Hot caterers: From simple street food to high style tastes
From delis to contests, Lucinda O'Sullivan has a butcher's at winning catering ventures
Driving from East Cork to Kinsale, which we do fairly frequently, I have had to restrain myself on many occasions from jumping out of the car, in the line of traffic through Carrigaline, to join the queue of eager customers hovering around a barbecue outside O Crualaoi Butchers and Delicatessens on the Main Street. However, recently my luck was in as there was a parking spot right outside the door, so I went to see what O Crualaoi's was all about.
I was absolutely astonished by the size and extent of this operation. Walking around the gleaming counters and displays of meats, ready-to-cook cuts, deli foods and oven-ready meals, I found myself at a large hot food counter where people were queuing up for carvery dinners – which can be taken away or be eaten at the cafe to the rear.
I was even more impressed to find the boss not tucked away in some office, but out on the street barbecuing. Now that's meeting and greeting the customers!
Micheal O Crualaoi exudes enthusiasm for his business and customers alike. He told me his father started out with a butcher's shop in 1957 in Ballincollig, and he took over in 1980. "We have five shops now: two in Ballincollig, a butcher's shop and delicatessen separately, a shop like this in Fermoy and a shop in Wilton Shopping Centre."
They've been developing the business over the years. "We started as a traditional butcher's. I like food and I like to experiment, and probably did a lot of messing," he laughed. They certainly seem to have got there nonetheless.
"Every Thursday and Friday we have a barbecue on the street. We do some pulled pork, chicken, burgers and sausages and it goes really well. We keep the value. It's €4 for the pulled pork and €3 for everything else. Even in the rain and snow we just keep marching on. It creates a bit of theatre on the street and I personally love working on the street because we have great fun."
When I remarked that it was really good to see him out on the street himself rather than tucked away in "office land", Micheal explained: "I do have a partner in the business, Francis Twohig, who is our operations director, so he would work a lot with the managers in all the shops."
Micheal also works in tandem with his brother Criostoir, who took over the family cattle farm. He also has the abattoir there and a processing unit next to it.
They make all of the oven- ready dishes themselves. Look out for their great big packs of beef lasagne, cottage pies and fish pies which feed 6/8 people at €12. "We have a little kitchen so when they're gone they're gone. So we don't have big long shelf lives on the products."
Their carvery dinners seem like great value at €6, or two for €10, (eat in or take out). "We learned in Fermoy that we needed the cafe space so we incorporated one here in Carrigaline also. We don't charge any extra for people to sit down and have it here; it's the one price for everybody."
* * *
I'm really looking forward to the 2014 RAI/Sunday Independent LIFE Irish Restaurant Awards, which take place tomorrow night in the Hilton Doubletree (formerly known as the Burlington Hotel). Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the RAI (Restaurants Association of Ireland), has really brought this association forward to the benefit of restaurateurs, chefs and diners alike.
Adrian said: "The awards are recognised by the industry as one of the highest accolades they can receive. It is a celebration by the restaurant industry of the best of the best restaurants on the island of Ireland. The event is totally sold out and we are looking forward to welcoming 900 guests tomorrow evening."
There is always great excitement and tension as to who will win the awards, into which an enormous amount of work, reader participation, mystery guest visits and deliberation is put. It is always a great opportunity for the restaurant community from all over the country to get together socially, while Sunday Independent LIFE editor Brendan O'Connor, entertains and keeps the show moving. The glamour is always amazing – as is the food, which is prepared by a panel of the award-winning chefs from the 2013 Irish Restaurant Awards.
This year the event will be kicking off with canapes from in-house chef Tony O'Donnell. The first course will be prepared by Ian Orr of Brown's Restaurant and Champagne Lounge in Derry, who last year won Best Chef Derry. Orr trained under the late Robbie Millar, one of Northern Ireland's most respected chefs, who was tragically killed in a road accident in 2005. Orr subsequently worked in London's River Cafe before opening his own restaurant (www.brownsrestaurant.com).
Next up is the soup course, which is being prepared by Donegal-born chef Gary O'Hanlon, who last year won Best Chef Leinster. O'Hanlon is head chef at VM Restaurant at Viewmount House in Longford, where he has been drawing people from far and wide for his innovative beautifully presented food which always has the wow factor (www.viewmounthouse.com).
The fish course is being prepared by Tom Flavin, head chef at the Limerick Strand Hotel. Flavin, who won Best Chef Limerick last year, has been doing a lot to raise the food experience on the Limerick scene and is very big into local and seasonal produce. He has over 20 years' international experience, having worked in the Far East, the UK and Australia in a variety of five-star hotel kitchens and restaurants. It will be interesting to see what sort of eclectic twist he adds to our poisson tomorrow night (www.strandhotellimerick.ie).
Sunil Ghai, head chef of Ananda Restaurant in Dundrum Town Centre, took the Best Chef Ireland Award last year. Born in Gwalior in central India, Sunil trained with the prestigious Oberoi group before coming to Ireland in 2001 to join Asheesh Dewan's Jaipur Group of restaurants. I am a big fan of Indian food and Sunil Ghai's contemporary sophisticated food is always stunning (www.anandarestaurant.ie).
Last but not least, the dessert course is the domain of JP McMahon of Cava Bodega and Aniar Restaurant in Galway, which was voted Best Restaurant Connacht 2013. McMahon has done an awful lot to improve and raise the profile of Galway food, getting away from the ethos of 'just' providing food for tourists – often very average and sometimes very badly. McMahon also initiated the Galway Food Festival. He is free-thinking and imaginative, so it will be interesting to see how he translates sweetness on a plate. (www.aniarrestaurant.ie)
* * *
Next Wednesday, June 11, is the last chance for you to enter the new RTE One series, The Taste of Success. Over eight weeks, members of the public and local producers compete to get their unique food products on the shelves of Lidl Ireland's 140 supermarkets.
This competition could net the winner a prize worth at least €100,000 including a massive €50,000 in cash, a 3 per cent royalty on the product while it's listed in Lidl to the value of at least €25,000, and €25,000 product development and marketing support – all for coming up with the next great Irish food product.
It is open to anyone who has an idea for a unique food product: your granny's great bread recipe, a tasty jam or sauce combination, even your own home brew.
Colm Crowley, head of production at RTE Cork, the team making the series said: "This competition offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to someone who could ultimately make their career in food production and potentially create new jobs."
So get your skates on, guys. Remember, the emphasis is on a 'unique product'.
Application forms are on www.rte/food.