s going to work because they are going to have one form of clever genetic engineering after another, then again count me out”, said the prince.
Tellingly, he concluded with a message that we might Call Terra Madre – Mother Earth, a message that encapsulates what the meetings and eatings in Waterford will be all about:
“It is actually recognizing that we are with nature, not against it. We have gone working against nature for too long”.
See you in Waterford.

02 September 2008

Bridgestone Awards at Electric Picnic

Caroline Byrne of the Bridgestone Dublin parish had the enviable task at last weekend's Electric Picnic, in Stradbally, of deciding which of the many funky food stallholders were worthy to receive the first Bridgestone Guide Picnic Awards.
Indeed, food became a major element of the EP this year, as some of Ireland's best known chefs also did demos at the cookery stage, amongst them luminaries such as Derry Clarke and Rachel Allen.
Meantime, Caroline was hunting down the winners of the four Bridgestone awards:

The Best Dressed Food Award for presentation and style
The Greenest Gourmet Award for eco-friendliness
The Healthy Buzz Award for seriously healthy food
The On Our Doorstep Award for best use of local and regional ingredients

Best Dressed went to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, based in the Body & Soul compound, who provided festival goers with a picturesque Alice in Wonderland setting to enjoy tea and scones and toasted Gubbeen cheese sandwiches.

The Tiny Tea Tent on the Village Green was ‘Greenest Gourmet’, generating its own electricity through wind and solar power and using its tent to create awareness about deforestation of the tropical rainforest.

Dishing up the best healthy food this year was Goodness Gracious, with its healthy salads and exceptionally good veggie burgers.

And finally, the Gourmet Offensive took the ‘On Our Doorstep’ award for its tasty and “very good value” cuisine from around the world made from locally sourced produce.

Mad Hatters, Gourmet Offensive, Tiny Tea, and Goodness Gracious. Yep, must be the eclectic Electric Picnic all right.

01 September 2008

Cheekpoint Village Fun

A wee note from our Waterford editor, Eamon Barrett, shows how to conclude the school holidays with a bang!:

We had a little village festival in Cheekpoint yesterday, the highlight of which was a crab fishing event for children - Julie made up fishing lines using those little nets from the washing machine, some sticks and some line, put out of date rashers in the bags and we give the kids 30 minutes of fishing time off the wall in Cheekpoint. Would you believe we had 92 entrants from a village of only 300 population. The winner caught 49 crabs in the 30 minutes. Great buzz.

49 crabs in half an hour! Awesome! Next year, can we suggest that after the crabs are caught, the youngsters have to prepare that great seafood delicacy: dressed crab.

And then back to school this morning...

21 August 2008

Pizza Defined and Acclaimed

Just in case you missed the last Irish Examiner Weekend – which you didn't, of course – we thought we might bring to your attention Darina Allen's generous comments about Bernadette O'Shea's Pizza Defined:

“There isn't a better book on pizza cookery, or if there is I certainly don't know of it... Her free spirit and unique creativity live on in this delicious little book... It feels every bit as fresh and exciting today as it did when it was originally published”.

Pizza Defined is in all good shops, and also available via this site

Curraghchase Gold


Congratulations to Caroline Rigney, of Limerick's splendiferous Curraghchase pork company, who has won gold medals at the Great Taste Awards in the U.K. for her sausages, white pudding and streaky rashers. We judged at these awards several years ago, and they are rigorous and pukka, so these medals carry clout, Mind you, it doesn't surprise us one iota that Mrs Rigney should have collected so many gongs: her pork products are superlative, so make a trip to the farm shop and get your hands on some of the best bangers, rashers and puddings that you will find in these islands.

www.rigneysfarm.com

20 August 2008

Roadford House, Doolin, County Clare


Valerie O'Connor has a high old time in County Clare.

Ballinlacken Castle was where Frank and Marian Sheedy last worked together in the hospitality business before opening Roadford House two years ago. Marian is gracefully front of the tastefully red painted house while chef Frank works his magic in the kitchen.
The dining room is unassuming and full of windows to show off the breathtaking views of the Co. Clare. Simply decorated and furnished with walls hung of quirky paintings of local sights, the room is homely and seats between 30 and 40 people, so is intimate.

The menu has all the classics; goats cheese, Doolin Crab Stack, rack of lamb and confit of duck but the top ten listing ends there. For starters I ordered the Tempura of Monkfish with coriander, fennel coleslaw and tomato chilli jam. The plate of a stack of four fine fingers of monkfish was artfully presented with a tower of slaw and painted dressing. It tasted as good as it looked with subtle spices and sesame seeds coating the fish. The slaw lacked a little of fennel flavour but was fresh and crunchy. The starter of Chilled Wafers of Seared Beef Fillet (carpaccio) with pickled red onion, brie fritters and horseradish dressing was busy, it could have done without the cheese. The beef was soft and melting, with a bow to Asian influences from the punchy horseradish dressing.

Sadly the main of Roast Sea bass with seared scallops was sold out, it would have been my choice. Instead I chose the special of Pan-Fried Lemon Sole in a beurre blanc, this was cooked to perfection, simple and delicious with yummy almost crispy bits stuck to the edges of the bones, and I did suck the meat from them. The side vegetables were a creamy dauphinois, some baby new potatoes, carrots and greens. The Spice Crusted rack of Lamb was served with pepperonata, pea puree and basil lamb jus. Juicy and pink, the lamb was delicious and delivered its promise. The sole was the star of the show however and was fought over.

Deserts clearly showed Frank in his true colours, a pastry chef. The likes of these deserts I’ve only seen in Dublin’s L’ecrivain, but these tasted better. The Chocolate Truffle Cake served with White Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream (made on site) was so good it made it impossible to open either your mouth or your eyes once a piece had passed your lips. So this was the desert to fight over. The ice cream was also unnecessary, though probably to break the pleasure and sensuality of the rich rich desert. My Strawberry Crème Brulee came with a White Chocolate and Passion Fruit Sorbet and an orange and caramel syrup. The brulee cracked reassuringly under the spoon and crunched so perfectly against the smoothness of the custard. The syrup and the sorbet with the brulee made one of the most perfect deserts I’ve ever been lucky enough to eat. Turns out Frank enjoys the deserts part of the cooking the most, and he does it so well.

The Sheedys excel in their small hostelry. Pity the rooms were booked up, I’d have loved to indulge in their breakfast.

Roadford House
Restaurant
Doolin Village
Co.Clare
Phone (065) 7075050
roadfordhouse@eircom.net
www.roadfordrestaurant.com

Open all year for dinner Tuesday to Sunday 6-9.30pm
Early bird 6-6.45pm

07 August 2008

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

The images were shocking, depressing, post-apocalyptic.
A desecrated landscape; enough food litter and packaging detritus to fill a week of WALL-E’s clean-up time; still-smouldering fires; abandoned habitats.
Apocalypse Now? No, just the remains of Oxegen 2008, a world of deserted and abandoned Gelerts, San Marinos, Topazs, Akashis and Iglus.
The snail may travel with his house on his back, but Oxegen festivalgoers can’t be bothered to pack up their pricey tents and bring them back home for another day, another weekend.
Bloody kids, you think. So this is the Eco-generation in action? Save the world. But not County Kildare.
It’s always easy to blame the kids and, usually, it’s the wrong thing to do. Kids learn from their parents, and the parents of today’s Oxegen revellers are the generation that throw away loads of stuff every day. Most significantly, however, what they throw away is food.
In the U.K., for instance, a third of all food purchased is chucked away uneaten. 4 million tones of food each year. One billion sterling in value. A value in each household of £420, some €530, or more than a tenner a week.
In Ireland and the U.K., lured by the BOGOF bait – Buy-One-Get-One-Free – shoppers tear around supermarkets looking to save a few cent, lured by promises that Megamarket X is cheaper than Megamarket Y.
Having saved a few euro, at the cost of exhausting time and effort, they get the food home, keep it for a few days, let it get past a meaningless sell-by date, and then throw it into the bin.
What is missing in this tragic food pantomime is not prudence, or thoughtfulness, or a sense of economy. It is actually rather more profound than all those necessary virtues. For what is missing is respect. Respect for the food itself, for the energy both human and natural that created it, and for the planet that has to suffer the waste being dumped on land-fill sites where it generates methane as it decomposes.
And such a lack of respect for food implies a lack of respect for ourselves, our bodies, and our health. Food is not just fuel for physical sustenance. Good food impacts on our mental well-being as much as it does on our physical well-being. What we respect, we value.
The Aztecs had such reverence for corn that they would rebuke themselves if they failed to pick up a dropped kernel of maize: “Our Sustenance suffereth, it lieth weeping”, Friar Sahagun recorded the Aztecs as saying four centuries ago. “If we should not gather it up, it would accuse us before our Lord”.
I like that idea of the corn as possessing human qualities – lying weeping because it has been dropped to the ground, like a fallen child – and also the fact that the corn has the human and spiritual quality of rebuke: it possesses a moral compass.
The Aztecs had no genetically modified maize to sow by tractor or combine, but they knew the power of sunshine and photosynthesis, and they knew the value of human toil when harvest time came.
Today, of course, any manner of agricultural reality fades further and further away from the lives of more and more people.
We only see farmers when they are protesting, not when they are working. Farming is a matter of WTO economics, not respect for the land and its bounty. Food is commodity, and commodity produces money. It doesn’t deal in reverence or respect. Drop a carrot on the floor and you will not be able to picture it as something that could suffer from such lack of respect. It’s just a carrot.
How did we get here? How did a generation who at least started out as Mass-attenders forget that it was simple bread and wine – agricultural produce – that became the body and blood of the Christian Jesus? Did our moral compass, when it comes to respecting food, drown in EEC wine lakes, and die of frostbite at the summits of butter and beef mountains in the late 1980’s?
“There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk”, was how the late, great food writer MFK Fisher explained the significance of eating well and respecting what we eat and drink, in her book, “The Gastronomical Me”, published back in 1943.
But an even more ancient quotation from the Irish best expresses the profound respect our food deserves, and which it should engender in us.
When the first new potatoes were dug and cooked and served, they used to say: “Go mbeirimíd beo ar an am seo arís”:
“May we be alive at this time again”.
It might be a good line to teach your teenagers, to bid farewell to their friends at the end of Oxegen 2009, as you also show them how to quickly pack up a tent and bring home their food waste.

06 August 2008

Cliff House, Ardmore


Most Western cooking, linguistically speaking, takes place in English, even though its antecedents are in the romance languages – French and Italian.
But English is pervasive, expected, understood, elementary – the lingua franca of contemporary cooking, the discourse of cookery books and food writing, the framework for cooking and eating, the way in which we understand the process.
But every so often, a new language suddenly appears in the world of food. Ferran Adria's Spanish cooking, for instance, isn't just Spanish, it is Catalan Spanish, and artistic Catalan Spanish at that. Adria has inspired many others in Spain to speak in their own tongues – Castilian Spanish, Basque Spanish – if we can call Basque Spanish, that is.
Away from Spain, Adria's excursions into texture, temperature, into what is expected and unexpected, has liberated others to search for their Mother Tongue. The result is a wonderfully evolving Tower of Babel, something every food lover should welcome.
If you are into a Tower of Babel approach – many voices, many dialects, new emphases – then you need to experience Martijn Kajuiter's cooking in the Cliff House Hotel, in lovely Ardmore, on Waterford's wild, forbidding and rather lovely coastline.
The hotel itself is a pearl – it clings to the cliff in a miraculous feat of engineering, and the interior style is spiffing – and inside that pearl is the pearl of Mr Kajuiter's cuisine. If the design template of the Cliff House is bold, the culinary template is bolder still.
“Local and vegetarian” is how the chef modestly describes his sourcing, and his motivation, but “Complex yet simple” might be a better description of what is going on.
Yes, there are froths and foams, but fundamentally this cooking is a series of complex results engineered from simple details – the appreciation of a spaghetti of cucumber; the placing of a fennel flower on top of a piece of black pudding; the clean berry tea under a bowl of cherries and ice cream, the superb lemony shamrock sorrel that counterpoints the sweetness of West Cork scallops, the ribbons of kale with just-cooked pigeon.
Mr Kajuiter brings a marvellous lightness of both touch and spirit to these dishes, but above all else he brings a new way of thinking and expressing food, and it makes for thrilling eating, eating that is using a new language of skill, appreciation and orthodoxy.
A word of warning: do choose the tasting menus, of six courses, as this is the best way to see the succession of ideas the kitchen proposes, at its zenith. And do ask advice from the superb sommelier as to what you should drink with the food.


www.thecliffhousehotel.com

04 August 2008

The Art of the Concierge


Whenever we give a talk to people in the food business, the first thing we try to explain is The Blink Moment.
What is TBM? It's the 2-3 seconds you have in which to capture, calm and control the customer who has just walked into your restaurant, hotel, shop, whatever.
Screw up TBM, and you will have a difficult customer. Get it right, and the customer eats out of the palm of your hand.
There are many people in Irish food and hospitality who practice the Blink to perfection but, until we got to The Heritage in Killenard, we had never come across anyone who practised the Blink to perfection Before You Even Get In The Door.
The Heritage has several concierges, and they are masters of the art. The Art of The Blink Moment. The Art of The Concierge.
To appreciate what this means, consider what you normally understand when you talk about a concierge. Usually, it's a stuffy, old, over dressed guy who basically wants to shake you down for a tip just for opening the car door or hailing a taxi.
If you don't drop him the old pourboire, then next time he sees you he will ignore you completely.
In The Heritage, the team of concierges are the finest, most accommodating, most helpful we have ever encountered, anywhere in the world.
They know your name the minute you arrive. They know what you want even before you know it, and they know how to make it happen. They are fountains of knowledge for directions, local attractions, local specialities, arcane lore, and good jokes.
Of course, this is no real surprise. The Heritage has Donagh Daven as general manager, and Mr Davern is the best. The amazing thing is, he can get everyone in this great big complex to also be their best, from the kitchen – Robbie Webster in the restaurant kitchen, whom many will recall from Ballynahinch Castle, is firing out superb food – to the staff in the bar, to the housekeepers and the girls on reception, are all on top of their game.
But the concierges – we mention Declan, Finbarr and Dougie, simply because they were working the shifts on our last visit – take this excellence to a whole new level, to the level of Art. It is a joy to behold.

28 July 2008

Some West Cork News


We have already flagged the production of Tom Crean, Antarctic Explorer, at the Theatre by the Lake in Gougane Barra, but having seen it last night with the family, we have to assert that if there is any way to get a seat for Aidan Dooley's amazing performance, then you should do whatever is required to get your hard little seat in this simple little theatre.
Mr Dooley got the standing ovation last night, and after almost 500 performances he is surely well used to it, but there was a freshness and zealour about his playing that was riveting.
And equally riveting was dinner in the hotel before the show. Neil and Katy are on top form these days, the hotel is jammers, and the cooking is so sweet and lovely: plaice with tempura batter; goujons of chicken and excellent pizza for the kids, lovely breadcrumbed mussels; great mushroom soup; smashing desserts including the best apple crumble in West Cork. A darlin' place, and one of our favourites.
And a new favourite is Bantry's Fish Kitchen, above the fish shop in the centre of town. Here, again, is lovely, straightforward, respectful, modern Irish fish cookery: perfect fish and chips; perfect lemon sole with new potatoes; perfect fish cakes; perfect smoked haddock with mash. Great cooking, great service, nice room, excellent value, and not to missed by any locals and visitors. Call them on 027 56651