Sweet, sweet music and a taste of our daily bread
TheGZduo strike a chord with Lucinda O'Sullivan while she savours a slice of the latest book on bread making
I was at a dinner recently in Elm Park Golf Club where, apart from the good food, I was fascinated by two young musicians performing with understated panache and style in a corner of the room. The culinary focus of the evening was Spanish and, as we drifted through our chorizo, paella and various Spanish wines, a whole repertoire from classical and pop, through jazz to the rhythms of bossa nova and other Latin American vibes wafting through the room added colour and verve.
The two young musicians in question were Lucas Gonzalez on guitar and Borja Zanon on clarinet. The pair have recently formed theGZduo and will soon be seeing their diary filling to perform at more events around the country.
Borja,who came to Ireland last year, is 25 years old and hails from Valencia in Spain. He started playing music when he was six or seven years old. His parents are teachers; he describes his mother as an amateur musician and credits her with his great love and the development of his musical career.
"My main instrument is clarinet and I also play saxophone. I studied piano too, but not as a main instrument. I studied for six years during my high-school period and then did four more years at the Conservatoria Superior de Valencia, where I also took my degree in conducting."
A multi-talented young man, Borja has played and conducted in Spain, Germany, Venezuela, Italy and here in Ireland. Borja says he came to Ireland "almost by chance" because his girlfriend, Maria, had got a job at Trinity College and is doing genetic research at the Smurfit Institute. "We decided to move here and I started different projects such as founding the choir at the Cervantes Institute." He has also been appointed musical director of the Trinity Orchestra for 2014-2015.
The other half of the duo, Lucas, is 37 years old and from Argentina. "I am from Cordoba, the same name as the Spanish city. My father was a guitarist, so I studied classical guitar, oboe and composition at the Conservatorio Felix T Garzon Argentina. I then went to Switzerland, where I also studied classical guitar at the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana in Switzerland. I don't call myself a classical guitarist but I studied classical guitar."
He is in Ireland almost seven years, having come to study classical composition with Kevin O'Connell at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. "I liked the country and then started teaching and playing. At the moment I am teaching flamenco guitar in the Cervantes Institute. There are two courses, Flamenco and Latin American. I will probably be teaching that also from next September."
He has also played at events around the country, as well as playing with chanteuse Caroline Moreau and Spanish flamenco guitarist Salvador Andrades when he comes to Ireland.
"We met at a rehearsal for another project and that exact day we said, 'we are going to do something together'.," says Lucas. "We were on the bus coming from the Botanic Gardens," adds Borja.
"I have the Latin classical-music background and the Spanish classical background, so we said the repertoire that we could offer would be different from a lot of other duos," says Lucas.
They both speak very enthusiastically about Ireland. Borja says he thinks it is easier to live here than in Spain. "I think there are more opportunities here for young people than over there. It's nice, because in Spain you think because you are young you can't do many things. You have to have experience and you need time to make things work. Here, I feel it's my time, my time to do things. Over there, I would have to wait a few years before I could start to make things happen. It's fantastic here. I think also, because of the recession over there, it is much worse than here. It's very difficult in Spain; there are no opportunities or jobs for young people. It's not nice."
Lucas agrees with Borja that there are more opportunities here. "For example, there are too many musicians in Argentina. It's a bigger place so, of course, there is more music and more musicians but here, in relation to Ireland's size, there is a lot of movement, lots of music, festivals and arts centres.
In comparison with the percentage of population in the two countries, there is more here and when I am not working I compose.
"Tall and tan and young and lovely . . ."
From music that soothes our souls to bread that is the staff of life. We may all rabbit on about cutting back on carbs, but we still go weak at the knees at the smell and sight of freshly baked bread slathered with butter.
Valerie O'Connor is a Limerick-based food writer, cook and photographer, who has worked in professional kitchens from Brussels to Malaysia. Having lived in Germany and Dublin for some years, she returned to her native city with her two young sons. Feeling she needed a creative outlet, in 2006 she set up www.valskitchen.com and started blogging. She then studied organic horticulture for two years in Dromcollogher, Co. Limerick. She now tutors in food growing, cooking and baking, and she also set up the garden at Limerick's lovely No.1 Pery Square Hotel, where she grows organic herbs and salads for use in Brasserie One, the hotel's kitchen. She also runs the popular Val's Food Trails, innovative group tours of Limerick's foodie hot-spots.
As if O'Connor hasn't enough to do, she has just published her first book Bread On The Table - Baking Traditions for Today, published by O'Brien Press. It's a comprehensive book with lovely photos which will have you sifting flour through your fingers in no time at all.
I like her theme of baking traditions for today, because that is exactly where we are at and how it has all changed on the food scene. When I went to school, we were taught how to make brown bread, soda bread, scones and that was that.
However, of course, every culture in the world has their own adored breads, from baguettes in France to the flatbreads of the Middle East, ciabatta and focaccia in Italy and the pumpernickel coarse rye breads of Germany. I remember when baguettes - or 'French bread' as it was known - was considered exotic but in recent years there has been a veritable explosion of bakeries and wonderful breads available to us.
O'Connor says she developed a zealous interest in promoting food growing and self sufficiency and wants to see more people baking bread. She takes the reader through the learning curve of basic white, brown and soda bread, moving on to sourdough and potato breads. She gives a great recipe for the floury bap-style blaa, native to Waterford and parts of Kilkenny; a legacy from the Huguenots who settled in the area in the 17th Century.
The blaa (from the French word blanc meaning white) is the only Irish bread under the PGI (Protected Geographic Integrity) seal, which means that only those produced within this particular region, using the age-old techniques, can be called blaa.
The recipe was given to O'Connor by blaa bakers Dermot and Micheal Walsh of M & D Bakery in Waterford City. I also like her recipe for a potato and rye semi sourdough with molasses, while from her Walk on the Wild Side section you learn how to make carrot and dillisk loaf, sea-lettuce baguettini, nori and goat's cheese breadsticks, spelt soda bread with dillisk - and just imagine larruping into black pudding and apple scones!
Gluten-free breads are there too, including Totally Tropical Banana Bread, the recipe for which includes ground almonds and honey. It's the first bread on the list for my better half, Brendan, to bake!
Val loves teaching people to cook and she will be setting up a schedule of classes in the autumn ranging from bread baking to gluten-free and good, wholesome food in general. She is already working on her next book, which is due out next year.