A taste of summer: Rory O’Connell’s latest TV show

As Rory O’Connell returns with a new RTÉ series exploring international cuisine, he returns to his local roots for a new food festival in Cork. Ciara McDonnell reports.

If Rory O’Connell were called to anything other than food, then it would have been the world of horses. “I love everything about horses; they are wonderful creatures,” he enthuses from his home in Ballycotton. 

“We grew up with ponies and all that sort of stuff. My mother and all of her forebears loved the horse, you know? I have such admiration for jockeys, both flat and national hunt but I think particularly for the boys in the national hunt who go off the jumps all the time – it’s a very risky business”.

We are chatting ahead of Rory’s appearance at the Barry Group Race and Taste Festival, which is taking place at Mallow Racecourse today. The concept, new to Mallow, combines Cork’s incredible food scene with our love of live music and horse racing. Featuring a performance from Frank and The Walters, the festival is running free shuttle buses from Mallow train station, making it easy to kick the summer season off with a bang.

The Food Village will feature offerings from Cork food producers as well as demonstrations from some of our most loved chefs and cooks, including Rory himself, Martin Shanahan and Lilly Higgins. It’s an opportunity for us to sample the best food that we have here in Cork, says Rory.

“For me, it’s always about seasonal, local ingredients, and that’s what I’ll be showcasing,” he explains. 

I’ll be responding to whatever lovely local ingredients are in season, so there’ll definitely be things like strawberries and asparagus and elderflower.

Local ingredients are abundant at this time of year, with a few highlights that simply can’t be missed, says the co-founder of Ballymaloe Cookery School. 

“Lovely Cork lamb will feature; we should still have excellent rhubarb. I’ll be using some wild food like wild watercress, wild garlic and unusual things like wild violets — all that sort of thing.”

Wild food is a passion of Rory’s, and he delights in explaining how we can all enjoy the pleasure of wild garlic in our own gardens. 

“The three cornered leek is the first wild garlic and it likes the sunny side of the road, so that’s why it’s more visible, generally speaking,” he says. 

“The later wild garlic with the broad leaf prefers dappled shade. You can pick them from the root and plant them in your garden and they’ll grow almost anywhere. Just go out with a trowel — and underneath there are beautiful little bulbs — you can eat all of it. The roots, the leaves, and the flowers. If you’re putting it into your garden, find a bright spot for the three cornered leek and it will just take off.”

He is currently appearing in A Long Weekend in...with Rory O’Connell on RTÉ One, where he is spending a weekend in eight European cities in an effort to get under their culinary skin. From Bath to Copenhagen, Rory takes inspiration to create a dish at home, made from local ingredients. 

“We’ve chosen eight very different cities and the series has been exciting for me because it’s the first time that I’ve visited many of them,” he says. 

So there’s a genuine sense of discovery. We film each city in two days, but it’s amazing what can be packed into 48 hours if you set your mind to it.

With warm weather entertaining on our minds, it’s important to choose your dishes wisely, and cook with the best ingredients you can find, according to the chef. For him, Ballycotton potatoes are the best spuds in the world — so great in fact, that he plans on importing them into Mallow for his demonstration at the festival.

He wants to inspire our summer menus with tasty treats that will hit all the high notes with our loved ones. 

“I’ll be cooking early summer food that makes the most of what is in season, but also that people can cook at home, because I like to demonstrate dishes that are easily replicated. It’s really good to have something salady at the summer table too — we grow lots of lovely salad leaves and herbs down here so I’ll be talking to people about lovely salady light, fresh, pleasure and health giving food for the summer, really.”

Tickets for the Barry Group Race and Taste Festival can be purchased at www.corkracecourse.ie and are priced at €15. Further additions to the festival and transport updates will be announced soon.

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