Saturday, July 16, 2011


For 15 years now, I have been saying how great the food in Ireland is. I have been teaching cooking classes, appearing on television, writing articles and generally trying to spread the word. It is high time I clarified something. Why? In March this year, I did a series of radio interviews with FOX TALK RADIO. The responses are responses I have become all too accustomed to. "Ireland? Good Food?" I suggested a foodie tour and it was received with laughter.

Corned Beef and cabbage is an AMERICAN IRISH tradition introduced in New York. When the Irish emigrated they could not find/afford the quality ham available in Ireland , so they borrowed the Jewish tradition of brining beef. I did not dance at the crossroads and for those of you with visions of 'The Quiet Man'....well, sorry to disappoint you. The Cork Opera House, museums, vacations in Ardmore, Co Waterford were part of my youth. My mum cooked. EVERY DAY.

I will say this however. Ireland does have it's fair share of really bad cooks. Yes, we too have people that simply cannot cook. There, I said it. America has it's fair share of really bad cooks too. Does this make the food bad ?

Ireland , in my opinion , has the finest ingredients in the world. I have Irish American friends in New York who laugh about the Irish food that they grew up on. They grew up in New York. When I ask them to describe the awful fate of their food they describe the bland and boiled vegetables they received. Now, I ask you. Who's fault is that? the way, this is a rhetorical question !

I visited quite a few places in Ireland that served french fries with almost everything. If I didn't ask for them, they offered them !
I visited places that are considered to be the best and let me tell you something...I will not go back.

Then, and this is where it really matters, I visited places and ate in places that make the Ingredients of Ireland so noteworthy.
One of these stops was to a place in Lisdoonvarna, Co CLare. The WIld Honey Inn. The ingredients were the stars. There was no 'personality' selling the lunch. Carrot and coriander soup made from locally sourced carrots. Nothing could be more perfect.
I ordered 'Apple Crumble' for dessert. Locally sourced apples.
I ask you. What is wrong with ordering simple meals from the sixties and seventies? Are we trying so hard to be something that we are not. On the luncheon menu, alongside the crumble was a trifle. A trifle made with local raspberries and white peaches.
This is food. No, this is good food, in fact this is great food. It tasted so good. I wanted to pay for the pleasure of eating these ingredients.

I wonder, have we become so obsessed with TV personalities and reality TV that we need this to make the food taste good?
The market seems to be absolutely flooded with foodies right now. Has it become vogue or have we turned a corner? I don't know, I'm asking you this.
There are two words that also concern me. Artisan and Passionate. They should be rationed. Have you noticed how everyone is an artisan and everyone is passionate about what they do. Some truely passionate people spring to mind for me.
Most believe that being passionate means that you absolutely love what you do. This is partly true but is not enough. I believe that passion is the absolute BELIEF in what you are doing, allowing you to persevere when naysayers let you know otherwise.
We can all look at the ladies I have mentioned below and see their cook books, TV shows, celebrity appearances and be in danger of not seeing the years and years of unwavering belief and commitment. Ladies who were ahead of their time. Ladies who wanted to bring the best of food to us and ladies who wanted to share the truth about food with us (however disdainful the truth may be at times)

Over time, I intend on sharing more about these wonderful women with you. In fact, some of them have even agreed to give away autographed copies of their books !

Myrtle Allen, Darina Allen, Georgina Campbell, Prannie Rhatigan, Suzanne Campbell, Ella McSweeney, Alice Waters to name but a few.

I remember reading this article from Saveur magazine. This was the opening quote. I think it says it all.

I was away at school when my mother told me she was opening a restaurant at our house," recalls Tim Allen, Myrtle Allen's son. "I was very excited. I thought I'd come home and have chips and mixed grills and all. I was so disappointed when I got back and discovered that she was serving the same food I'd eaten all my life." Though he didn't realize it at the time, the food Tim Allen had eaten all his life was something of an endangered species: fresh, honest Irish home cooking based on ingredients grown or raised around the house, or at least in the neighborhood. And his mother was to become the leading light of modern-day Irish cooking, a mentor and an inspiration, as important to her country's cuisine as Alice Waters was to America's.

I don't know Tim but I felt his disappointment when he didn't get the chips and mixed grills !
Every Friday, our fish came from the 'English Market'. Every Christmas we had the famous 'Cork Spiced Beef' from Donovans butchers. Early September we donned our wellie boots and gathered blackberries, went strawberry picking during the summer. My baby brother could not drink dairy so my mum sourced goats milk daily from a local farmer in Cork. New potatoes every Summer. Fresh lamb chops served with mint sauce. No sodas ! Chips were a treat.

Now, I live in the United States where sodas are consumed like water, served with every meal, and are refilled in restaurants without you even asking for it. To some Alice Waters is seen as elitist. To me, Alice Waters and Myrtle Allen are like the child in the famous fable 'The Emperors New Clothes'. Remember when the Emperor was walking down the street naked...the crowds cheering. The one child exclaiming....'But he's naked'
Yes, it really is that obvious.

Ingredients in Ireland really are that good. There are people who CANNOT cook and so give Irish Ingredients a bad name, when all it takes is a few classes !

'Forgotten Skills of Cooking ' by Darina Allen . This book is such a treat. If you want to buy someone you love something special, then look no further. Darina speaks to you in the introduction and for a moment I thought she was speaking directly to me ! You know what though, she was. She is speaking to anyone that wants to reconnect. A marvelous journey. The skills, the photography and the recipes are all waiting for you to explore. Darina is indeed from Ireland as am I but in this book she is speaking to everyone. Whether you are from Sweeden or Finland, Texas or Alabama, we all had people we learned from and still need to learn from.

Georgina Campbell is another leader and who I believe is and was ahead of her time.
'Ireland for Food Lovers' is the must have guide if you plan on visiting Ireland. Also filled with photographs, recipes and introductions to places to eat and stay.
She is a member of both the Irish and British Food Writers' Guilds. She too has written a number of cookery books and is the author of the comprehensive and critically acclaimed independently assessed guides to Ireland's best places to eat, drink and stay 'Georgina Campbell's Ireland-the Guide'

More recently Georgina has launched her own series of apps for the smart phone. By going to her web site you can browse them in the store. One of the cooking apps I urge you to look at, is one with Ireland's very own Neven Maguire. Now, you can call me biased and you would be CORRECT. I just think Neven hung the moon. I would probably buy an app of Neven teaching you how to fold laundry ! He's just a genuine nice guy and I always have time for genuine nice people. Neven Maguire is the owner of the award winning 'MacNean House and Restaurant' located in Co Cavan. He is a huge advocate for locally produced ingredients. In my humble opinion it is only a matter of time before the United States gets to know and love Neven too.

Many thanks to Georgina Campbell for agreeing to award one lucky winner an autographed copy of her book 'Ireland for Food Lovers'

All you have to do is share your POSITIVE IRISH FOOD EXPERIENCE in no more than 6 sentences and submit a photo if you have one.
- It may have been during a visit to Ireland.
- It may be an Irish Ingredient you tried
- An Irish recipe you tried
- Something someone else introduced you to.

Send your details to

Competition closes September 1st 2011

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  1. I went to Galway every summer as a child and I don't remember any bad food there at all. The poached salmon with Irish bread and butter is something I still rave about to this is SUBLIME. Thanks for this well written and astute post Rachel...well said!!

  2. Patrica
    Thanks for stopping by. Galway is wonderful. WHat a nice memory. Yes, agree with you about the fish.Galway is also very famous for it's oyster festival ever year.

  3. I completely agree with this article! We have this idea what food should be based on Top Chefs, 30 min meals but whatever we cook at home are the real thing!
    My husband's family moved here from Ireland many years back and I would love to go and try to find his town.
    One thing about the bad Irish food reputation in the US, it is partly fault of some Irish Pubs serving very bland meals!

  4. Yay! I can comment now :-) It was great 'meeting' you at #soulfodder last night. Always love making new rambunctious Look forward to exploring your blog!

  5. too... I had a chance to read your guest post while you were on vacation..LOVED it...will be following you now...Beware !

  6. My favorite place is The Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge in Adare. It was the perfect cool evening there - the gardens were beautiful and the food was amazing!

  7. ERin...what did you have to eat? do you remember?

  8. For the past 6 years I've made Potato Soup for a church/school St. Patrick's Day event, using my Irish Heritage Cookbook recipe. Every year I have to make more than the year before and everyone loves it. It makes me happy & proud to do it:)

  9. While in Ireland we produce a variety of prepared Salmon products, I've recently tried a smoked salmon brand called, would you believe 'Molly Malones'. Its specially smoked and promises to be 'Listeria' FREE.

    Its not widely available just yet as the business behind it is still in its infancy stages, but if you see it, buy it, you wont be disappointed as it has a very unique smoked flavour and is the 'smoothest' tasting smoked salmon I've tried to date.