FROM FAMINE TO FEAST
IRELAND TODAY – A GOURMET’S PARADISE
Join Noreen on a Culinary Tour – North, South, East and West. Open the mysterious ‘Spice Box’ or enter the magic ‘Herb Garden’. Discover the endless exciting legends of the World’s Great Dishes, and sample some delicious specialties en route. The secrets of seasoning designed to bring out natural flavors and create variety will be revealed. It is the means by which a person’s individual personality can be expressed. There are no hard and fast rules. It is one’s own interpretation of a recipe, with the inclusion of a little bit of magic that will ‘bring a dish to life’. Noreen requires ‘neither kitchen nor sink’ to show you superb, exotic dishes, which can be prepared with minimum effort and expense. The surprise element comes when the audience discovers that all ingredients are those they are already familiar with in their every day lives. *(1)
The Pioneers: The New Irish Cuisine – 1970s
I started the ‘Culinary Tours', at grass root levels, to create an awareness and knowledge on what was available, and what could be done with the superb natural fresh food resources on Ireland's doorstep.
The ‘Tours' began initially in my home kitchen overlooking the Atlantic in Co. Cork, and at the nearby village coffee shop in Crosshaven. They were designed as entertaining-cum-educational evenings, with talks, presentations, and demonstrations of a selection of new dishes; and sprinkled with chat on the folklore, fables and legends surrounding the food, and the herbs and spices used. The plan was to show the audiences ideas about what could be done to create exciting new dishes, where tasty sauces evolved during the process of cooking the food. The ‘Tours' were very successful, and received tremendous publicity nationwide. It was the beginnings of the New Irish Cuisine movement. From the start, I referred to the food presented, as the New Irish Cuisine ; and adhered strictly to the principles of La Nouvelle Cuisine , which was the current rage in Europe at the time.
As audiences grew, I moved the ‘Tours' into Cork City. Unbeknown to me, some journalists attended several early sessions, and went on to do write-ups on my work for their newspapers and magazines. The publicity coverage was great, and the ‘Tours' took off at nationwide level, each one packed to saturation point. This happened at Cruises Hotel in Limerick, where two hundred people tried to fill the dining room in the evenings. Sometimes, the ‘Tours' were held in local restaurants, which did not cater to an evening clientele. Or, they were held in upscale hotels such as the Shelbourne in Dublin; the Royal Marine in Dun Laoghaire; the Imperial in Cork; Cruises in Limerick; Actons in Kinsale; the Tower in Waterford, and Whites in Wexford, to name but a few. Sometimes, I would make a special appearance by arrangement in local halls where local groups had a regular meeting in smaller towns and villages
A New Approach
An interesting and original angle was needed to draw attention from the public. So, I established a specific format at the ‘Culinary Tours', publicizing that ‘ cooking is an art, not a chore'. To encourage this idea, my promotional brochures and advertisements stated that I required ‘neither kitchen nor sink' to show the audiences, averaging from 70-100 people, how to prepare a great meal. I staged a glamorous event - an entertaining evening . And, I was always attired in an elegant long evening dress, as if I was ready to serve dinner to my guests. I felt the people deserved something better than a plain dress, slacks, apron or pinafore. I was effectively ‘on show', while the audience was entertained by way of an effortless demonstration, preparing a three course meal. I zipped along at a fast speed to keep the momentum going, and whatever dish was demonstrated, it was ready in no time, because I adopted an Asian tabletop quick style of cooking. It was a technique acquired when living in India, and was not widely known in the Western Hemisphere at that time. It was not WOK cooking, as known everywhere today, but a similar style of cooking, which I combined with the popular French La Nouvelle Cuisine approach to using fresh foods. The food remains crisp, with tantalizing tastes. Soggy foods are an anathema to any gourmet's tastes. It was a completely new approach and unknown to Irish audiences. Meals were prepared in no time, as all messy preparation of food such as cleaning and chopping vegetables, or cutting meat, was done ahead of the sessions. My two assistants, Eileen and Pauline McCarthy were invaluable in their help to keep everything running smoothly.*(2) The events had the desired effect.
The audiences loved the glamour, and being entertained on their evening out. The entertaining aspect also included the knowledge they acquired from the running commentary on all ingredients used in the preparation of the dishes. It was sprinkled with interesting anecdotes on the food, its mystical origins, folklore and fables, as well as plenty of culinary tips. They were fascinated particularly with the stories about herbs and spices. It was a new concept, and proved to be very successful. The feedback was one of delightful surprise, when people discovered that 95% of the ingredients used in the dishes created and demonstrated, were Irish ingredients. They knew of them, but admitted that their knowledge was very limited on what to do with the wonderful fresh natural food resources growing on their doorstep.
Irish Food Resources:
At the ‘Culinary Tours', I put a great deal of emphasis on the use of fresh food. The ‘Tours' included sessions on fresh water fish and seafood. Aside from salmon, plaice, sole, Dublin Bay prawns (jumbo shrimp) or oysters, not much was known about fish and seafood cookery. Overall, many said that they did not like fish, which was associated with having to eat it on Fridays and certain religious holidays. To add to the fun at the ‘Tours', I arranged expeditions with small groups across the golden sands of Ireland's beautiful bays, when the tide was out, to collect mussels. These were placed overnight in salt-water pots with porridge oats (caviar to mussels), and cleansed, before cooking. At my request, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, the Irish Sea Fisheries Board (1952), had previously analyzed my mussel bed sources, to ensure they were clean, safe and of the highest quality.
Two ‘Tours' on salads and cooking with cheese were very popular. I demonstrated a variety of ways to cook with cheese, and introduced combination sweet and savory salads, virtually unknown in Ireland at the time. Perhaps the most popular ‘Tours' featured chocolate desserts. The Irish are noted for having a sweet tooth! On those occasions, I roped in my husband Fred, “Freddie” to do the demonstrations.* (3) He carried them off amidst great hilarity, as Irish audiences were not accustomed to seeing a man in action doing the cooking.
Audiences were shown ideas on the use of liquor in cooking. Jamesons Irish whiskey, Irish stout, ale, beer, Henneseys brandy and Cointreau featured at the ‘Tours'; and Beamish & Crawford gave permission to use their name in a couple of the dishes.
Flambé foods lend themselves well to demonstrations, as the process is very impressive. It was new to the Irish scene, and created considerable interest. In Dublin, people were more sophisticated, and in a handful of restaurants scattered across Ireland, they knew about Crepe Suzette. However, in the rural areas and smaller cities and towns, Flambé dishes were virtually unknown.
A very popular dish at the ‘Tours' was Pate Flambé, one of my original creations in the new Irish cuisine. When the Irish whiskey was poured over the ingredients in the pan, and set alight with a match, the flames looked spectacular. People loved the idea of preparing a pate tabletop style, instead of using the traditional lengthy cooking method in an oven. The Irish being great meat eaters, another Flambé dish that always went over well was the classical dish Steak Diane, prepared in the traditional manner beside the diner's table. Because of its popularity, I introduced several new recipes utilizing the Flambé style of cooking.
National and International Cuisine – Alias ‘Fusion'
During the ‘Culinary Tours', many evenings were centered on International Cuisine. Audiences were introduced to many classical national dishes from other European countries; and from across the world, as far afield as India and China. Everyone delighted in tasting the new flavors. At the same time, I created and presented a selection of new dishes; whereby several foreign recipes were adapted to suit Irish tastes; and new twists were added to traditional Irish dishes such as Irish Stew, Limerick Ham and Bacon and Cabbage. When this happened, the new recipes were given new names, as one must never attempt to pass off a new dish with a name that is already in use in an established classical recipe. It appalls the senses of culinary professionals to see people call their dish ‘Irish Stew', when it is anything but the traditional Irish Stew, made from mutton or lamb; whereas they have made their version with beef and perhaps beer or stout. Call it Irish Stout Casserole or whatever, but never Irish Stew.
Potatoes were the order of the day in Ireland. They were cooked and usually served boiled or mashed with one's meal, be it either meat or fish. Sometimes they served the fish with ‘chips', also called ‘French fries'. So, I introduced the idea of using rice or pasta as alternatives, and showed how these items could replace potatoes sometimes. The ladies liked the idea, though some were horrified at the thought of replacing the potato at their family meals. “My husband would never accept it.” They said. Reactions from the men attending the ‘Tours' was mixed. Single men, who cooked their own meals, liked the options suggested. Others were a little dubious! A dinner without the traditional potatoes was almost sacrilegious!
At the Culinary Tours, audiences were shown how they could make curries with the use of several spices rather than the dreadful curry powder sold in the shops. Curry powder in the small bottles was made up mostly from the preservative spice Fenugreek, with minimal use of Cumin and a hint of Chilies. This combination is very bland and tasteless. There was considerable confusion about the different types of Chili spices appearing in the stores; and amusing tales told by people. Despite explaining the differences between the burning ‘hot' Indian Chilies and the ‘spicy' Mexican Chilies, some folk used the hot Indian Chili in making their Mexican dishes, with nasty consequences!
The Paprika spice which was available in dried form was known; but not the in's and out's of its incredible versatility in flavoring different dishes. Nor were people aware of the use of Coriander to change mundane vegetable dishes into gourmet meals. Included into my Repertoire of dishes, I showed audiences that Ratatouille is the most versatile dish in the world. People were thrilled to find this very colorful vegetarian food can be eaten as an hors d'oeuvre; served as a sauce over the meat or fish; a vegetable to serve with the Entree; mixed in with chicken in a tasty casserole; a filling for an omelet; a snack on toast; a vegetarian curry, called Brinjal, served with rice; or a vegetarian meal in itself. Furthermore, they were delighted to find Ratatouille can be eaten hot or cold and still taste great. And, it lends itself to preparation in large quantities, to be broken up into smaller portions and frozen for later use.
People were amazed and pleased to discover that so many countries used familiar ingredients in their local dishes. They had assumed that foreign food meant foreign ingredients; something quite different and unknown. It came as a pleasant surprise that more often than not, the differences were by way of the flavors from the choice of spices and herbs used in the cooking. Unusual ingredients were featured at the ‘Tours', especially exotic vegetables like fennel, aubergines, courgettes, endives, bean sprouts and a choice of peppers and chilies .These were virtually unknown in Ireland at the time. The traditional carrots, turnips, onions, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, mushrooms and frozen peas were the range of vegetables available. Even garlic, while known was frowned upon because of the after effects on one's breath; while watercress was not to be found anywhere in the shops. Freddie found a source in a babbling brook in the countryside, not far from Carrigaline, Co. Cork. In small groups, we went into the streams, across stepping stones, trying to avoid falling into the icy water, as we picked bunches of watercress. I was able to introduce it in the salad sessions, and for decorative purposes too on a large platter presentation of cold meats. It was a nice alternative to the fresh parsley that was plentiful in supermarkets. The selection of fresh herbs was very limited. However, McCormick's brand of delectable dried herbs and spices had appeared in the stores, and the choice extended with time. Anything by way of fresh items I obtained through enterprising friends, who had cultivated herb and vegetable gardens. They gave me several cuttings too, to start up my own herb garden, and told me about the legend surrounding Fennel and Dill. You should never plant them next to each other, as they have a fatal attraction, leaning to one another, thus becoming a problem!
Everyone loved the idea that an average sized duck can feed a family of six, when served in the Peking style, with pancakes, spring onions, cucumber strips and Hoisen sauce, made from dates. They did not believe it possible, until they saw it with their own eyes.
They loved the way wafer thin liver slices can be cooked within two minutes in a butter sauce, flavored with paprika (mid European style); and delighted in hearing the tales and anecdotes connected with many of the foods. These were featured in my cookbooks as introductions to every recipe.
In the case of the liver dish, which I called the Leprechaun's Dish, I told everyone that it was a great favorite of the late King Peter of Yugoslavia. I know of this tale, because one of Freddie's great friends, who still resides in London and Miami, is the son of the last Foreign Minister of Yugoslavia, prior to Marshall Tito and communism taking over of the country. I met the former elder statesman and courtier in the 1960s in London, and got the story straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak. The liver dish, which takes no more than a couple of moments to cook, is adapted from a well known Italian dish, but considerably more tasty when prepared the time honored royal way. It is best served with rice or mashed potatoes to soak up the delicious butter sauce. If accompanied by green beans, the presentation is very colorful and appealing to the taste buds. It is so different from the thick slabs of tough fried liver served up with bacon and tomatoes for high tea in England and Ireland in times past. With few exceptions, most people attending the ‘Culinary Tours' were converted to liking liver after trying out this dish. It is featured in my early books, and became a hallmark dish in the New Irish Cuisine . I wanted to ensure it did not get lost in the mists of time.
Several grocery chain store owners and the major Irish food distributor Musgraves, asked for recommendations on what items to stock. Top on my list always was olive oil (imported from Italy in large bottles), plus a wide selection of herbs and spices. A handful of very cooperative supermarket owners, plus a couple of delicatessens that were the new ‘in' shops appearing in Irish cities, reached out to get involved. The most enterprising person, who worked with me to obtain the ingredients I needed, was Barry Collins in Carrigaline, Co. Cork. Barry had great initiative and business acumen. No small wonder, that in the years to follow, he went from strength to strength. His successful property developments; extension of supermarkets; ownership of pubs; and today, a large shopping center filled with many interesting specialty shops, plus a comfortable modern hotel speaks for itself. I recall those far off days in the mid 1960s, when Barry had a small shop by the roadside on the Main Street in the village. There, he sold some basic food necessities, papers and magazines, plus cigarettes.
The appeal of being able to produce tasty colorful meals in next to no time, with minimal effort, caught on quickly. The new cooking concepts and techniques used at the ‘Tours' created considerable interest, whereby folk realized that cooking after all could be an enjoyable activity, and not a chore. Response from the audiences across Ireland was very positive and enthusiastic. Everyone filled in ‘Comment Cards' at the end of an evening's entertainment. The compliments were plentiful and very rewarding. Today, these treasured items are kept in my library. Sometimes, when I look at them, it brings back fond memories of the fun we all had in those far off days.
A new era in Irish food had dawned, and the beginnings of a New Irish Cuisine emerged onto the scene. The new cuisine in the early days, became a blend of many foods and ideas; using the magnificent fresh food resources within Ireland and the seas surrounding the Emerald Isle; together with the flavorings and ideas from both traditional Irish and classical foreign dishes. Audiences realized that the secrets of delicious meals lay in the seasonings, and knowledge on their use in cooking. The correct use of the herbs and spices, changed the flavors of foods, and the same ingredients tasted very different according to the seasonings used. It was a time when the world began to ‘shrink', and become more accessible to the masses. The Irish started to travel overseas for their annual vacations. The popular destinations were the Canary Islands and Southern Spain, extending later into other parts of the European continent. Tastes in food became more cosmopolitan as a result, and a new hunger for trying out different type of dishes other than the traditional ones like Irish Stew or Corned Beef and Cabbage, became par for the course. In later years, it was called Fusion Cuisine.
Many of the dishes presented throughout the ‘Culinary Tours' were featured in the New Irish Cuisine Repertoire, and in my early cookbooks. ‘Cooking Irish Style - Today' and ‘Cooking Irish Style', published by Mercier Press in 1976.
Extended Culinary Activities
In early 1974, Dick Hill, the head of TV productions at RTE contacted me. He offered a TV cooking series. It was an exciting golden opportunity to promote the new Irish cuisine nationwide. However, there were several arts and crafts topics as well as gardening to cover in television programs, and time was at a premium with only the one TV channel. “We have to take turns with each topic.” The powers-that-be told Dick. They considered cooking a mundane uninteresting subject, and vetoed the project. It was put on the back burner. Dick remained a staunch ally. He wrote to me in hopes that with time, the situation would change, and came to the ‘Culinary Tours' press night in Dublin at the Shelbourne Hotel in 1975.
David Dand, Managing Director of Gilbeys got in touch. Together with Keith McCarthy Morrough, the Marketing Director, they invited Freddie and I to lunch in Dublin, to discuss sponsorships for the ‘Culinary Tours', planned to start soon at the Shelbourne Hotel. Gilbeys had just launched their new liqueur, Baileys Irish Cream. At the press reception in the Shelbourne Hotel, organized by a colleague, who acted as my Dublin agent – Carainne Childers Davies, daughter of Ireland's former President Erskine Childers; I presented ‘The Jewel Box' - the first dessert to use Baileys Irish Cream. Lo and behold! The worst nightmare that can happen on such an occasion occurred. The piping bag burst at the seams while I was trying to complete the cream decoration. Theodora Fitzgibbon from the Irish Times, seated in the front row said: “Don't worry about finishing it.” I smiled, held the bag together and completed the presentation. Dick Hill, still keen on the idea of my doing a TV cookery series, complimented me for keeping so cool under very difficult circumstances. It wasn't easy. Gilbeys, while sponsoring my work, was as I soon discovered, more interested in establishing the sales of their new drink, rather than have it perceived by the public as a flavor to go into desserts. Understandable? Yes! However, in the 21 st Century, Baileys promote the drink big time for use in cooking too, and even produced a book containing desserts, using the ever- popular liqueur. As my mother often said in those days: “You're way ahead of your time. It will take many years for the Irish to accept some of the ideas and options you are presenting to the people. You are planting the seeds for change, but change will not come quickly.” How true!
Positive reactions were expressed in the media, when the publicity given to my work continued unabated in newspapers, magazines and by way of TV appearances and radio talk shows. More than forty articles written by Irish journalists about my work with the New Irish Cuisine, appeared in Irish magazines and newspapers between 1973 and 1977. In 1975, a half-hour television program featured my work as a Culinary Artiste on RTE, Irish TV. Paul Bocuse and the Troigrois brothers, famous Chefs in France, wrote letters of encouragement; and foreign journalists from magazines like Newsweek, who were based in Paris, wrote to express their delight at my efforts to change the Irish culinary scene. Additional articles appeared during the 1980s when I extended my promotional work to encourage the Irish to eat more fruit across the land.
Friends and colleagues wanted to start the Irish Gourmet Society, to promote and establish the New Irish Cuisine movement. It was officially launched at an inaugural Gala Dinner in May 1975, by the Irish Gourmet Society; and hosted by Beamish and Crawford at their headquarters in Cork City. They, together with Waterford Crystal, Gilbeys, Carrigaline Potteries, Viners Irish Cutlery, Le Creuset, Tupperware and Sunbeam, were among the major Sponsors involved in plans to establish the New Irish Cuisine . A cross border initiative was part of the plan from the start. So, Irish Linen Mills (Belfast), and the Irish Linen Guild (UK) participated too. They supplied exquisite Irish linen tablecloths, mats and napkins, plus matching ancillary items for general use; enough for the sixty Gourmet Diners, who enjoyed an evening of elegance, glamour, sparkling conversation, and delicious freshly prepared New Irish Cuisine dishes. Thereafter, members of the Irish Gourmet Society paid regular visits to different restaurants, and initiated plans to establish an Awards system.
John Gauntley, Managing Director of Beamish & Crawford, formerly from Canada, asked me to organize the food for many social and business events held on their premises for clients and company directors. At some of these functions, Freddie helped out and found a meat and fish smoker. At a buffet style luncheon, I would serve smoked turkey, smoked chicken, and smoked tongue. The reactions to the flavors were great. “I've only heard of smoked salmon said Dickie Beamish, as he, Clayton Love Jr. and others, including Lord Killanin (President of the International Olympic Committee) tucked into the food. “It's delicious! It has an unusual and tasty flavor.” The enthusiastic comments flowed across ‘The Vault Room', also called the Hospitality Room at the B & C headquarters in Cork City. At one stage, I got nervous about quantities, when several folk took extra large helpings after tentatively trying a sample tasting.
Often, I was asked me to cater private and business events, from weddings to dinner parties with thirty-six guests at a large Georgian house on a private estate, and a host of other events. I side tracked, and did it for awhile, both as the caterer, and an invited guest. In such instances, my team of helpers behind the scenes in the kitchens were indispensable. However, I soon realized that I disliked that arena of the culinary field intensely. Certainly, one could make really good money in catering, but that was not my main objective. Catering was too much hassle, and often involved dealing with nervous, over wrought clients, concerned that their functions would be a success. Forthwith, I ceased all activities in that area, and concentrated on the ‘Culinary Tours'; the cookbooks; the promotional activities; and the features journalism that had literally fallen into my lap. These were the areas where I could promote and publicize the new Irish cuisine. I thoroughly enjoyed doing it, as it brought me into direct contact with very interesting people all over Ireland.
A Golden Opportunity:
Throughout the 1970s, while I was heavily involved in establishing the groundwork and interest in a new cuisine across Ireland, the Media often quoted my firm belief expressed repeatedly at the “Tours' that ‘Ireland is virgin territory to become a Gourmet's Paradise' . My first Culinary Arts book, ‘Cooking Irish Style Today', published by Mercier Press in 1976, (with several reprints) also expressed these views,
In 1976, Mary Feehan at Mercier Press suggested that I contact Alan Crosbie at the Cork Examiner, the daily paper with the largest readership in Ireland. We had lunch, and Alan offered me a Cookery Column in their new weekly features paper, ‘The Irish Weekly Examiner'. I began the assignment, and then decided to use my initiative. I sent in short culinary articles too, along with the recipes. The Column extended to a half page, and I added a few articles on travellers tales, which were published. Within five months, the Managing Editor, Tim Cramer, together with the Cork Examiner Editor Fergus O'Callaghan, invited me out to lunch. And what a lunch it turned out to be! They commissioned me to fill a double page in the ‘Irish Weekly' edition. The commission lasted six years until the paper was sold. I took the opportunity to write numerous articles on Irish food and the New Irish Cuisine , as well as articles on many other topics that required considerable research. These extended to covering topics including humor, profiles, women's issues (it was the era of the women's equality movement across Europe and the United States), education and careers, plus a host of other areas of interest to the readers. The weekly paper had a readership in Ireland, and in seventeen countries worldwide, where Irish people lived. Today, my portfolio contains approximately two thousand published articles. *(4)
In 1978, I received another commission, from Des O'Neill, owner of the society magazine ‘Social and Personal'. It was what he termed a ‘glamour' job – “I want you to cover social, business, political and other events of interest. Give us three to four pages of write-ups with photos monthly, covering the Munster area.” * (5) When he could, Des sent Eddie Moss, his Dublin based photographer to work with me. Otherwise, on several occasions, I did the photography too. It was a fun time and served a dual purpose. I met lots of fascinating people and celebrities; and availed of the opportunity to observe and sample the ever-increasing variety of food served at different venues across Southern Ireland. The magazine changed hands twice over the next few years, and new owners gave me further opportunities to do more articles on the New Irish Cuisine and restaurant reviews.
Such opportunities in journalism are virtually unheard of today. Perhaps it was the time that was in it, but it was a wonderful and very rewarding experience. Today, stored in my Culinary Library, I have scrapbooks filled with copies of every article published. Throughout those years too, the ‘Culinary Tours' continued across Ireland until 1984, and life was extremely hectic.
Irish Food Pioneers:
While I was actively involved in establishing the New Irish Cuisine , via the ‘Tours', the Irish Gourmet Society; the features journalism and many promotional activities, other Pioneers were also busy on the Irish culinary scene. In 1970, the Restaurant Owners Association of Ireland began in Dublin. Plans were initiated by this trade association, to take care of the needs of the growing restaurant business in Ireland. The founder restaurant members (less than a handful) were all Dublin based, and gradually extended its membership to include other restaurants across Ireland. By the mid ‘70s, a Panel of Chefs was established.
In 1973, when Ireland joined the European Economic Community – EEC, the Kerry Co-Operative, who started their activities in 1972, acquired other dairy co-operatives and expanded their activities. Galtee Foods in Mitchelstown was a well- known major producer of meats, most of which were exported. At the time, a family friend, Paddy O'Donovan, who was the exports meats director, gave me a first hand insight into the Irish meats market. One Irish product was already very successful at the time, both at home and on the world market – Kerrygold butter. Delicious! I found it even in Australia.
A new restaurant, Chez Idawald opened its doors in Carrigaline, Co. Cork in 1974. One of the owners, a friend, and later a founder member of the Irish Gourmet Society, told me in 1976, that their experiences indicated that Irish people were still very reluctant to dine out. By 1974, three more restaurants had joined the ranks of ‘the trinity' in Kinsale. These included the Vintage, owned by Gerry Galvin, who featured la nouvelle cuisine; the Bacchus, owned by a Swedish couple Lars and Brigette Saflund;an d the Bistro, serving French Bourgeois food, owned by Heidi Roche, wife of the chain of Roches Stores owner, Stanley Roche. Stanley previously lived in Crosshaven; and often took my father and me out on sea fishing trips during the 1960s, which wastremendous fun. I learnt a great deal about fish swimming in Irish waters, including the unknown John Dory that swam the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream that went by southern Ireland. I introduced the famous Fish of St. Peter (which I grew to love when living in Italy) into the ‘Tours', and encouraged the fishmongers in Ireland, not to throw it out to the cats, due to lack of sales is those days. The Kinsale group decided to promote their restaurants, and started the Good Food Circle in 1975, acknowledging the original three restaurant owners as their ‘pioneering trinity'. A year later, they took their plans a stage further, and began the annual Kinsale Gourmet Festival in 1976. Before the decade was out, Kinsale became recognized as the Gourmet capital of Ireland.
By the late 1970s, the Irish began to drive out of the cities to try out different restaurants, which provided a variety of foods that included French, Italian and Swedish and Irish cuisine. In Dublin there was a very limited choice available. King Sitric opened in Howth in 1971. The Mirabeau in Dun Laoighaire, and Whites on the Green were popular, as was Snaffles, owned by Nick and Rosie Tinne. Probably the most successful restaurant in Ireland at the time with ‘the locals' was The Overdraught. This was a pub with a gourmet restaurant, located in the middle of nowhere in the Irish countryside, nearby Tracton Abbey outside Cork City. Although off the beaten track, in a very isolated location, this old-world style premises, owned by Robert and Maura Carpenter, catered to the popular demand of the day - steaks, stuffed pork chops and minimal seafood. It did a roaring trade night after night, packed to the hilt. You could not get in without a reservation, made several days ahead. I loved the spot, and had considered buying the property in 1974 when it came on the market. Known previously as the Spinning Wheel, I fell in love with the place, located beside a crystal clear fast moving wide stream of water, and framed by woodland. I saw the potential, and seriously considered opening a restaurant. The family was totally against it, and soon made me realize it would tie me down completely, whereby I could not travel the country, and do my work to promote the New Irish Cuisine . However, I thoroughly enjoyed frequent visits to partake of the ‘Surf & Turf' at the Overdraught, where with family and friends, we relaxed by the large roaring wood fires. Bob and Maura showed me round their kitchen, and I marveled at the operation they ran so successfully. Bob's father George was a contemporary of my mother's. They fenced together in their youth. Later, George was to captain the Irish Olympic Fencing Team in Rome in 1960, and my brother Brian was on the team.
Similar situations happened several times during the 1970s decade, when I was approached and asked to establish a restaurant backed by a silent partner. The nearest I came to doing it again was in Crosshaven, where plans were in the pipeline to open ‘Harbour Lights', overlooking the entrance to Cork harbor. I met Jimmy Kennedy in Dublin. He was thrilled to be asked to open it, as guest of honor. Jimmy wrote the famous song, ‘Harbour Lights', and the equally famous ‘Red Sails in the Sunset'. When we met in Dublin, I found him to be a very charming gentleman, and a very disappointed man when the project did not come to fruition. Another time, I was approached by someone in Cork City in 1978. He had prime property off the South Mall, in the heart of the shopping center. I was offered the entire ground floor premises (first floor in the US) for next to nothing financially, if I would open a badly needed cooking school. I considered this offer more seriously than the restaurant offers, as I enjoyed teaching and demonstration cookery; but eventually declined it, as once again it would restrict my activities to one area, and did not fit in the scheme of things.
During the 1970s, Pubs opening restaurants to serve food became a popular trend. Doyle's in Dingle (1973), and Aherne's in Youghal (1974) opened. Both specialized in seafood. Doyle's had the added advantage of an unusual local tourist attraction – Fungi, the friendly dolphin, who greeted and entertained boatloads of visitors. However, not to be outdone, Aherne's claim to fame went back several centuries in history. The old town Youghal was the former home of Sir Walter Raleigh, who brought the potato to Ireland from the New World. There was a valid reason why this trend was taking off. Pubs, hotels and some large private estate country homes had the 7-day alcohol license. For a newcomer trying to open a restaurant, the price to buy such a license at 100,000.00 Irish Punts was prohibitive. Therefore, the most they could hope for was a wine and beer license. At 50.00 Irish Punts, it was considerably cheaper. *(6)
In 1975, the Blue Book began its annual publication. Ireland's Blue Book features Ireland's most charming Country Houses and Restaurants found amidst the quiet beauty of rural Ireland. These places maintained high standards of traditional hospitality and accommodation. Assolas, Ballymaloe and Longueville House were among the many, which by then were better known to the Irish population, and had acquired excellent reputations for fine food. Some cooked traditional Irish food. Others were influenced by the popular style of La Nouvelle Cuisine, which had become the rage on the European continent, where France was enjoying a renaissance in French cuisine. Longueville House went one step further, and was the first place in Ireland to produce its own wine. Articles appeared in the Cork Examiner recommending a visit to Ballymaloe House in Shanagarry, East for dinner. The venue was already well known on the Bord Failte tourist route, and frequented by visitors to Ireland, who stayed overnight for bed and breakfast, and enjoyed an evening meal in the restaurant. The Sunday lunch trade became more popular, while Friday nights were the favored times to drive out of the cities for an evening meal. Few wanted to eat out on Saturday nights. They preferred to stay in and watch the very popular Late Late Show on RTE, hosted by Gay Byrne. Arbutus Lodge in Cork City was always booked out. Declan Ryan's restaurant was noted for serving French classical cuisine with an Irish slant, and received the first Michelin Awards in Ireland.
A colleague telephoned in the mid 1970s, to tell me that Myrtle Allen, at Ballymaloe House was advertising a cooking class. Maureen invited me to go with her, but a prior commitment made it impossible. Irish Agri Books in Ireland published Myrtle's book, The Ballymaloe Cookbook in the late 1970s.
In 1978, two cooking schools opened in the Dublin and Co. Wicklow areas. Alix Gardner's School was the first cookery school to open in Ireland and is open to this day. The Busy Bee School catered to teenage groups.
The EEC ran into major problems by the late ‘70s. The butter mountains of Europe had acquired great notoriety. The surplus of milk and butter produced by member countries, was going to waste. Ireland reviewed the matter, and decided to turn attention to utilizing its surplus milk in another area. Cheese making, popular in Ireland in earlier centuries, was a lost art by the 20 th century. By the late 1970s, the Irish began making cheese again, with help from European people who had chosen to live in the Emerald Isle. It proved to be a momentous decision.
The age of cooking journalism was well under way in the 1970s, and provided golden opportunities to create further interest in food in Ireland. It was a time when several publications provided scope for cooking coverage, and many journalists produced a regular cooking column, sometimes with recipes. Theodora Fitzgibbon wrote for the Irish Times. Georgina Campbell covered the Irish Independent. Carla Blake, author of ‘The Irish Cookbook', published in 1973 by Mercier Press, worked for the Irish Press. Phyl O'Kelly was read in the Cork Examiner, the paper with the largest readership throughout the Irish Republic. Ruth Kelly's column appeared weekly in the RTE TV Guide. Since the ‘60s, Myrtle Allen had a cooking column in the Farmers Journal, a bi-weekly farming paper in the early days. Jean Sheridan and Isabel Conway did freelance articles in different publications. Honor Moore was the cooking journalist doyen of Woman's Weekly, with several pages to fill in each edition. On one occasion, she did a five-page spread about my culinary work on the Irish scene.
RTE TV started a second TV channel in 1978. They decided to import the early Graham Kerr Galloping Gourmet cooking series from the UK. Apparently, it was cheaper to import a cooking program, rather than produce a home based show. Ten more years were to pass before they decided to produce their own cooking program.
In 1979, a charming and informative book ‘A Romantic's Guide to the Inns of Great Britain and Ireland' was published by American author Stuart Woods, our neighbor in Ireland in the mid 1970s, and a gourmet. The book featured many of the country houses, hotels and castles we have mentioned, that were well established by then on the Irish scene, and noted for excellent food and good accommodation. One day, when Stuart came to lunch, he was the guinea pig. I experimented with a new dish, made from the traditional Corned Beef and Cabbage, I based the new recipe on the famous French Pot au Feu, which is initially served hot. Then, later, the beef and vegetables are sliced and served cold, placed on a large platter. It is served cold with an Aioli sauce. For those who do not know the sauce, it is a home made mayonnaise sauce laced with garlic. It went over well, with second helpings all round. I called the new dish Shandon Salad , and featured the New Irish Cuisine recipe in my first cookbook, ‘Cooking Irish Style - Today'. Stuart's book is no longer available in bookstores, but copies can be found in libraries throughout the States.
The First Wave: Mavericks and Pioneers
Times were changing on the Irish culinary scene, but it came about very gradually over several decades. In those early days, it was left to the small groups of ‘Mavericks and Pioneers' to do something positive. I call them The First Wave . These people decided to take steps, each in their own way, to initiate changes. And, collectively , they were largely responsible for taking Ireland to where it is today in the culinary field. In the early days, it was a ‘hands-on' approach, mostly through commercial ventures, Those involved came from different sectors of the culinary arena, but the majority started out intending to earn a livelihood through the bed and breakfast, and restaurant trade, catering to the growing tourism business in Ireland. Several were foreigners, who came to live in Ireland. Some folk ran ‘Mom & Pop' stores, called delicatessens; while others covered items of culinary interest through journalism and cookbooks. Often, it was tough going and an up-hill battle because of attitudes encountered; but it was an exciting, exhilarating time. Major changes were on the horizon, as the ‘Mavericks and Pioneers' worked hard. They were responsible for opening the ‘food' gates of Ireland.
The Second Wave was about to begin, when the Developers came to the fore on the Irish culinary scene during the 1980s; followed by The Third Wave and the Consolidators in the 1990s .
Continued in Part 3 >>
*(1) The Introduction in Part Two, was taken directly from the brochures and publicity material used during the early days of the ‘Culinary Tours' in Ireland.
*(2) Eileen McCarthy and Pauline McCarthy were not related. Eileen worked at The Leprechaun restaurant in Cork City, and immediately became my assistant at the Culinary Tours, traveling to Dublin too, when the ‘tours' began at the Shelbourne Hotel. Sadly, Eileen gave up the work after her husband Ted was killed in the train crash outside Buttevant, near Mallow. Pauline McCarthy took over as my assistant, and traveled across Ireland with me during the late 1970s and early 1980s. She became a close friend too, and worked with me until I left Ireland for Florida in 1990.
*(3) Frederick “Freddie” George Kinney was a consultant on proteins and international food shortages, and a U.S. Delegate at the United Nations World Food Conference in Rome in 1974. He was an expert on French and Chinese cuisine.
*(4) All documentation pertaining to Noreen Kinney's Culinary Arts activities and the new Irish cuisine, between the years 1960 – 2005, is retained in her culinary library. It is available to anyone who is interested in verifying the facts included in this article.
*(5) Ireland is divided into four regions. Leinster (Dublin and surrounding counties); Munster, (the largest region in Ireland, covering the south of Ireland from East to West); Connaught, (the West of Ireland); and Ulster, (the six counties in the North of Ireland) known as Northern Ireland, and part of the Britain to this day.
*(6) The Irish Pound, on a par with the British Pound was the currency in Ireland prior to Ireland joining the European Economic Community. Thereafter, it became known as the Irish Punt until such time that they joined the Euro currency.
Continued in Part 3 >>
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© 2003-2008 Noreen Kinney