Noreen – Pioneer: New Irish Cuisine 1960-1985
In 1960, Noreen Kinney told a close family friend, Dr. Tim O’Driscoll, Director General of Bord Failte, the Irish Tourist Board, and formerly the best man at her parents wedding: “Ireland is virgin territory to become a gourmet’s paradise.” She was enjoying lunch at the Russell Hotel in Dublin, with her parents, Tim and her handsome friend Richard, who had flown in from London to stay for Easter. Tim smiled at the teenager, and threw her a challenge to make it happen. Everyone was amused. Noreen felt inspired, and envisaged the potential to develop Ireland’s natural food resources into a New Irish Cuisine. Thus began a life long involvement with Ireland and Irish food.
Initially, there was considerable work to do. Noreen studied international cuisine; took practical cooking courses in London; traveled for extended stays in different parts of Europe to learn about French, Italian, German, Spanish and other northern European cuisines; And she extended her travels to study Chinese, Japanese, the Pacific Rim and Australian national cuisines. Noreen learnt from the experts including Elizabeth David, when they were neighbors in London. In between all these activities, she returned to Ireland three times annually for several weeks, and initiated her Culinary Arts activities on the Irish scene, promoting the idea for a New Irish Cuisine. She decided to use a format taken from her childhood days in India.
The roots of her interest in food began in India as a young child. She was intrigued and fascinated with the world of herbs and spices. At the knees of the family cooks, Noreen learned all about these interesting delectable items, and how to blend them for use in flavoring food. She discovered the mystical folklore, fables, origins and legends surrounding them and many fruits and vegetables. Later, this first hand in-depth knowledge acquired, provided the interesting background ‘chit chat’ with her audiences during the ‘Culinary Tours’ she organized throughout the Emerald Isle. It was at these entertaining ‘Demonars’ – a combination of culinary demonstrations sprinkled with instructional information, colorful presentations and tastings, that she imparted the secrets on seasoning foods from all over the world. The proven results showed that with knowledge on seasonings and the correct blends of spices and herbs, one could turn ordinary foods into extraordinary memorable meals.
Eventually, Noreen and her family moved to live in Ireland after the Irish government made the momentous decision to establish Ireland as a tax-free haven for writers and artists in 1969.
From the start, Noreen set out to elevate interest in quality fresh food, trying to get people away from the idea that cooking was a mundane daily chore. She aimed to raise food to the level of recognition as a Culinary Art. It was a phrase Noreen used everywhere to define her work, and is seen in all her publicity material. She took it a stage further in the early Seventies, when she stressed the importance of presentation at a major Food Trade Show in England. Noreen displayed her selection of entries as a Culinary Art, and presented Winter Wonderland to the Judges as a Culinary Masterpiece. The Judges were intrigued and the dessert won the prize for originality and presentation. It was at a time when most entries in the Show, and food served at top hotels in Europe still followed the rigid and conservative nineteenth century Escoffier style of haute cuisine. Traditionally, everything was coated in aspic or gelatin, and hams looked as if they had been suitably embalmed and dipped in wax!
Noreen's work was considered very original in the days when national cuisines everywhere followed along traditional lines. It was also a time when people did not travel extensively, and she was able to show national cuisines from other countries, and dispel the fear of foreign food. Perhaps the most interesting aspect was the reactions when people realized that other countries used the same ingredients found in Ireland; but prepared with different slants and flavorings in the cooking process. It gave Noreen the opportunity to create a range of new dishes, where delicious sauces evolve during the cooking process. In time, these became firm favorites in households throughout Ireland. The New Irish Cuisine began to establish itself on the Irish scene.
The Media were intrigued, and a rush of publicity followed. Noreen was on TV and Radio, and seen at Special Shows and Charity events. Numerous articles appeared in newspapers and magazines, quoting her firm belief that "Ireland is virgin territory to become a Gourmet's Paradise." A publisher commissioned a book. 'Cooking Irish Style Today' was published in 1976. A sell-out, it was reprinted several times. Commissioned journalistic opportunities arose with the Cork Examiner newspapers group. For six years, Noreen filled a double page section weekly in the paper. ‘Out and About with Noreen’ allowed her to promote the new image of Irish food on the international scene across seventeen countries. Noreen’s Portfolio contains approximately two thousand articles published in Europe.
Throughout the Seventies, Noreen received many requests:
To create a dish representative of Ireland in the EEC - European Common Market. 'Blarney Salmon' was an overnight sensation and is well received to this day. Featured on the Links page of this section, it is a fresh salmon cake, coated in an avocado frosting, and decorated in the Irish colors, green, white, and gold.
Gilbeys of Ireland launched Baileys Irish Cream, and invited Noreen to create the first dessert using the liqueur. ‘The Jewel Box' featured on the Links page of this section is a delicious French sponge 'box', filled with fresh fruits and Baileys Irish Cream. Gilbeys partnered with Noreen at the Culinary Tours, to promote their range of wines at the ‘tours’, and compliment the foods she presented.
Noreen did a considerable number of catered events for Beamish and Crawford’s at their Hospitality Room in the Brewery, known as ‘The Vault’. This led to numerous requests for catered events including weddings, and private dinners at Ireland’s famous private Estates. However, Noreen stopped this line of activity, as she soon realized she did not enjoy the catering aspects of the culinary world….at least not on a regular basis as a career.
A group of friends with Noreen’s help, started the 'Irish Gourmet Society', to officially launch and publicize the New Irish Cuisine. Sponsorships poured in. Beamish and Crawford hosted the Inaugural Dinner in Cork. Waterford Glass, Irish Linen Mills, Le Creuset, Gilbeys of Ireland, Sunbeam Industries, Tupperware, Carrigaline Potteries, Collins English and other national and international companies sponsored the event.
Restaurant owners asked Noreen to act as a Consultant. It was at this time that several people approached her with offers to act as silent partners if she opened a restaurant. Tempting as it was, Noreen politely declined as she felt it would tie her down considerably.
The 1980s Decade:
The Eighties were busy years for Noreen. Another offer came in for her to open a Cooking School in Cork City. Noreen gave this idea serious consideration as she loved to teach and demonstrate. However, she decided against it, following an extended visit to Florida in late 1981, at which time other plans were in the pipeline for the future.
In the meantime, Noreen added the role of Restaurant Reviewer in her commissioned work for the 'Social & Personal' magazine which began in the late 1970s. She filled four pages monthly covering local activities, and included additional articles promoting the New Irish Cuisine.
By 1985, a new idea was forming in Noreen’s thoughts for the future, and she began writing another cookbook, with the title Cordon d’ Or – Gold Ribbon Cuisine. A new Century was looming in the not too distant future, and she decided to establish ‘Cordon d’ Or – Gold Ribbon’ … The Culinary Accolade of the 21st Century.
Noreen did many promotions for several clients in the early 1980s. In 1985, she wanted to promote interest in fresh fruit throughout Ireland. She initiated plans to set up the nationwide 'Intofruit' gift basket of fruit service. The idea originated in 1974, when the Cork Examiner, a national daily newspaper in Ireland (now titled The Examiner), took up a suggestion from Noreen, to introduce a decorative 'basket of fresh fruit' category into their annual Christmas Cookery competition. The paper quoted: “There are no losers in the contest, as all entries are donated to various charities. It provides an opportunity to people who do not like to cook, but want to participate, to present a colorful artistic addition to the competition." In early 1986, she officially launched 'Intofruit', at the show VENTURES '86, a three-day exhibition held at the RDS - Royal Dublin Society. AnCO, the Industrial Training Authority, sponsored a display stand for 'Intofruit'. At the event, Noreen presented a very colorful and decorative selection of gift baskets of fresh fruit. At the event, 'Intofruit' received the Innovative Award, presented by U Magazine. . The slogan 'Are you into fruit? Why not give a gift' became popular; and across Ireland, people gave a gift basket of fresh fruit for birthdays, anniversaries, and 'get well' wishes to those in hospital.
The Developers – New Irish Cuisine
At the beginning of the Eighties decade, the turning point came on the New Irish Cuisine scene in Ireland. A Chef’s contest was held in Ireland, sponsored by Grants of Ireland and Bord Failte, the Irish Tourist Board. It was intended to bring attention to efforts to establish the New Irish Cuisine. Noreen’s article on the event was published in the Examiner newspapers. She congratulated the winner and encouraged the efforts to take the idea for a New Irish Cuisine to the next stage. More people became involved during the decade, and Noreen calls this group, the Developers. Several private estates opened their beautiful homes to the public to stay overnight, and the Bed & Breakfast tourist routes became very popular. This trend started in the 1940s when Ballylickey Manor House, Currarevagh House and Newport House opened their dining rooms to the public in 1946 and 1947. They were the alternative to the old fashioned hotels, which closed their dining rooms at 3 PM daily, and were the forerunners to the Bed and Breakfast tourist route. By the early 1960s, several more country homes opened to the public. Rathmullen House (1961), Tinakilly (1962) and Ballymaloe (1964). Like their predecessors, they too established a home based business, catering mainly to the increasing tourist trade. One rarely heard an Irish accent at these places until the late 1970s, as very few Irish people ventured out on long drives to dine out. By the end of the 1970s, Myrtle Allen from Ballymaloe, (who had a cookery column in the Farmers Journal, a bi- weekly paper) became involved in major promotions on Irish food, in New York, and in France where she was involved in a restaurant. In 1983, her daughter in law Darina Allen opened the Ballymaloe Cooking School. Darina became renowned worldwide after she started her TV Programs on RTE in 1989.
By 1986, Noreen moved ahead with her plans to leave Ireland and move to Florida, from where she wanted to extend her culinary activities on an international level. Noreen knew that by moving to another country, she would have to start all over again on the new scene, where she was virtually unknown, except that her cookbooks were selling in stores in the USA. It would necessitate having to establish her credibility in the culinary world, and would take time and considerable effort to do so. However, being a Pioneer by nature, who had seen her ideas go through a couple of decades in Ireland, before the scene really began to change, Noreen was not deterred, and once more prepared for a new challenge.
In January 1990, the Irish publisher, Mercier Press, published another cookbook by Noreen, 'Cooking Irish Style', and in November of that year, Noreen left Ireland for the USA.
Immediately on arrival in Florida She put out the word about Cordon d’ Or – Gold Ribbon – the Accolade of the 21st Century, continued work on the book – with the same title, which was eventually published in 1996. A new Chapter in her Culinary Odyssey was beginning.
The Consolidators – New Irish Cuisine
In 1994 in Ireland, the Consolidators came on board, when the Irish government finally established An Bord Bia – The Irish Food Board. The country has never looked back. Bord Bia poured millions into promoting Ireland and Irish Food on the international scene, and today, Ireland is a major player on the world’s food stage. The Emerald Isle has become the Gourmet’s Paradise that Noreen predicted. Millions now visit the country annually to enjoy the excellent cuisine.
In 2006, Noreen returned to Ireland with a group of Culinarians from the US, Canada and the UK. She arranged a ‘Culinary Tour’ of Ireland which was a phenomenal success. It was sponsored by Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board; BIM – Bord Iascaigh Mhara, the Irish Fisheries Board; the Irish Dairy Board/Kerrygold; Baileys Irish Cream; Irish Distillers; Guinness; Cashel Blue Cheese; Molaga Honey and a host of others. The Tour was a Celebration of the 21st Anniversary of Cordon d’ Or – Gold Ribbon, and can be viewed through the ‘Emerald Isle – Jewel in the Culinary Crown’ Links page; with photographs, participants testimonials, reviews, articles in Irish papers and the itinerary.