The Menu: Joe McNamee's 2018 food awards

Robin Gill

Welcome to Part I of The Munchies 2018, in which The Menu salutes some of the heroes and achievements of the culinary calendar. (Next week, Part II.)

Cookbook/Food Book of the Year

Robin Gill – Larder (Absolute Press)

The Menu was initially tempted to give the award to Darina Allen’s Grow Cook Nourish: A Kitchen Garden Companion in 500 Recipes (Kyle Books), ranking, as it does, alongside her deeply influential, now minted classic, Forgotten Skills, the latter, a tome that proved hugely influential on Robin Gill, The Menu’s eventual selection and Chef Patron of three hugely popular London restaurants, The Dairy, Sorella and Counter Culture.

Gill begins with a potted culinary biography, including deeply unsettling tales of his protracted and very cruel bullying in a Dublin restaurant but he survived to prosper in some of the best Michelin-starred restaurants in the UK and Europe before opening The Dairy in 2013.

The ‘larder’ section details the processes by which Gill arrives at the fundamental building blocks of his cuisine including fermenting, preservation, dairy, pickles, powders, salts, stocks, sauces and seasonings. This edible arsenal is then put to use in actual table recipes, divided into Garden, Sea, Land and Sweet, along with sections on Snacks and Cocktails.

Larder is not a handholding exercise for the beginner but most recipes are eminently achievable by any confident and competent domestic cook while professionals of all stripes will equally take inspiration. There is a pronounced Nordic slant to Gill’s intensive locavore ethos but the end result is very much his own (though he is commendably generous in sharing credit with his team), a uniqueness that has justly seen him celebrated as a true original and — as The Menu can testify — a great man for a party.

Food Emporium of the Year

Field’s Supervalu, Skibbereen, Co Cork

As a callow 15-year-old, The Menu and an old comrade, would regularly hitch to their west Cork ‘base camp’, a rackety old caravan in Tragumna, near Skibbereen, from there, roaming across the hinterland in a manner that would now put the heart across him, were his own progeny to now do likewise at similar age. Eating was an afterthought to Teenage Menu, often no more than batch loaf and a lump of cheddar from Field’s for an entire weekend. Since then, his grá for the grub appears to have mushroomed in parallel with Field’s evolution into quite probably the finest such store in the land, in a class of its own as a genuine supporter/promoter of small local producers who have backboned the Irish food revolution, not least the wondrous cheesemakers of west Cork — the Field’s cheese counter alone is a majestic affair — and The Menu is hard pressed to imagine another supermarket where a body might randomly wind up ‘testing’ local west Cork-produced gins and rums with aged Coolea from the superb cheese counter as The Menu did last summer with John Field himself.

Farmer’s Market of the Year

Before faithful and keen-eyed readers trawling through their carefully maintained scrapbooks of The Menu’s munificent weekly maunderings, dispatch flurries of irate communications pointing out Douglas Farmer’s Market is a previous recipient of this accolade, The Menu must stress he views the current incarnation as an entirely different beast from yore. On foot of its relocation several years ago to the concourse outside Douglas Village Shopping Centre, in the heart of Douglas Village, streamlining the overall operation, it has grown into a hugely popular market and a tremendous social gathering.

While The Menu enjoys his ‘social’ and has also broken his fast on many a Saturday morn at the fine stalls offering instant edible revival, his primary focus whenever visiting a market is to shop for the finest local, seasonal produce and Douglas market has this in abundance, some of the best in the land.

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