Wednesday 26 October 2016

Irish food: no longer soakage for a day on the razz

Published 09/06/2015 | 02:30

'Chef Sid Sheahan is so passionate about nutrition and the food foraging, he might even teach Bear Grylls a thing or two'
'Chef Sid Sheahan is so passionate about nutrition and the food foraging, he might even teach Bear Grylls a thing or two'

Our rural Irish ancestors ate bacon and cabbage 364 days a year and only at Christmas was the menu changed - but not as much as you might think. For didn't we bring in Brussels sprouts, which are no more than cabbage balls? And sure isn't ham bacon?

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But now men are wearing aprons and oven gloves and cooking the dinner. Weren't they the happy days when the women attended to our every need? A man back then would nearly have to hire in a neurosurgeon to take the cap off his egg. Herself did everything for him.

The Listowel Food Fair kicks off on Thursday, June 18, and ends the following Sunday with a hugely imaginative cheffed-up barbecue and farmers' market. Our Food Fair was the first in Ireland. This year's festival is the 25th and it will be the best yet.

As I was saying, before I was interrupted by myself, the Irish take on food has changed dramatically.

The first time I noticed was a Munster football final about 15 years ago. The man from Adrigole sitting next to me asked if I'd like a sandwich.

"Is there coleslaw in it?" I asked. Coleslaw gives me heartburn worse than any pain experienced during childbirth. You won't hear another word out of me about the suffering, other than to say I offered it up and no one ever asked me if I'd like an epidural either. It's a woman's world.

Anyway, the Adrigole man gives me a mummified chicken tikka masala wrap. I knew then it was the end of an era. I was expecting a ham sandwich with brown sauce, my favourite.

Even the way we drink is changing. The All Ireland Craft Beer Championship is organised by our good neighbour Martin Stack. The craft beers are to be savoured. I helped out with the tasting. One must give of oneself.

We have more restaurants now than pubs. There was a time when men only ate a feed for the bit of soakage before a day out on the razz. And the only dinners out were at the GAA social, a wedding or after a funeral mass.

The standard of cooking is sky high in our little town. That too has changed. Years ago, I walked in on a chef as he was making mash from a sack of dried potato flakes. It was snow in July. The mash was as lumpy as a barrel of Adam's apples.

One of our chefs hurt me when he called my chicken nuggets Torremolinos tapas. The marketing person who put the word nugget before little bits of chicken in breadcrumbs was some genius. Nugget implies gold. Maybe we could do sausage roll tiaras? I'll probably do my cousin Jimmy's incredible smoked trout.

And most of the food innovators have made a home out of Listowel.

The words blow-in should be banned. We are all the one. My friends Asya from Russia and Namir from the Middle East are cooking their regional dishes as part of the food trail.

Chef Sid Sheahan is so passionate about nutrition and the food foraging, he might even teach Bear Grylls a thing or two. Although poor Bear was never the same after his ordeal in The Burren when he was left to fend for himself in the wilderness. I know how tough Clare can be. It often took me three days to find my way home from Lisdoonvarna.

The food foraging takes place in the Town Park. It's pretty safe down there, Bear, and then our newly done-up Listowel Garden Centre will do a bit on healing herbs.

And don't forget the Emerging Food Awards night out in the excellent Listowel Arms and the eight-course gourmet dinner. Paolo Tullio had agreed to join us. Poor Paolo will be greatly missed. What a lovely, charming, decent and giving man.

I'm a celebrity chef at the opening, as part of a cookery war. Fame at last.

Maybe I'll get my own TV programme like Darina Allen.

I love Darina Allen. The mother was showing Darina how to make her famous Listowel Mutton Pies and they started at do this and do that and go here and go there. I was sent over to the shop several times.

"I'll be back in a minute," I told the mother, earnestly, and promptly disappeared for the rest of the day.

Cathy Buckley, another mighty woman, cooked for three American presidents. She was known locally as Cathy White House so as not to confuse her with several other Cathy Buckleys, as is the way in country places.

The US Ambassador will unveil a plaque in Cathy White House's honour at her old home in Patrick Street.

Irish Independent

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