The Menu’s Joe McNamee salutes some of the heroes and achievements in the culinary world this year.
JJ O’Driscoll’s, in Ballinlough, is first and foremost a local, independent family-run shop, spanning several generations. It has always been thus, long before the current vogue for such establishments.
Where you to open a similar venture now, first stop would be the interior designers for something edgy from the industrial chic portfolio, but O’Driscoll’s, low-ceilinged and almost entirely devoid of natural light, is a triumph of substance over style, leaving the produce to do all the talking.
It is a friendly, community shop, retailing all the usual commodities from the average shopping list but in addition boasts a fine, original wine selection, a good meat counter and a splendid selection of produce from Ireland’s top small producers. What’s more, this commitment to the latter is utterly genuine, dating back over two decades. In many cases, O’Driscoll’s was one of the first retailers to take on products that have since become household names. Once upon a time, it was The Menu’s local shop. It isn’t any more, but you’d hardly realise it, so regularly does he haunt the place! www.jjodriscoll.com
Though born in the Northern end of this green isle, award-winning food writer Diana Henry has largely found her audience in Britain, which perhaps goes some way to explaining her low-key Irish profile but once discovered, she will never be forgotten. Her latest book, Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavours (Mitchell Beazley) continues as always, offering sound, innovative, great-tasting recipes.
However, The Menu’s cookbook of the year goes to the legendary Shaun Hill, very much the chef’s chef.
Actually, scratch that, let’s call him the cook’s cook, for Hill is that rarity, the consummate technician with a gift for innovation who believes that all comes to naught if a dish fails the taste test and he is adamant that a good chef must first master completely the fundamentals of the craft ever before allowing culinary imagination to take flight. I
s that enough for you? Well, there’s more. Belfast-born and London-raised, Hill was a classics scholar before becoming a chef and his prose is a further pleasure, deceptively crafted and wryly laconic, not least when delivering a series of his own pithy maxims that serve as chapter headings, for example: Creative thinking is a bad idea if you know nothing; Most poultry is tasteless; Soya beans are best left for cattle feed; and, of course, the title, Salt is Essential (Kyle Books).
Last January, having donned his silken head scarf and golden earrings, Mystic Menu gazed into his crystal ball to offer predictions for the coming year in food.
Amongst his tips was GIY (Grow It Yourself) International, the Waterford-based non-profit social organisation dedicated to supporting individuals, schools, community groups and projects in growing their own food but The Menu has to confess that even his powers of necromancy were insufficient to describe GIY’s arc of progress in 2016, a fact truly comprehended upon a recent visit to the newly-opened Grow HQ. Housing an urban education centre, growing and cookery school, a farm shop, food gardens (with orchards also in the pipeline) and a wonderful café serving up lovely locally-grown food, it is a tribute to the tenacity of founder Michael Kelly and his team and the staying power of one, simple yet brilliant idea.
It began in 2008 with Kelly unable to find any local supportive grower’s groups for his own backyard experimentation and has evolved into an organisation with a global reach of 150,000 members and 5,000 community groups, the eventual target being one million.
The Menu fancies that will achieved sooner rather than later.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved