Friday 28 July 2017

The beef on the delights cooking in the kitchen

Lucinda O'Sullivan meets chefs and farmers who have a passion for nature's gifts

Life really is too short for us not to be doing what we really want to do, and it is never too late to have a bash -- whether it be baking cupcakes, sloshing on oil paints, or writing poetry, you might suddenly discover the real you. The times we are in bring about extraordinary creativity in all fields, when sometimes people think, "Well I've nothing really to lose, so I might as well have a go."

Owen Mullins spent nearly 30 years in the transport business but always had a passion for cooking, which he attributes to his mother "who used sell her home baking from the door in the summertime when visitors from Dublin would flock to the beach at Carne".

Three-and-a-half years ago he took the bull by the horns and headed for Ballymaloe Cookery School, where he did a three-month course and also worked in the kitchen in Ballymaloe House at night whenever the opportunity arose.

Returning to Wexford, he got a job in Dunbrody House "under the stewardship of Kevin Dundon", whom he describes as "a perfect gentleman".

Shortly after joining Kevin's team, Owen began making quiches in his home kitchen for the farmers' market, and, in May 2007, he and his wife Lorna presented themselves with their products under the banner of Zanna Cookhouse in Wexford Town, and sold out.

It is strange how things work out: in August 2007, Lorna was made redundant from her job in an auctioneer's office so she was immediately roped into Owen's kitchen.

In September 2007 he left Dunbrody House to concentrate on Zanna. That Christmas they had to work all night, with the help of their son David, who had worked as a commis chef and subsequently qualified from Galway- Mayo Institute of Technology with an honours business degree in Hotel and Catering Management. They then rented a commercial kitchen before approaching the Wexford Enterprise Board and Bank of Ireland and, with their help, bought a bigger unit. They grew the business by 35 per cent in 2009, and their target for 2010 is 100 per cent growth. Their repertoire now includes quiches, such as goat's cheese with spinach and sunkissed tomato, asparagus and Wexford cheddar, smoked salmon and tarragon, in two sizes retailing at €4.99 and €10.99.

They do pies at €5.99 including chicken and ham, spicy lamb, steak and Guinness, and forest mushroom and fresh herb. They also have 15 varieties of soups. What I really fancied were their desserts, for they do a lovely Tuscan plum pie as well as Tunisian orange cakes, chocolate and rum tortes, pecan pie and more. They supplement these products at the farmers' markets with pate and muesli, and also make crepes on site.

They have cottoned on too to the meal-deal idea, which is proving popular, and they offer a three-course meal for four people at €20 which consists of soup or pate, large quiche and a large dessert.

At the moment they cover Wexford and Enniscorthy markets on Friday and Saturday respectively, and would like to come to Dublin on Sundays, but they are finding it difficult to get a pitch as there is a waiting list.

Owen is emphatic about keeping the home-cooked taste in their produce and he uses only natural ingredients with no additives or preservatives. He also believes in supporting local producers and he buys his beef from Jim Whelan of Wilton Mills Farm and lamb from John Murphy of Kinnock Farms. Herbs come from Crossabeg, Irish salmon is smoked locally by Millstream, and free-range eggs come from Kevin McKenna in Waterford.

Having worked in Jury's Hotel in Bristol for a year, David is now home working at Zanna to help bring the business forward.

They joined the Wexford Bord Bia cluster group in March which was set up with a view to pooling resources and transport. They have found this to be a huge step forward in getting their products to Dublin.

Zanna Cookhouse products can be found in Fresh outlets at Smithfield, Grand Canal Square, Camden Street and Northern Cross as well as Supervalu Mount Merrion and Nolan's of Clontarf. They can also be bought at Nellie's Farm Shop in Kilkenny, widely in Wexford and Ardkeen Stores in Waterford. Owen says sometimes the days are long, but it is a labour of love.

Zanna Cookhouse, tel: (053) 913-1714 or (085) 851-7085, or email owen.mullins@hotmail.com

WHEN Enniscorthy market was up and running about a year, Fiona inveigled her father Jim Whelan, a beef and sheep producer, to do the beef stall at the market. "You meet so many nice people," says Jim. "Wilton Mills Farm is at

the foot of Bree Hill, the river Boro runs through its land, that's where we rear our Wilton Mills freerange beef," the banner proudly proclaims across his stall.

It's all about quality with Jim. "The cattle are reared on my farm, I look after them, I know how they have been treated, and I can guarantee no antibiotics will be found in my meat.

"I can also say 'that mince is off that heifer, and that heifer alone' so I can guarantee the quality is there."

The beef is hung for three weeks, dry-aged on the bone, and certainly looks lovely. Roast rib on the bone is €12 per kg, round roast €9 per kg, fillet steak is €32 per kg.

"It's the best beef in the South East," quips Jim, before telling me that he holds the title of the Best Stall in Ireland for 2009, in the All-Ireland Farmer's Market Competition.

Next Wednesday the 43rd Enniscorthy Strawberry Festival kicks off with a Gala Ball in the Riverside Hotel, but on Saturday and Sunday the 2010 All-Ireland Farmers Market Competition takes place in Market Square. Jim says, "I am looking to stall holders from all over Ireland coming to take me on." He'll be a hard man to beat.

Jim Whelan, tel: (086) 820-1610

Wilton Mills is the place and the name under which Fiona and Tim Phelan, and also Fiona's father, Jim Whelan, produce and market their produce. Fiona and Tim both trained as chefs at Ballymaloe Cookery School and Fiona continued to work for a few years in Ballymaloe House.

Tim worked in Clonmel and at La Riva Restaurant in Wexford, but Fiona says, "When we had children we decided to step back from restaurants," and consequently they now produce a range of delicious breads, cakes, jams and preserves, and deli products, which they sell at Enniscorthy and Wexford markets.

Fiona and Tim were involved in setting up Enniscorthy market and are very proactive in it. Tim also caters for events at Horetown House in Co Wexford.

Breads include a popular brown soda, as well as delicious poppy-seed loaves, goat's cheese and pepper bread, and red onion and olive bread at around €3/€3.50. Cakes, at €4, include coffee with walnut and date, lemon cake, banana bread, and carrot cake. They also produce lemon curd, onion marmalade, chilli jam, blackberry and apple jam, apple jelly, honey and mustard dressing, cucumber pickle, hummus and basil pesto, priced from €2.50 to €5.50.

Their produce is also available in farm shops such as Kate's Farm Shop, Wexford; Green Berry Farm, Gorey; Fortune's, Blackwater, and Sugar & Spice, Bunclody.

Fiona and Tim Phelan, tel: (087) 227-3315

Sunday Independent

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