New cookery school opens at east Clare co-op

Valerie O’Connor goes to the opening of a new cookery school at the East Clare Community Co-Op in Scariff, where she discovers a vibrant and enterprising community spirit that makes her enthusiastic for similar ventures throughout the country

The village of Scariff is sometimes described as a bit of West Cork in East Clare. The reason for this is the community of artists and artisans that have been attracted to set up shop in the area since the 90’s.

Also, the presence of Irish Seedsavers has created an anchor for lovers of biodiversity, and the neighbouring Steiner school caters for parents who want their children to have a completely different experience of the education system. It’s a grounded place, people are doing all manner of cool things within the surrounding countryside.

Scariff has bakers and, most likely, a candlestick maker too, but it has what we all need in our own locality — a community co-op. The recent launch of its co-op’s cookery school was kicked off with a great bit of banter and enthusiasm from the country’s ambassadors for feeling good; the Happy Pear twins, Steven and David Flynn.

The Wicklow duo entertained everyone with a buzzing cookery demo, complete with push-ups on hand-stands. The lads asked the gang present, (some were wondering when the meat was going into the dinner?) what they thought were the three keys to happiness.

We all had out own ideas, big cars, rich husband etc, but the twins say it’s these things: 1. Health, can’t argue with that. 2. Movement, exercise is so important and helps everything. 3. Be nice to yourself, life is short.

Head Gardener Richard O’Gorman shows us how it’s done at the Co-Op garden.
Head Gardener Richard O’Gorman shows us how it’s done at the Co-Op garden.

I would add to that, community. Too much of how we live now is centred on the self, and loneliness and isolation are becoming bigger problems to our health and wellbeing. Stress is a bigger killer than heart disease and this can be greatly reduced by spending time with people in a good community spirit, plus family and friends, of course (though that can create stress too).

An uplifting and great example is the East Clare Community Co-op, nestled bang in the middle of Scariff. With the entrance to the Garden Café on the Main Street, this enclave is a community hub where locals and nearby business people come to eat, every day of the week. You can sample their delicious curries or loaded sweet potatoes for just €5, while a bigger meal of veggie lasagne, Shepherd’s pie or frittata with lots of salads costs just €7.50.

Pesky vegans like myself are catered for too, and I had a yummy beetroot and hummus wrap with salads straight from the garden, with a delicious tomato soup, also made from their own tomatoes. With little space for more, I forced myself to have a coffee as the café is known for great coffee and it was delivered spot on, washing down my amazing lime vegan cheese-less cheesecake.

The idea of growing your own food and then taking it into a kitchen right there on site, makes perfect sense in the big and small scheme of things, especially for chief cook
Samantha Holmes who runs the cafe with other staff.

“This is a real community service”, she beams “And we are famous for our lunches.” (They sell out super-fast every day).

En route to the community garden at East Clare Community Co-Op.
En route to the community garden at East Clare Community Co-Op.

“We get so much produce from the garden right now; potatoes, runner beans, beetroot, greens, onions, and salads, plus all our herbs of course. All the produce is grown right here in the garden, and it’s free from any chemicals or pesticides too, which makes everything taste even better”.

I agree, it tastes vibrant, as I see a beautiful-looking slice of baked peach cheesecake sail by me on a tray piled with chocolate energy balls and coffees.

“Don’t write about the place”, asked one regular diner, or it’ll be overrun.” A good point I thought, but sorry, it’s too good not to write about.

After lunch, I stuck my nose into the brand new cookery school and felt instantly impressed by what they have achieved. A pristine room complete with everything needed for demonstrations and hands on cookery classes. The focus here is to bring the skilled people of the area, who are versed in so many types of cooking from Indian, via the restaurant next door, to fermenting, gluten-free baking, vegan, and lots in between, with amazingly low prices, I think I’ll be a regular student.

“We also have a weekly smallholder’s and artisan market from 11-4pm”, says Samantha “And locals have their own hand-crafted things to sell”. I’m looking forward to Christmas Feast Without a Beast workshop on December 9.

The Garden Cafe at East Clare Community Co-Op.
The Garden Cafe at East Clare Community Co-Op.

The garden, complete with polytunnels, is just down the back and a lovely spot to just hang out and read, or take in the gorgeous views of the Clare Hills. Head gardener
Richard O’Gorman has been busy for the past two years getting the garden up to speed, to grow delicious produce for the café, and when there’s any excess, the public can get their hands on it at the Friday market.

A graduate of the Organic College in Dromcollogher, Richard knows his stuff when it comes to growing delicious edibles using organic principles, and is proud of what the co-op is achieving

“The dynamic here is unique, as we have school groups coming in for projects, and the Brothers of Charity too, and as Scariff is full of experienced growers, we have a hub to share this knowledge.

“The garden not only turns out amazing veggies with help from other gardeners and volunteers, there are also accredited courses in food growing, run on site”.

As I make my way back to the concrete city, I sigh at how great it would be to have a co-op like this in the middle of where we all live, growing food on site and taking it straight to the kitchen to be prepared lovingly into amazing fresh dishes for anyone who wants it.

Everybody needs community spirit. Think of all the people you know who have a wealth of skills and knowledge to share, who need a place they can go and eat delicious, nourishing food made by skilled hands of your neighbour. Meanwhile here’s some stuff to mark on your calendar.

Saturday August 26, 8pm: Pop up Bistro. Garden Café’s Sam and Jodie cook up a 3-course feast for €25. Booking essential.

Tuesday September 26: The start date of a ten-week cookery course, ‘Cooking on a budget’, with chef Noelle.

For more, see www.cothucookeryschool.ie.


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