Joe McNamee shares some upcoming food events
Suited, booted and ready to rumble on Mother’s Day (March 22) The Menu is examining the options: Mount Juliet Estate offers a variety, from Michelin Star dining to indulgent spa treatments to traditional afternoon tea on the gorgeous Georgian estate ([url=]www.mountjuliet.ie), while chef Bryan McCarthy at Greene’s, in Cork city, is putting on a special five-course tasting menu lunch (available March 21 and 22), with a glass of bubbly for the matriarch being royally feted (www.greenesrestaurant.com).
Dublin’s Morgan Hotel is offering a special Hendricks Infusion Afternoon Tea experience, featuring all manner elegant nibbles and a Hendrick’s Gin Cocktail in a teapot for the especially discreet mater (pre-booking essential,www.themorgon.com).
Congratulations to all prize winners at the 26th Irish Food Writers’ Guild awards, which took place in Dublin’s Marker Hotel. Selected and adjudicated anonymously by Guild members, they are amongst the most prestigious of all such accolades. As ever, Cork producers featured prominently. This year’s winners were as follows: Frank Hederman for Hederman Hot Smoked Irish Salmon, Co Cork; Shine’s Seafood for Shine’s Wild Irish Tuna, Co Donegal; Inch House Traditional Black Pudding, Co Tipperary; Teeling Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, Co Dublin; Outstanding Contribution to Irish Food Award: Joyce Timmins, Co Dublin; Environmental Award: Exploding Tree (Chocolate), Co Cork; Community Food Award: Falling Fruit Ireland (fruit harvesting), Co Dublin; and Lifetime Achievement Award: Jeffa Gill (cheesemaker), Co Cork. www.irishfoodwritersguild.ie
The Ballydehob Jazz Festival Fundraiser (March 28) is a 1920s-style fancy dress evening (prizes for best dressed) that kicks off in the ever-wonderful Levi’s Corner House with Cape Clear Island Distillery Gin Cocktails and canapés by Michelin-starred chef Rob Krawczyk, before the trilby and flapper bedecked mob moves en masse to a pop-up jazz club, in the community hall, for one of Ted Berner’s Wild Side Catering Company’s legendary Ring Dinners. Booking is essential,www.eventbrite.ie
The Menu commends the Cork International Hotel for their Family Date Night initiative (Friday/Saturday evenings, school holidays) whereby parents and children part from electronic extensions, placing all phones and tablets in a box away from the table, instead enjoying some old-fashioned fun, chatting and playing provided games.
CIH are also running Favourite Family Moments competition for a free family date night package (two adults, two children), including early bird menu (5pm-7pm), access to the Aviators Play Room and movie at 7.30pm in Cinema Room, all for just €50 — and no babysitter to fork out for on returning home! For more information see www.corkinternationalhotel.com
The Irish Cook Book (Phaidon), by JP McMahon is an especially personalised take, drawing on three sources: recipes derived from traditional sources and Irish culinary literature; recipes created and used in his Michelin-starred Aniar restaurant over the last decade; and creations of his own imagining based on evidence of commonly available ingredients uncovered by archaeologists and a soupcon of culinary licence.
It begins with a dense social and archaeological history of food in Ireland.
This offers an index of wild plants, seaweed and fungi, McMahon admits is directed at pro chefs. The third recipe in the opening chapter, Eggs and Dairy, is an egg salad sandwich, “a staple of [McMahon’s] childhood”.
Indeed, the same sandwich stank out many a Gael’s childhood lunchbox but there is nothing intrinsically Irish about it, illustrating the at times extremely personal nature of this interpretation of “Irish food”.
McMahon recognises multiple non-native traditions and ingredients arriving over centuries have had a huge impact on Irish food and cooking, creating a very mixed tradition.
He believes, correctly, that if Normans, maybe even Vikings, originally brought cinnamon to Ireland, then it is, by now, an intrinsic part of our native larder —after all, the Italians learned pasta-making from the Chinese.
It is a realisation that even caused him to question the Nordic School locavore ethos of his Aniar restaurant which spurns those ingredients, such as pepper or lemon, not available from the immediate terroir.
His is an overarching view of Irish food history, blending pre-historical archaeology, traditional sources, pop culture, the confluences of colonialism and personal whimsy, so a chapter on potatoes can include: potatoes cooked in seawater; colcannon; duck fat-roasted potatoes; boxty; curried potatoes; and the crisp sandwich.
Shellfish dishes especially resonate, combining molluscs and crustaceans with their most obvious partner, seaweed, while chapters on poultry, lamb, beef, wild game and boar and pork feature solid, eclectic and sometimes innovative recipes, all adapted for home cooking.
The definitive tome on Irish cooking remains to be written, this book illustrating the extent of that task for a nation of culinary magpies, but, either way, it most certainly asks the question: what is Irish food?
The Menu has always had a grá for the spring roll but has generally struggled to find a decent iteration of same.
Habitués of Mahon Point Farmers’ Market, however, will be aware May O’Donovan, of SensAsian food stall, does an especially fine version, crisp filo pastry housing crunchy, sublimely flavoured filling.
Should readers wish to try their hand at home, perhaps a visit to May’s SensAsian Food Deli and Specialty Store, in Ballincollig, will not only yield required ingredients but also the knowhow at regular in-store cookery demos. www.sensasianfood.com