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21 February 2008

When you're smiling...

We call him “The Smiliest Pork Butcher”, because he never has a big grin off his face, but we could also call T.J. Crowe of Tipperary one of the great unsung heroes of pork production in Ireland.

Mr Crowe expertly slaughters the prime pigs from folk like Knockatullera Farm and Rigney's Farmhouse and from Sharon Shore in Tipp, thereby giving us superlative pork in a world of inedible pork meat. But, whilst he is always a busy man, TJ has also been working hard at his own gig. Last October he wrote to tell us that “I have been busy recently getting new branding together, my products will now be sold under the name Crowe's Farm, my emphasis will be on Dry Cure Rashers, Bacon Pieces and high pork content, colour free sausages, so hopefully they will be on a shelf near you soon! My brother will soon be getting his first two breeding sows also, so that is exciting as up to this we've only finished pigs ourselves, so we'll be able to control all stages of production”.

Well, the good news its that Crowe's Farm bacon and bangers are with us, handsomely packaged and labelled, and they are only mighty. The bacon is tender and sweet, with the most superb texture. And the sausages are only terrific: these pristine pork packages remind us of the very meaty Northern Ireland style of sausage, which is the highest compliment we can pay it.
To get T.J.'s brilliant artisan pork on your own shelves or into your fridge, contact him on 06271137

And just think of the smile behind every slice!

20 February 2008

Take This!

An interview with Hervé This, the French chemical physicist who is one of the creators of “molecular gastronomy” in the FT makes interesting reading.
If he were a young man, says This, he would today shun molecular cooking, and instead try to create using “note by note” cuisine: “A carrot is made up of molecules, like notes in a musical chord. Traditionally, if you cook carrots and turnips together, you have two chords”.
Only a Frenchman could come up with such utter bull, and say it with a straight face.
But if This is given to talking nonsense, he is also wise enough to recognise what animates great cooking, and it ain't molecular structures and musical turnips:
“The fact is that cooking is about giving people pleasure. Why did our grandmothers give us good food to eat? Technically, they were simply yokels. I had two grandmothers. One made delicious food, she spilled over with love. We weren't eating proteins, lipids and glucides, we were eating my grandmother's love. The other was thin, unloving, she couldn't give other people pleasure and she was an awful cook. Eating is also about relationships”.
Thank the stars for all those yokel grannies, who could make culinary music without worrying about the molecular structure when they combined the petits pois with the carrottes vichy.
And time once again to realise that a scientist in the kitchen is nothing more than a bull in a china shop, with the honorable exception of the saintly Harold McGee, of course.

13 February 2008

Galway Stags

We get all sorts of interesting queries at Bridgestone Central, and the following was particularly intriguing:

“I am in need of advice for a posh stag do in Galway. Groom is wine buff and excellent cook and loves good food, wine, conversation and will bring 7 of his closest pals. He needs a place to stay and somewhere to eat and linger. This is not a drunken stag do but a group of good friends. Any suggestions?”

Well, what would you do for a wine buff, serious cook and lover of good food? Here was what we quickly proposed:

We would stay in The House Hotel: wonderfully central and good value.
Ard Bia at Nimmo's is a good choice for eating, but with a decent group it might be fun to ask them to create a menu in either Oscar's – whacky but serious cooking and a good room for celebrating – or ask if Kappa-ya would open for a food-loving group – the best Japanese cooking in Ireland, but a very simple room that maybe isn't great for lingering, though you could ask them to do some sake sampling with each course, which is serious fun. Kappa doesn't normally open for dinner; they only do it by arrangement.
Drinks before in Sheridan's on the Docks, of course. Hangovers cured in Delight the next morning.

Thankfully, we weren't asked which lamp posts would be most suitable for tying someone up, or the best places to buy cans of shaving foam and nurse's uniforms. Phew!

12 February 2008

Sir, your ambulance is here.

Eighteen months ago, we had the temerity to suggest that the raft of new hotels being built and opened in Ireland – more than one a week opening on average over the past two years – had no future, other than perhaps as old people's homes.
A letter in today's Irish Times, from Noelle Cronin, of Ashford in County Wicklow, suggests that we might have overlooked something.
Ms Cronin writes: “The Burlington Hotel is up for sale, ready and waiting to be occupied. The HSE needs individual bedrooms with bathrooms. Why not?”
Why not, indeed! And just think how many other white elephants the HSE can occupy over the next years! Where to begin...
So, Mary Harney can shelve her costly plans for private hospitals on public sites, and indeed arrest the entire hospital building development programme. The billions granted in tax breaks can now be reclaimed as the HSE buys hotel after hotel at knockdown prices in the inevitable fire sale that must result from so many having been built so quickly.
Waiter, could you call me an ambulance, please...

07 February 2008

Talking Turkey

The news that one of Ireland's most outstanding artistes, Dustin the Turkey, may represent Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest, has sent a frisson of excitement through the country.
Of course, there are doubters.
“We had a turkey of an entry last year”, they say. “Do we really want another turkey so soon?”.
To which the answer is: “Yes!”.
We need Dustin to carry the flag to Serbia, we need him to sing his song, “Irelande douze points”, and we need him to come back with the trophy or cup or spoon or whatever you get, and to then take his place in Irish public life with a new Presidential campaign, for who can ever forget his last Presidential rallying cluck: “Up the Aras!”.
New slogans are needed for the Eurovision campaign.
Can we propose: “I'm Bustin' for Dustin!”.
Or perhaps, Chemical Brothers-style: “In Dust' We Trust!”.
So, organize your Dustin Party now to seize the moment on February 23rd when the nation will be glued to the box to hear Dustin and some other no-hopers who are going to come in joint second. Get those text votes in!
Of course, the nibble of choice at the party has to be Turkey Twizzlers.
Served with Red Bull.
Forget Animal Liberation for the moment. The Animal Entertainment Hour has arrived.
In Dust' We Trust.
Johnny Morris would be thrilled.

05 February 2008

Respecting Animals

There was a brisk and lively exchange of letters in this newspaper round about Xmas last.
Gerry Boland, of Animals in Crisis, wrote to the editor to point out that “the hypocrisy of our relationship with animals is deeply embedded. We are capable of being fond of our pet dog while at the same time we tacitly support the inhumane treatment of farm animals in a daily act of condonement: we eat them”.
Whatever one thinks of Mr Boland’s conclusion, he forcefully pointed out one of the central pillars of our food culture. When we kill the animals we eat, “It is all out of sight. We do not know: we do not want to know”.
The writer Michael Pollan has called our consumption of industrially produced meat “an almost heroic act of not knowing”. It seems that it takes the actions of a pair of celebrity chefs before we begin to wonder just what is going on in the chicken coop. We eat lots of animal protein yet, if we had to dispatch the animals ourselves, then I believe we would become vegetarians overnight. Killing an animal requires a huge steeling of the human will. I have dispatched my own chickens – and then eaten them – and it is not a simple task.
But not everyone was going to agree with Gerry Boland, and the responses were characterised by intense emotions. The very next day, pointing to research that shows that “plants can feel pain”, Michael O Braoin described Mr Boland’s arguments as “pernicious nonsense” and suggested that “If Mr Boland and his fellow travellers in the animal liberation movement are serious, perhaps they will give up eating fruit and vegetables as well”.
But Dermot Donnelly of Balbriggan wasn’t about to let Mr O Braoin away with that, and wrote to point out that even if plants do feel pain, then animals feel more pain. And, besides, the energy efficiency of producing animals for food “means that those who eat meat are responsible for the indirect destruction of 10 times more plants than vegetarians”. Mr Donnelly concluded that: “It appears to me that Mr Ó Braoin is just looking for a feeble excuse to go on eating meat”. Ouch!
Canon B. Lougheed wrote to point out that Jesus partook of Passover lamb, but Carmel Courtney of Dublin 16 wrote to warn the Canon that “it is difficult to believe that those who partook of the meat of baby lambs could be described as gentle or compassionate. It might therefore be wiser for Canon Lougheed to cease to emphasise that aspect of the life of Jesus lest church attendances shrink even further”
So, that seems to be the turf on which the argument over meat eating continues to be fought out, complete with insults – “feeble excuses”; “fellow travellers”; – and seemingly little or no common ground.
Whether or not “plants can also feel pain” is surely beside the point when it comes to a decision about eating animals, and Mr Boland and Ms Courtney’s protests are as much about the poor quality of life that animals have endured as it is about the act of eating them.
On one side, meat is murder. On the other, it’s what we are born to eat.
The schism between omnivores and vegetarians is centuries deep, and difficult, if not impossible, to traverse. But I want to have a go at bridging the gap, in order to improve our health, and to thereby argue the case for red meat. White meat – pork and chicken – is an argument for another day.
Meat eating shouldn’t be all about creating an argument, and shouting about who is right and who is wrong. Meat eating should be about health, and aesthetics.
I think we should eat less meat, and I think we should only eat meat that has been compassionately reared and slaughtered. We should, in other words, eat less of better quality meat, and we should show it more respect.
The key to our red meat consumption should begin with the recognition that pasture-fed beef and lamb are health foods, and that we have the circumstances to produce – and in fact we do produce – some of the finest quality red meat produced anywhere in the world.
The flesh of animals that graze on grass has high levels of omega-3s, vital for our health and in particular the growth of brain cells. Importantly, the balance between the omega-3s and the omega-6s in grass fed beef is also extremely good. The flesh of grass–fed animals has lots of Vitamin E, and it gives us a source of CLA – conjugated linoleic acid – which research suggests is a powerful weapon against cancer.
This stuff is good for us.
And where the animals are properly reared and dispatched, they suffer less stress, thus producing better quality meat. As food lovers, who want to enjoy the best food, we should insist that this compassion to animals is adhered to at every juncture of the food chain.
There are farmers at work today in Ireland who are waking up to these questions. Joe Condon, who farms on the Tipperary-Waterford border, rears Galloway cattle to organic standards, has the meat processed by luminary butcher Michael McGrath in Lismore, and sells the meat as Omega Beef. It’s cracking stuff, but Mr Condon isn’t alone.
Maurice Kettyle in Fermanagh rears and produces the most superb Angus beef, and other farmer-producers are turning away from the commodity system towards specialised breeds and specialized selling. Just last week I had a call from a friend in Westmeath who is working with a bunch of beef producers. “They just don’t want to be sending superb animals off to the factory anymore”, he told me.
In tandem with this appreciation of the special quality and the healthful benefit of our red meat, we need to look to the great cuisines of the world, which all use meat sparingly, and in special ways. We talk of “meat and two veg”, but we should really talk of “two veg, and meat”. Hand in hand with showing a lack or respect for the superb red meat we produce, we are often indifferent to the allure of vegetables. The steak on your plate should be the grace note, not the diva.
We will have reached the desired state of grace when we can go into our local butcher and ask for “Two Irish, upland, Dexter, organic, omega-balanced, humanely dispatched, 21-days-hung, sirloin steaks, please”.
That’s quite a mouthful say. And it will be quite a mouthful to eat.

Readers Letters

We get lots of strongly opinionated comments and mails into Bridgestone Central, and here are a few for your delectation.
The first is from Conor, who sure knows his way around Cork and Kerry restaurants.

"I must start by saying all in all I agree with 95% of your listings in Munster but for me the inclusion of Over the Moon in Skiberreen is a bit like having Bacus from Kenmare in last year. It's a restaurant doing the basics right but with a long way to go to be in the top of anything. Also Jacques in Cork city seems to be living on it's past. The menu is rarely changed and it's not the nicest room to dine in. A bit subterranean. I always feel sorry for Star Anise in Cork as it never seems to get the accolades it deserves: maybe it suffers from a small room, but the service and food I always find faultless. Maybe you can't give too many to Cork City.
Lastly I'm delighted to see The Old Convent included as it really is the star in Tipperary. Love your book every year but sometimes feel you miss what's under your noses."

Well, indeed we certainly do miss what is under our noses, and Conor is certainly right to point out that “you can't give too many to Cork city”, as we always try – and fail – to get the best geographic spread for the 100 Restaurants Guide in order to make it as user-friendly as possible.

And here is a typically lively communication from Cathy McClean of the splendid California Market Bakery

"Just to let you know that the California Market Bakery has a new address. We did not move again, the move to Kildare fell through at the last moment, but it has all worked out for the best, as these things usually do, and we have found a bigger and more suitable location for the bakery. We are now literally on the border of the North and South, a much easier trip into Dublin. We will still be much of the same, but with the ability to add some more Californian favourites and some ethnic style breads. We should be up and running by mid-February.

"I just read the November newsletter and was so pleased to see Paul Bertolli’s “Cooking by Hand” mentioned. He is an excellent chef and a good man. I have the book myself, although I do not cook much anymore since the bakery keeps me pretty busy. I knew him when he was at Chez Panisse and his Chez Panisse Cookbook (with Alice) is also a good one. Another great book, maybe not for food as art, but for good food, is “The Zuni Café” cookbook by Judy Rodgers another Chez Panisse alum. It was a great place to eat and I am sure it still is."

New Address:

California Market Bakery
Flurry Bridge Business Park
Lower Foughill Road
Block B Unit 12
BT35 8SQ

So guys, it's time to get Judy Rogers' book! And finally, from Jill Bell of the excellent Well and Good wholefood shop in Midleton, who also has an excellent letter in the Health Supplement of today's Irish Times

"What has prompted this email and belated thanks is reading the Bridgestone Guide News piece on Pat O'Mahony and his denial of the existence of "bad" food. Great! As usual you word your pithy comments so eloquently.

Vets are ahead of medics and food safety "experts" on this one. Bring a sick dog to a vet and you are likely to be asked what he has been eating. How often does a doctor ask the same question?

Another comparison cropped up in my shop recently as I was bemoaning the fact that my husband had acquired MRSA in hospital. A chef remarked that he wasn't allowed to set foot outside his kitchen while in his chef's gear, yet nurses come and go everywhere, including wards, without any such restrictions."

01 February 2008

Surely Not...

Pádraig Walshe, president of the IFA - Irish Farmers Association – has claimed that supermarkets' use of “predatory pricing” is as great a threat to farming as climate change, or the WTO – World Trade Organisation.
Well, well, who would have believed that a leader of the IFA would talk knowledgeably about what is actually going on down on the farm for real farmers.
Maybe Mr Walshe heard reports about the atmosphere at a meeting we spoke at early last year, when we listened to farmers in Northern Ireland. These fine gentlemen were, quite simply, suicidal. All of them.
“Why do we get 20 pence per pound less for our beef than people in the U.K. when we produce a better product?” they pleaded of the man from the supermarket.
“Ah well, nothing to do with me, that's just the way the market is”, said the man from the supermarket. Of course: the market...
Or maybe Mr Walshe got some feed back about the time when, as part of a Taste Council campaign, we put our case to the Dail hearing on the Groceries Order, a fight we unfortunately lost. Maybe he heard the North Dublin vegetable growers talk about their relationship with the supermarket. Myself and my Taste Council colleagues on that day, Ross Lewis of Chapter One and Peter Ward of Country Choice, all agreed after listening to the growers that their relationship with the supermarket wasn't one of master and servant.
The relationship was one of master and slave.
Irish farmers belong in markets all right: Farmer's Markets, not supermarkets.
Maybe, at last, a president of the IFA finally understands this. More power to Mr Walshe.