Ever wondered what our five-star chefs cook up with their children? Joe McNamee rounds up their tips and recipes ahead of Father’s Day — and shares his own classic kids’ dessert too.
My father carried two recipes around in his head. The first was for “tablet”, a Scottish version of fudge, first learned during his Glasgow childhood and, so sweet, you’d get diabetes just thinking about it.
The other, a legacy of post-war years spent wandering around South East Asia, was a curry that — in an era when Uncle Ben reigned supreme — featured the rather radical inclusion of banana.
He cooked both a bare handful of times throughout my childhood but they impressed sufficiently for me to believe that the family menu was about to step up a notch when, having taken early retirement for health reasons, he assumed the mantle of family cook from my mother, a magnificent, multi-talented woman whose myriad abilities ended at the kitchen door.
We soon learned, however, that his natural preferences were pretty much those of a young teenager, lots of crispy, salty stuff from the deep fat fryer and always something to satisfy his sweet tooth — in later years, if pressed to name my father’s ideal meal, all of my siblings would have immediately replied as one: “red wine and cake.”
Considering he and I could nearly come to blows over the correct way to make a pot of tea (we at least agreed on no tea bags), it is safe to say that we never really cooked together and, truth be told, proper food was something I discovered only after leaving home but once I did, I was always determined my own children would in turn fly the coop with an absolutely fundamental life skill, an appreciation of good food and the ability to turn fine produce into tasty, nutritious meals.
With an abundance springing up in the back garden each year, a rhubarb recipe is an obvious choice and while it is simple and straightforward, it takes them through a number of steps, beginning with harvesting the star ingredient, then weighing up, making a sugar syrup (to be later used for cordials) on the stove, baking in the oven and then, best of all, eating a verydelicious dish of their own making.
4-5 rhubarb stalks, sliced into inch-long pieces
Cubic inch grated fresh ginger
500gm vanilla sugar (sugar stored with vanilla pods)
4-5 tablespoons brown sugar
150gm plain flour
fistful of flaked almonds
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Oven temp: 180C
Bring water and sugar to the boil, simmer for 7 minutes and then pour over rhubarb pieces and ginger placed in a tray or pyrex dish. Leave to sit for half an hour to soften but not break down.
Mix cinnamon into flour and then rub in butter and sugar to make crumbs, then add almonds. (This can actually be baked for 15 minutes on a flat tray to make it extra crispy and stop it getting too soggy when baked with the fruit.)
Remove rhubarb pieces from syrup and place in buttered oven dish. (Strain and reserve the now rhubarb-ginger flavoured syrup to use as a cordial or cocktail mixer. Will keep in the fridge for at least a week.)
Sprinkle the brown sugar over the rhubarb (despite the syrup, the bitter fruit still requires a tad more sweetening).
Put topping on loosely on top, don’t press it down. If topping hasn’t been pre-baked, bake dish in 180˚C oven for about 30 mins or until topping is crisp and golden. Serve with custard, cream or, best of all, vanilla ice cream.
Chef/Proprietor, Chapter One Restaurant, Dublin
Children: Molly (16), Eabha (15), Sheana (11)
My mother was the one with the grá for the grub and she would have got that growing up on the farm — both my parents came from agricultural stock but my father, Gethin, was a director of Pfizers in Cork and would have entertained a lot.
In the 1970s, there would have been lots of Americans coming over the years, and he’d have to bring them out, to the Vintage in Kinsale, Arbutus Lodge and Cliffords, Lovett’s, Bawnleigh House, and the odd time to Ballymaloe.
The funny thing is my first dining out memory is of going to Ballymaloe for a lunch but it wasn’t open as they were decorating, but insisted on bringing us in and we were sitting in this blue Georgian room with stepladders and a board going across between them and they put us in the dining room at a table with them —that’s a true hospitalitarian!
My Dad was really into food in the sense that he did a lot of fine dining, he knew good food but he cooked not a jot, beans on toast, an odd time — actually, to say he cooked would stretch the boundaries!
I am always off on Sunday or Monday and would usually cook on one of those nights — we’d go out to dinner on the other night.
Over the years, we’ve had waves of interest and then disinterest when it comes to the girls cooking but they will all usually pitch in though it’s a little difficult now that they are older.
They loved picking herbs and scrubbing mussels when they were younger and have displayed a good level of interest over the years, they’d be interested in the techniques and the ingredients I’d bring home from the restaurant.
We’ve had lobsters crawling around the kitchen floor, scallops in their shells, porcini mushrooms — if you expose them to a broad range of influences, some of it will stick.
I am trying to give them the gift of the palate —which is rare — what we often give children is that constant “salt-fat-crunch”, French fries, biscuits. I try to counteract that. I’d cook whole turbot on the bone and say, “you know what, girls, in 20 years time there may not be wild turbot”.
I remember bringing home scallops on the shell when Eabha was nine, going on 10.
We took them out of the shell and I showed them how to clean them, we cooked and sliced them, served them with olive oil, lemon and salt, and I said, now, Eabha, you can take the underside of the shell and clean it and use it for keeping jewellery or whatever inside it, do you know, people used to use them as ashtrays and she said, “Daddy, what’s an ashtray?” [guffaws in amazement].
If we are cooking together, it generally tends to take the form of what we might find in the farmer’s market in Dún Laoghaire on a Sunday.
We might have some nice black sole and they’d help me pat it in flour and we’d cook it, serve it with some beautiful spring cabbage, some braised brown rice with onions, herbs and spices or we’d braise down a chicken or put some lamb chops on the barbecue. The seasonal veg would get a right good tilt. McNally Farms have a lovely selection.
They’d be milling into strawberries, raspberries and I’d leave them eat all they want because, come September or October, they can’t have ‘em. ‘They’re only available in the supermarket after that and you’re not having them!’
Kids actually like salads, lots of greens and a nice hazelnut dressing and we love roasted baby plum tomatoes in season, with some olive oil, garlic, thyme and roasted slowly over the BBQ — you could also do them over the gas or in the oven — and then add add chunks of feta, basil, rocket, give it a stir, it’s a no brainer and it’s brilliant, you get really sweet tomatoes, roasted slowly over the bbq olive
garlic thyme, at the end loads of chunck of feta, basil, rocket give it a stir, a no brainer and it’s brilliant, really sweet tomatoes you can have it with some toasted sourdough and a glass of Chablis for the adults.
1065gm 00 flour
1 litre cold water
50ml extra virgin olive oil
1gm dried yeast
Bring together, knead for 5-10 mins, leave to prove for 24 hours.
2500gm organic canned tomatoes
50mls extra virgin olive oil
1/4 bunch of basil
Blend all ingredients together and use raw.
Tomato, Mozzarella, smoked Gubbeen cheese, Guanciale, egg
Puttanesca - Tomato, confit or roasted garlic, olives, capers, anchovies
Fontina cheese, Pecorino cheese, potato, egg, black pepper
Mossfield or Caciocavallo cheese, St Tola Goat’s Cheese, spinach or Russian kale, red onion, spring onion, cream, black pepper
tomato, mozzarella, Coolea extra mature cheese, shaved, extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic, cut into big slices
200-300ml olive oil
Three handfuls of baby plum or cherry tomatoes
Herbs, whatever you have to hand, bay leaf, thyme, but don’t overpower it
Cook the tomatoes in a mid-temperature oven or over the BBQ for 15 minutes or however long it takes to break the down but you don’t want a pulp, they should still hold some shape.
Then you add a good feta cut into chunks, the size of a dice, add it in and leave it for a further two or three minutes, just as the feta starts to melt, then remove it from the heat.
Add a handful of basil, torn, two handfuls of rocket, removing the stalks if you want. Stir in lots of black pepper, you won’t need salt because of the feta.
Chef/Proprietor, The Tannery Townhouse & Restaurant, Dungarvan, Co Waterford
Children: Ruth (12), Anna (11)
My father, Mikey Cuan Flynn, died in 1995. He saw me [come] back [to Ireland to take over as chef] in La Stampa and winning best restaurant in Ireland which was great because I reckon I was a huge disappointment to him for a while. He never told me that but I was terrible at school, never studied. He was a chemist and wanted me to become one.
He used to love, adore fish at a time when people weren’t big fish eaters, it was a real treat to get a good piece of fish and have my mum cook it.
My mum cooked him pig’s head one time and she was famously not a good cook, and the doc had to be called for my father after he got stomach pains but he’d just eaten too much, he got over excited and ate too much.
He didn’t really cook much but I remember him making an apple tart when my mum was in hospital and the effort he put into it was the most important thing but he definitely loved food.
I do a lot of cooking at home but I don’t do a huge amount with the girls as they are mad into baking and do a lot themselves and I don’t interfere with that.
They are my social media mentors and greatest critics and as to whether they are absorbing stuff is another thing but they have to be, to be fair.
They generally appear when dinner is ready and give it a judgemental ‘hmmmm’ but they wouldn’t throw a strop about food. People think, because I’m a chef, that my children are preprogrammed to eat sushi or something like that but they’re not, they’d eat burgers every day of the week if they could.
They’re open to a lot of things but they are like every other child — they love the old junk food just as much as the next person and just because I am their dad, every body thinks they shouldn’t.
They give out to me for being too fancy, doing things like putting chorizo in spag bol. They come back from their granny’s and tell me she does the most amazing roast chicken because they like that there is no ‘fancy element’.
I can’t help it but my natural instinct is to ‘upgrade’ everything — I’d be adding sage and lemon zest to the stuffing and they’d say why can’t you just leave it. They’ll end up in college and remember all the lovely stuff I used to cook as they eat tins of beans straight from the can.
I totally stopped making school lunches last year because I was sick and tired of the lunches going for a walk and coming back uneaten, the waste was really pissing me off so I went on strike and told them they’d be making their own lunches from then on.
Sometimes there’s fights but I’m adamant. I get the shopping, I ask them to tell me what they want, and they usually make them before bed.
One of my favourite things to eat is a beautiful slow cooked duck leg — all the cooking is done for you with this fantastic product.
These are different but really delicious, simple to cook and great for all the family, you could even serve them at a party.
And it’s not all about being fancy: these are probably as much for me as the girls but you can play around with them and use crispy bacon or chicken, almost anything. It’s a blank canvas for whatever you want to smush in between them.
Cook one by one (a large non-stick frying pan is best) and keep them warm until ready to serve and divide duck and the toppings amongst them.
1 pkt of confit of Irish duck legs (300g) skin removed and shredded.
1pkt of eight plain tortilla wraps (512g)
4 tbsp sour cream (130ml)
4 heaped tbsp of pickled red cabbage (180g)
4 heaped tbsp of grated mature cheddar cheese (195g)
100g of butter melted.
Watercress, spinach and rocket salad
Off the heat brush the non-stick frying panevenly with some of the butter then lay one tortilla on top.
Spread the sour cream evenly on top, then scatter over the duck, cheese and cabbage, the objective is to make sure they are thinly filled and don’t fall apart.
Place another tortilla firmly on top and place on a medium heat for 3-4 minutes making sure you take a peek at the underside to make sure it’s not browning too fast.
Turn deftly with a fish slice when golden brown and cook for another 3 minutes, Slide from the pan into a chopping board and cut into wedges. Serve with some dressed watercress , spinach and rocket salad.