independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

The chefs' chef

They are renowned for serving up Ireland's best cuisine, but what about the best meal they've ever eaten themselves?

Seamus Commons says the best meals he's eaten are at home.

We asked three of Ireland's top chefs to recount their unforgettable culinary experiences.

Seamus Commons

Knockranny House Hotel

"I've eaten in L'Ecrivain, Chapter One, Guilbaud's and smaller places such as a pub up the road, but for me, the best meals I've had in the past couple of years have been at home.

"We have our own pigs and lambs, and there's a lot of stuff in the garden. The potatoes have gone in now, and there would also be onions, leeks, baby carrots, heritage carrots – white and purple-violet ones – turnips, parsnips and beetroots. Then in the greenhouse we have butternut squash, courgettes, strawberries, radishes, five different types of lettuce and all the herbs.

"For me, it's about the freshness of the product; it's literally coming from across the wall. In Knockranny House there's lamb on the menu at the moment, and it comes from my father's farm.

"I also do a bit of shooting, so in winter there's venison and game birds.

"The other day we had a salad with rocket, fresh radishes and our own eggs. It's mostly for the kids, to get them to appreciate what they're eating. I have five children aged between three and 12 – they would be cleaning off the carrots and eat the peas from the pod.

"The boys help me with fishing. Last year I caught a wild salmon, so we had that with new potatoes from the garden. It's something special and you don't get that any more."

Derry Clarke

L'Ecrivain

"It was, funnily enough, not in a restaurant. It was a couple of summers ago with my family, when we caught some mackerel in west Cork; I set up a barbecue on the beach and cooked it there and then with some lemon, salt and pepper. It was gorgeous, free and simple. It was tasty and fresh, and had everything going for it.

"Another one was in France, about 20 years ago, with Sallyanne. We went to a really rundown hotel – two-star, with the walls coming down – but went down to the dining room and had a really good meal. It was a piece of sole seared in the pan and served with a nice hollandaise sauce.

"Another was in Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain; a gourmet place with three Michelin stars but a really modest chef. I had a poached egg with truffle inside the yolk and chorizo powder. The whole thing was just 'wow'.

"People come here to the restaurant and expect something they can't cook at home, but simple meals stand out. Why simplicity? Because it's real and honest – there's nowhere to hide things. You put something on a plate and it's got to be perfect."

Oliver Dunne

Bon Appetit

"Food is food; it's the mood you're in turns it into something special. The one that sticks out is a meal I had with my wife and two kids in a restaurant called Vila Joya in the Algarve, Portugal. I was sitting outside this two-Michelin-starred restaurant in a clifftop spa hotel – all super-luxurious – and had the most amazing lunch.

"You sit down for a three-course meal but have four courses before your starter, so you get lots of surprises over four-and-a-half hours.

"The chef was Austrian, so it was world cuisine, and very high-end cooking. We had lobster ravioli with cauliflower and caviar, which was exquisite, and rose-water and white-chocolate cannelloni. Everything was light, beautiful and so well balanced."

Seamus, Derry and Oliver are among the Irish cooking talent hosting a chefs' table at the Westport Festival of Music and Food next weekend. As well as comedy and diversions for children, the chefs' table will be cooking up local fare. The line-up is equally tasty: Elvis Costello & The Imposters, Christy Moore, The Buena Vista Social Club, The Waterboys, Martha Wainwright, Imelda May and I Draw Slow, among others.

See westportfestival.com

Irish Independent

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