A very special multi-course dinner in aid of two Cork charities will see four Cork Michelin-starred chefs come together, writes Joe McNamee.
It all sounded good on paper: the four current Cork Michelin-starred chefs coming together in a city centre pub to cook a multi-course dinner in aid of two of Leeside’s most prominent charities; surely a certain hit.
But when you’re deep in the thicket, it can be hard to see the wood for the trees.
The ticket price, €225 per individual diner, is quite a bit more than most around these parts are inclined to drop on dinner, no matter how salubrious the scran and how popular and deserving the two charities in question, Cork Simon Community and Cork Penny Dinners (CPD).
And even though the organisers had the added insurance of having pre-sold a fair tranche of seats, there was a lingering nervousness in the air —would they be left holding a bunch of unsold tickets?
Within an hour of an online announcement, two weeks ago, the last tickets were gone.
By midnight, there were hundreds more applications, and within a couple of days, almost six hundred on the waiting list, some indication of the unadulterated joy with which epicurean Cork — draped in widow’s weeds since 2001, when a local restaurant, Shiro, in Ahakista, last held a star —has continued to respond to an unprecedented Michelin starburst last autumn that saw three new stars handed out to Cork restaurants.
On April 29, in the Raven Bar, on South Main Street, Corkonian Ross Lewis, chef-proprietor of Dublin’s Chapter One, Michelin-starred since 2007, will be joined by Rob Krawczyk (chef-proprietor, Restaurant Chestnut, Ballydehob), Takashi Miyazaki (chef-proprietor, Ichigo Ichie, Cork city) and Ahmet Dede (head chef, Mews Restaurant, Baltimore) to deliver up a four-star feast: two sittings of 70-plus diners with nary a pizza in sight — it is no exaggeration to state this will be one of the real highlights of the 2019 Irish culinary calendar.
“Not having had a star in Cork for so long and then getting three in one year really resonated with me,” says Lewis, “it was such a wonderful achievement—nobody would ever have thought you’d get three in one go.
"So not long after the awards, I thought it would be lovely to celebrate by getting together the four Cork Michelin stars and provide some money and raise awareness for Cork charities that are so under-resourced. They were all up for it immediately.
“The two lads in the Raven, [proprietors] Tom O’Riordan and Pat O’Hara, I’ve known since school and they were on it as well straight away, very happy to do it.
"I wanted CPD because of the association with chefs and with feeding people and obviously the homelessness crisis is at its worst point so Cork Simon is another obvious choice and Pat and Tom thought that as well.”
For O’Riordan, the evidence of the homelessness crisis is something he is faced with on a daily basis: “I see a lot of it around the place, particularly around North Main St.
“We are very close to CPD and I see a lot of people going up and down every day and I’m in the city at all hours, driving home at all hours, in all weather conditions, and seeing people sleeping on the side of the street and it’s across all age groups and demographics.
"It’s not particular to anybody.”
Cork Simon Community has been working with the homeless in Cork for decades, beginning with their first soup run in 1971, but Cork Penny Dinners was founded during famine times as a soup kitchen and, while it never went away, it has seen a huge resurgence in its public profile, most especially since the havoc wreaked on Irish society by the demise of the Celtic Tiger.
Recent recipients of a prestigious social responsibility award from the Irish Food Writers’ Guild, CPD’s work remains as vital as ever.
“CPD is busy,” says Caitriona Twomey, “very very busy and getting busier by the minute, it’s expanding on all fronts big time. People coming from all over, not just the homeless but families looking for help.
"We get references from different areas and different services, recognising families are without food, toiletries and other stuff, so they contact us. People working in State sector services are thinking outside the box and recognising people need this extra help and even if they work in the state sector they are getting off their behinds and making the call, closing gaps and every little bit helps to close the gaps.
"They’re just ordinary decent human beings doing something for families that can’t access or don’t know how to access help or are maybe too ashamed to try.” It is truly bizarre to hear of a charitable organisation doing what is surely the work of the State?
“It is,” agrees Twomey, “but take a look at the frontline services — fire officers, GardaI, nurses — they can’t find the resources for them.
"When you see them struggling, can you imagine how other services are struggling for resources? Can you imagine how frustrated those in support services are?
"We see it, we hear it, we feel it — they all want to go the extra mile and they’re struggling because of their own lack of resources.
“The boom times may be on the way back but us and other agencies are getting busier, all services are seeing a huge increase, even from middle-class families.
"These are not the traditional clients coming into CPD and you’d have to admire their strength in coming. Its a survival thing and they need it. If they have problems and they have food worries and are going hungry, they can’t even address all the other problems.
"And if you have kids who are going hungry … that’s a horror story for any parent.”
Keeping all that in mind, €225 a head seems nothing short of a downright steal, cheap at twice the price.